Hockey Legends

of Grande Prairie

Re-Connecting A Broken Thread

The A’s Will Play In the NPHL in 2016/17

By Stan Neufeld and Ron Neufeld

Senior hockey is once again alive and well in Grande Prairie - at least on paper. 

The Grande Prairie Athletics will compete for the Lawrence Cup in the up-coming 2016/17 NPHL season. Senior hockey has been resuscitated under the leadership of a new executive with Kurt Robinson as President, and a new coach, Glen Watson. With this recent announcement senior hockey is poised to regain its former reputation and popularity with Grande Prairie fans. That is how it should be. Grande Prairie failed to enter a team in the North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) last season interrupting a long-standing, colourful history of local small town hockey that is the backbone of our national sport and the NHL.

In spite of the A’s absence in the NPHL last season we covered the playoffs in a series of blogs that saw Spirit River, a community of 1,025 bring home the cup. As we covered the playoffs we were reminded of the manner in which communities rally around hometown teams in a workingman’s league and the important role that sports can play in building local spirit. The series featured community spirit at its best. It was the talk of the towns that were represented and local fans showed up to rally around their local heroes. In addition to the entertainment value small town hockey provides it remains the backbone of the NHL and other professional leagues throughout Canada and the US. From the roster of GP Hockey Legends names that stand out are Duke Edmundson, Johnny MacMillan, Ken Solheim and Clint Malarchuk to name just a few. It illustrates that the need to play extends into adulthood and as such has recreational value for the players – and it’s more than that. On the streets of the town players are local heroes and they are often role models for the younger generation.

As noted elsewhere in the website, Canadian hockey players including young men from Grande Prairie, played a significant role beyond the NHL and North America, by helping introduce hockey to Europe. During WW11 our Gov’t. recognized the important morale building role that hockey could play for soldiers during the war and promoted the sport at home and overseas. During WW11 the Wright brothers, Charlie Turner and other local lads were represented on military teams that played to bolster patriotism that helped to defeat the Axis powers. Following the war our local veterans came home and engineered what we recognize as the Golden Age of hockey in Grande Prairie and throughout the Peace River country. During the late forties and fifties the hottest ticket in town was admission to the legendary War Memorial Arena to watch local young men compete against teams like the Hythe Mustangs or the Dawson Creek Canucks. Fans would flock to the Arena (standing room only) to cheer on the team. For fans unable to attend the game our own Foster Hewitt, WW11vet and GP Hockey Legend Fran Tanner enabled them to follow the play-by-play on radio station CFGP. You can listen to a sample of his play-by- under his Legend’s Biography as a Media Specialist.

No “Go A’s Go” chant rang from the Coke Centre last winter. It was the first time the Athletics failed to ice a team since they joined the NPHL in 1998-99, some 17 years ago. Until last year the As held the record for the longest consecutive participation in league competition for teams in the Peace River country. During this period senior hockey in the Peace was recognized as supporting the northernmost hockey league in the world and it was one of the best in the domain of small town hockey. Before WW11 there were teams like the Maroons and the Red Devils. During the war D-Company was the local team that participated in the renowned Defense League against entries from the Signal Corps, the Army and the Airforce. Following the war returning veterans including Charlie Turner and Bob Card along with Max Henning and Billy Bessent organized teams like the Key Club and the Legion to join the Red Devils who were later renamed the Athletics.

The above history was made possible by the unwavering dedication of countless volunteers. Regrettably we are unable to acknowledge all of them. Eleven of the most active are recognized in the Grande Prairie Legends of Hockey as Builders. They are citizens of the town who were/are determined to make sure that ice surfaces are available and maintained. They include men and women with the organizational skills needed to form leagues, teams and schedules and make certain there are coaches and referees. The tasks are endless. Considering hockey started here in 1913 and our Legends project never got off the ground until 2003 we are playing “catch up” to acknowledge the contributions of these remarkable volunteers. This is a history of sport and recreation in its purest form with no money exchanging hands for services.

So – listen once again for the chant of “Go As Go” rising from the Coke Centre and look for further news as the Athletics, under the competent leadership of Kurt Robinson as he re-connects the broken thread of participation in the NPHL and brings senior hockey back to Grande Prairie.

Will we see any of these faces when training camp opens on September 13th? Photo was taken by Maurice Trudeau, new vice-president of the Grande Prairie Athletics.