Hockey Legends

of Grande Prairie

The First Slap Shot

By Ron Neufeld
 
Recently, Hockey Legend Charlie Turner’s daughter Suzanne Dunn gave Stan a number of wonderful old photos related to local hockey. Stan copied the photo below and sent it to me. It immediately triggered a flood of memories - memories of playing hockey with the GP Athletics years 60 – 70 years ago. The picture was likely taken in the mid to late 1950s. By this time I had left Grande Prairie to continue my education, a journey that took me to Texas, Vancouver, Louisville Kentucky, Nashville Tennessee and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C.  Following are some of the thoughts and memories that the photo revived.
 
Mel Rodacker is the well-groomed young man wearing the ball jacket – centre/bottom. Mel owned the Case Tractor dealership and a tire store in Grande Prairie. He was very active in promoting sports and also sponsored the Mel Rodacker Old Time band - he played a mean banjo. Two of my uncles played in his band and at age twelve I spent my summer holidays working in his tire shop.  Mel was not involved with the GP Athletics when I played for them but I find myself wondering if perhaps he was the team’s sponsor when this picture was taken. Skilled sleuth that he is - perhaps Stan can help answer that question.
 
Surrounding Mel and the men in First Nations attire are a number of GP Athletic hockey players in their As sweaters. My guess about the identity of these players is as follows:  Grant McKeen – lower right hand corner – Brian McCurdy lower left corner. Behind Brian I think I see Charlie Turner and behind Charlie, Leo Auger. Stan – I wonder if you can dig up some information or find photos about the team that confirms or disavows my hunches? Of particular interest to me are the men behind Mel wearing First Nations apparel. If my memory is correct, immediately behind Mel are two young men, Harley Hodgson and Percy Wolfe, two teen-agers who came to Grande Prairie from the Hobbema First Nations reserve south of Edmonton. They were talented athletes who played for the Athletics during my last year in Grande Prairie. Why they came to Grande Prairie and how they supported themselves I can’t recall. It was known that merchants in some towns who had teams in the SPHL, i.e. Hythe hired talented players so they could bolster the rosters of the local team but I am not aware of anyone who played for the Athletics that were brought to town by merchants to play hockey.

Mel Rodacker with Indians
The trio of Harley Hodgson, Larry Hodgson and Percy Wolfe were front and centre both in the dressing room and on the ice for the Grande Prairie Athletics when they won the South Peace Hockey League championship in 1956-57. Photo courtesy of the Turner family.

If my memory serves me correctly Harley played centre and Percy played right wing. They were exceptionally fine skaters and both had hard accurate shots. Their arrival on the hockey scene raised an interesting debate about the advantages and disadvantages of the slap shot. The prevailing viewpoint among the veteran hockey players in the SPHL was that a hard wrist shot was superior to a slap shot as slap shots were too difficult to control. To my knowledge Harley and Percy were the first slap shot artists in the SPHL and made believers of some – they scored many goals for the Athletics with their slap shots. I wonder how our one-piece hickory hockey sticks withstood the forces involved in the delivery of a slap shot?  I gladly stand to be corrected if I am wrong but if my memory serves me correctly Harley and Percy were the first Indian players to compete in the SPHL. Further, I wonder about the occasion that prompted the wearing of First Nation’s attire in this picture. It is my hope that As fans or players from the past who read this article will let us know.    
 
Now – fast forward – to 1968 -1969. My family and I were living in Memphis Tennessee. I was working with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and was scheduled for meetings in Johnson City in the Eastern region of the State. It was winter in the early evening as I drove through Knoxville Tennessee and noticed a marquee advertising a Knoxville Knight’s hockey game. The Knoxville Knights a minor professional hockey team playing in the Eastern Hockey was on the ice that night. I had not seen a hockey game for over a decade. I booked a hotel room, headed for the rink and picked up a program. The name Harley Hodgson jumped out at me when I scanned the names of Knoxville Knights players. Before the players took to the ice I shouldered my way into the Knight’s dressing room and asked for Harley Hodgson. Imagine my delight to find it was none other than Harley from Hobbema - Harley with whom I had played hockey in Grande Prairie when he was a teen-ager more than a decade earlier and across the continent over 3000 miles to the north- west – Harley – who helped introduce slap shots to the SPHL – Harley - one of the first Indian lads to play in the SPHL – Harley - who helped the A’s bring home the SPHL cup. I love “small world stories” i.e. running into familiar people in far-flung unexpected places. Following the game we had supper together and reminisced.
 
As a rugged defenseman with the Knights for three years (1965 – 1968) Harley accumulated very respectable stats including 278 penalty minutes. A number of Knoxville Knights alumni graduated to play in the NHL including Dennis Hextall and Pat Quinn. The team folded in 1968. I wonder where Harley went following his three years in Knoxville and I wonder where he is today. Perhaps someone who knows will read this and have Harley and/or Percy get in touch with us and tell us more about this photo.  Stan – maybe there are local seniors in Grande Prairie who can shed further light on this picture and the era it represents.