Hockey Legends

of Grande Prairie

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Role Models from the Yesterday - Leaders for Tomorrow

The Grande Prairie Minor Hockey Association (GPMH) recently conducted its annual year-end Memorial and Coaching Awards event at the Coca-Cola Centre. I must say – this event triggered a wave of nostalgia as I recalled my personal experience in minor hockey. The story of Two Rinks on the Bear Creek Flats is central to my experience and is recounted elsewhere on our Website. Legends associated with that story include Roy Peterson and Roy Borstad and others too numerous to mention. When Roy Peterson ran the program we signed up on his back porch for a fee of $1.00 - if we had the money. If not participation was free and if interested kids had no skates or necessary equipment it was provided.

I enthusiastically believe in and support our Minor Hockey Program that was first formally organized in 1960. Exercise and fitness is an important benefit but beyond that, with strong leadership our children and youth learn skills associated with the game and even more importantly they learn discipline, teamwork, and sportsmanship. Hence I was honored to receive an invitation from GPMHA president Ben Radke and executive director Lorna LeBlanc to attend these events.

In the generations prior to my experience hockey was associated with lakes, ponds and patches of ice on school and neighbourhood playgrounds. When the volunteer Fire Dept was organized volunteer firemen would tour the town and flood the neighbourhood rinks if needed. Other maintenance such as cleaning the ice following a snowstorm was provided by parents nearby and the kids. My older brothers spoke of Saturday morning sessions organized by Johnny Macdonald in the old Wapiti Arena and later in the Memorial Arena. All activities: organizing, coaching and officiating them were conducted by volunteers. Family members often shared skates and other hockey equipment that consisted of “hand-me-downs” from parents or older siblings. Attempts were made to balance teams that were made up of different ability levels.

Fast forward to about 2003 and the name Carter Rowney appears on the GPMH roster. His story is told in a previous blog. He was a product of our minor hockey program and was unusually skilled. He moved through every level of the minor hockey program and for three years played Junior A hockey for the GP Storm in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. As the saying goes “the rest is history”. At age twenty-seven Carter Rowney, as a Pittsburgh Penguin has won a Stanley Cup ring.


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Rowney tweeted a photo of his son, Anders, calmly sleeping in the bowl of the Stanley Cup along with his wife, Danielle.

According to recent research a local minor hockey player has a better chance at winning the Powerball or 6-49 lotteries than becoming an NHL player. That’s what: about 1 in 4,000? Carter’s success reflects well on our local minor hockey program. However, it is important to note that the quality of our minor hockey program is not measured by the number of NHL players it produces. It goes much deeper than that and reaches many children and youth not just elite players.

I applaud the efforts of the GPMH to recognize contributions to minor hockey from volunteers both past and present. Grande Prairie Herald Tribune Sports Writer, Logan Clow provided information regarding this year’s recipients. Perhaps the time will come when Carter Rowney will be among the Legends of Grande Prairie. In the meantime I wish to direct attention to several of the awards and this year’s recipients.

First - the Pete Wright Memorial Award is special to me. He was my coach, mentor and defensive partner when I played with the Grande Prairie Athletics starting at age 15. The Pete Wright Memorial Award for the Best Midget AAA Defenseman went to Brenden Kwaitkowski. He played for Ernie’s Sports Experts Midget AAA Storm. “His play throughout the year spoke volumes about his commitment to the game and his teammates. He was always eager to learn and help the team in whatever way he could,” noted coaches Chris Schmidt and Blake Cosgrove.


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Brenden Kwaitkowski, right, accepting the Pete Wright Memorial Award from Dave Wright and his two daughters Jocelyn and Camryn. Photo by Stan Neufeld

Ethan Telfer, of the Don Golden Auto Body Peewee A2 Knights, was this year’s recipient of the George Repka Jr. Memorial Award. The award is presented to a player exhibiting sportsmanship and dedication on the Peewee A competitive team. “Ethan deserves this award because of his extremely positive attitude and dedication,” said coaches Marshall Radke and Tom West. The George Repka Memorial Award stands out for me as George and I were teammates during the 1977-78 South Peace Hockey League season when the Athletics won a championship. George was killed in a motor vehicle accident.


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Ethan Telfer, left, with Darlene Repka. Photo by Stan Neufeld

I consider the Judith Radke memorial Award as especially important in light of the significant contributions to hockey in our community by the Radke family. That support is ongoing. Ben Radke is currently President of the Grande Prairie Minor Hockey Association. It is in the best of hands. This year’s recipients of the Judith Radke Memorial Award are Alyssa Buss, Jenna Kramer, Paige Barclay and Danica Liland. The award recognizes one female in each of the atom, peewee, bantam and midget divisions who exemplify “the ideals of sportsmanship, ethical behaviour, fair play and integrity.”


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Alex Radke, (back left) Ben Radke, Pamela Radke with Sarah Radke (front left) and Jenna Kramer, inner of the Judith Radke Memorial Award for PeeWees. Photo by Stan Neufeld


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Recipients of the the 2016-2017 Grande Prairie Minor Hockey Memorial Awards on Wednesday May 17, 2017 at the Coca-Cola Centre in Grande Prairie, Alta. Front row Daniel Hurta (Kenny Morrow Memorial Award), Alyssa Buss (Judith Radke Memorial Award), Jenna Kramer (Judith Radke Memorial Award), Paige Barclay (Judith Radke Memorial Award), and Danica Liland (Judith Radke Memorial Award). Back row: Alex Scheck (Tim Boivin Memorial Award), Jesse Roessler (Larry Kutschinski Memorial Award), Shea Fitzgerald (Lloyd Head Memorial Award), Ethan Telfer (George Repka Jr. Memorial Award), Jace Grant (Bobby Sands Memorial Award), Caile Menard (Derek Boyd Memorial Award), and Brenden Kwaitkowski (Pete Wright Memorial Award). Photo by Stan Neufeld

It was my great pleasure to attend this year’s GPMH year-end awards ceremony. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on a bit of hockey history, remember outstanding members of our community past and present and recognize that the qualities we admire in role models from the past are carried forward by outstanding young people today. I offer my congratulations to all of this year’s award recipients.

Stan Neufeld

Carter Rowney: One Among Thousands

Today (June 11, 2017) Carter Rowney – born in Grande Prairie and raised on a nearby farm in Sexsmith (population 2771) joined his Pittsburgh Penguin teammates to hoist the Stanley Cup after defeating the Nashville Predators in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A recent study reports the chances of moving from minor hockey to a steady NHL career are roughly one in four thousand. Even greater are the odds of earning a Stanley Cup ring.

Carter Rowney developed his skills as a highly talented forward in Grande Prairie’s Minor Hockey program initially with the Golden Arrow Bantam AAA Storm (2003/04), the Boston Pizza Minor Midgets (2004/05) and during the 2005/06 season he played first for the AAA Midget Storm and later that season he moved on to play for the bantam AAA team.

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Golden Arrow Bantam AAA Storm.
Photo courtesy of Grande Prairie Minor Hockey


He graduated from the minor ranks to play Junior A hockey where Brother Bob and I followed his development during the 2007/08 hockey season when he played for the Grande Prairie Storm in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. That year he distinguished himself as the team’s best two-way player. Carter played an important role in enabling the Grande Prairie Storm win the team’s second league title in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) (2008/09) and was the playoff MVP. We were convinced that he had a future as a career hockey player.


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Carter Rowney, left, and Dennis Rix were part of the 2009 AJHL Championship winning team.
Photo courtesy of the Grande Prairie Storm


Since leaving his hometown Carter played with four different teams before he received a call from the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 31 of this year to face the Nashville Predators for his first appearance in the NHL at the age of 27. Following that first appearance that was witnessed by friends and family, Carter stated ”I didn’t know if I would ever shake off the nerves.” – he did and he has made a substantial contribution to the team. In game five of the series playing against Ottawa he registered three assists in Pittsburgh’s decisive win against Ottawa. As a fourth line centre he has accumulated three goals and four assists. Additionally he has been recognized for his rugged play registering the team’s most hits. At 6’2’ and 200 pounds he has the ability to slow down the opposition and does so fearlessly.

Coach Mike Sullivan states ”he is determined, he’s physical, he’s a stiff player, he’s strong on the stick, he’s good on the wall and he’s a strong face-off man.” That should not surprise those of us who remember that he was a farm boy who developed muscle and brawn shoveling grain on his Dad’s farm. Carter has fond memories of his rural roots in the Peace River country.

Bridgestone Arena on Broadway in Nashville Tennessee, the heartland of the Southern US is a long distance from the Peace River Country and seems a very unlikely location for a raucous crowd of over one hundred thousand fans to gather in a hockey arena and nearby streets to support a hockey team. Football and basketball – yes - but hockey???

Carter - In the midst of the din that has characterized Nashville hockey fans, if you listened carefully you would have heard cheers from your fans in far away Grande Prairie and Sexsmith every time you touched the puck or knocked an opponent off the puck. We are proud of you.

You have distinguished yourself as more than one in four thousand. Bring home the cup.

Stan Neufeld

Hockey - It's in their Blood

By Stan Neufeld

Are hockey skills genetic? Might be a good topic for debate over a few cool ones. My initial vote is: well…could be?

Forget what you’ve read, or been told, about how youngsters learn how to play hockey. Training, good coaching, and ice time can play a large role in developing potential in young hockey players, but studies have also shown that inherited genes have an impact on our performance too.

Following the genetics theory, the Sutters are the first NHL family to come to mind. From 1982 to 1987, the six Sutter brothers from Red Deer played in the NHL at the same time. The Sutter family has had the largest number of family members - 9 - play, coach and manage in the NHL.

Looking in our own back yard ponds, the Clements family is a primary example of how the theory plays out in the greater Grande Prairie area.

Back in the day it seemed like everyone in my world played hockey. There were old time greats like Charlie Turner, wiz kids like Galen Head, and then there were the rest of us. One of the rest of us was my partner on defence for the Grande Prairie Athletics, Gary Clements. With his wife Lynda, Gary went on to raise six active boys who inherited their father’s genes and with them a passion for the game. Craig, Colin, Corey, Chris and twins Danny and David have all left their mark on various teams in the Peace Country.

Three generations of Clements hockey players have been an obvious force in all levels of hockey in Grande Prairie both on and off the ice spanning five decades so far. From minor hockey upward, everyone in this family can lay claim to local ice time with either the Athletics, Grande Prairie Chiefs, Grande Prairie Storm, and most recently the County JDA Kings. They are known for their tireless work ethic, physicality, and being great teammates all the while serving as contributing members of our local community.

Taking age into consideration, this clan could have iced a formidable line for any hockey team. Although Gary has taken time off from his spot with the Grande Prairie Old-timers, he’s considering a return. Corey and the twins are still ripping it up in the US Elite League that consists of retired pros and other notables.
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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.

Marj McAusland 1951-2017

marjmcausland
Marj McAusland, the voice of women's hockey in the north is silent today. We've lost one of our great Legends. Inductee in the builder category in 2007.

Seasons Greetings!

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Another Hockey Legend

Merry Christmas to the Toronto Maple Leafs and good luck clearing a path to the NHL playoffs.

The Life of a Grande Prairie Hockey Legend

Garry "Duke" Edmundson 1932 – 2016


The Canuck Seniors with whom I (Ron) was playing at the time had registered to compete in an Old Timer tournament in Victoria.  Due to other commitments I was unable to join the team.  Following the tournament a teammate told me about a game they had played and lost due to the performance of one opposing player.  He raved about this player’s ability to score at will and control the entire flow of the game when he was on the ice.  The player in question played with a team from San Francisco and upon further inquiry I learned that the player had Grande Prairie roots.  The player in question was none other than Duke Edmundson.  How I wish I had been able to participate in that tournament and had a visit with Duke to reminisce about growing up in Grande Prairie.

Duke was an imposing presence on the ice from the beginning.  Duke’s father, Frank Edmundson was a talented and well-known hockey player in the Peace River country and later he coached Grande Prairie’s D- Company.  Duke was his stick boy. 


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Later Duke’s younger brother Bryan played for the Grande Prairie Legion in the South Peace Hockey League.  Garry, Duke’s only child lives in Maple Ridge BC, played junior hockey in BC and Semi- pro hockey in Las Vegas.  Clearly Hockey is deeply embedded in the Edmundson gene pool.  

Duke played his first junior hockey in Grande Prairie centering a line with Hockey Legend Bob Neufeld as his left winger.  Duke, along with Bob played Senior hockey in Grande Prairie before Duke moved to Edmonton to play for the Edmonton Athletic Club (EACs).  In many ways the world of hockey is a small world and following the Victoria Tournament I learned that in Edmonton Duke played with Roy Hammond and Stu Robinson.  Both Stu and Roy went on to have professional careers in Europe and were my (Ron) teammates when I played old timer hockey with the Canuck Seniors and the UBC Old Birds in Vancouver.  Both Roy and Stu raved about Duke’s hockey skills and savvy.

The “small world” story line and connections to Duke do not end with Stu and Roy.  A number of years ago while playing in a Lower BC Mainland old timer’s league with the UBC Old Birds we faced a team from Surrey known as the Grateful Living.  On the ice I (Ron) ran into a very determined but good-natured forward.  While digging for the puck in a corner and getting my ribs messaged by the butt end of a stick I looked down to see a broad grin and heard a smart quip from the small but plucky forward.  At lunch following the game he entertained our table with jokes and stories of his youth.  There I learned that Terry Kerstein was born in Sexsmith where his father owned the pool hall. Later the family moved to Grande Prairie where he went to school.  Terry was Duke’s cousin and told me he never quite accepted the reality that he lacked Duke’s ability on the ice.  Terry – if you see this blog please call me so we can share a few memories about Duke and our experiences Grande Prairie those many years ago.  

I think it was Terry who told the following tale about old-timer hockey although his version had a slightly different twist and different characters.  The story is as follows.  Even as seniors Stu, Roy and Duke loved to play hockey.  Following a game they made a pledge.  It was agreed that the first one to die would return to meet with those left behind to provide a report on the status of hockey in Heaven.  Both Stu and Roy died a number of years ago and to Duke’s surprise Roy materialized on the 20th of Sept.  “Duke”, said Roy, I have good news and I have bad news.”  “What’s the good news?” replied Duke.  “I’m here Duke to tell you about Hockey in Heaven and believe me – it is alive and well.  We play every day and on the ice with us are guys from Grande Prairie like GP Hockey Legend Pete Wright, and teammates from your junior pro hockey days.”  “That’s fantastic”, replied Duke. “What’s the bad news?”.  “Duke”, answered Roy apologetically. “We need a centre for tomorrow’s game and we have selected you.”                         

Back to reality - as noted in Duke’s GP Hockey Legend’s Biography Duke received $100.00 and a new pair of skates when he signed a  “B” card with the Montreal Canadiens.  In 1959, following a stint with the Springfield Indians, Duke was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs where he played on a checking line along with Jerry James, a running back for the Winnipeg jets of the CFL and Johnny Wilson, the NHL’s Iron Man of that era.  Duke played the last three years of his hockey career as a San Francisco Seal and San Francisco became home to the GP Hockey Legend following his retirement from the game he loved.

In August of 2014 Duke and his brother Bryan made a pilgrimage back home to Grande Prairie to visit old friends and see the Legends lounge. This included a lunch with some local elders in the hockey community.  I (Stan) met Duke and Bryan in the lounge and brought one of my Leaf sweaters.  Duke posed while I snapped a shot of him holding the jersey. When Duke heard I was a staunch Leafs fan he said he would send me a signed photo of himself from his playing days with the Leafs. I received the promised photo a few weeks later and it is proudly displayed at my home along with other treasured hockey memorabilia.

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Grande Prairie’s Duke Edmundson at the Hockey Legends Lounge in
Grande Prairie with my Leafs jersey. Photo by Stan Neufeld

Duke was the Swan City’s first player to make it to the NHL but in spite of his status as a hockey player Duke was humble in every way.  He expressed to me his deep appreciation for the Legend's project, for the Lounge and our activities to preserve hockey history. 

On Wednesday, September 21 Stan received word from Bryan that Duke had passed away following a lengthy illness.  We join Bryan and other members of Garry (Duke) Edmundson family in mourning Duke’s passing and celebrating his memory as Grande Prairie Hockey Legend.

Ron & Stan Neufeld

Of Builders, Blocks and the Building of a Team

A Tribute to Kurt Robinson and other volunteers
By Stan Neufeld

You might say it’s just a hometown hockey team - but guess what! Cobbling together a team to participate in the North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) hockey requires the same basic skills that are needed to lead a nation.

Numerous books have been written about leadership, dissertations written, university courses taught and conferences conducted. Individuals recognized as having great leadership skills have been dissected, placed under microscopes, and their character, wit and spleen analyzed endlessly. Skill sets associated with leadership ability include organizational skills, the insight to identify strength and weakness in others, how to draw the best out of them, the ability to listen and knowing how and when to act to name just a few. Since this blog is not a treatise on leadership I will not go on – just to say that Kurt Robinson has agreed to serve as President of the newly formed Executive of the Grande Prairie Athletics. This is good news as it is my opinion that Kurt has the skills noted above to build a successful hockey team. In terms of experience, Kurt served as President of the As in 2011 and other leadership roles. That experience will prove invaluable as he is already familiar with many of the people and organizations that will be involved. However, it is no small enterprise and especially labour intensive.

The first step of the A’s reincarnation began Jan 29th of this year when Kurt called a meeting for players and volunteers at the Coke Centre. Since that meeting an Executive Board has been named and I contend that it is a strong cast of characters including Maurice Trudeau and Brent McCurdy - Vice Presidents, Ashley Callon - Marketing Director, Danielle Commander - Director of Off- Ice Officials, and Darren Walker - Player Liaison. Appointing the Board represents placement of the first block in the complex building plan to put a team on the ice this fall. It is my feeling that the venture is in good hands. The skills and abilities of Kurt and his team are highly valued in the market place and yet they are offered to this community project for free. Mustering stable support for senior hockey in Grande Prairie is a daunting assignment considering the competition for the public’s time and money for entertainment that includes a Junior A franchise: the GP Storm. Undoubtedly fans that support senior hockey will also support the Storm but for many there is only so much time and money to go around.

Finding the right coach is essential to building a successful team. John Lehners is a hometown lad with encyclopedic knowledge about the game and has been involved in numerous local hockey initiatives over the years. I should know - he has been a crucial element in the Legends project from the beginning. The original concept of the Legends project came about in the year 2000 when Max Henning and I were looking at a picture of the legendary Red Devil team. At that time we discussed the notion of a Legends project. The opportunity to implement the idea came in 2004 when Grande Prairie hosted the Nation’s Royal Bank Cup. John was the Special Events Coordinator and he identified funds for the GP Legends of Hockey project. Back to the re-invention of the As – John, along with fellow committee member Marty Tingstad concur that Glen Watson’s appointment as the A’s coach is a step in the right direction. He comes to the A’s with excellent on and off-ice coaching credentials. According to Kurt Robinson, “ Our new coach is going to be great. He will bring a fresh new look with a wealth of experience and coaching success at a variety of levels. “

The Legends Lounge overlooks the rink where the A’s will play. It is a gathering place for the legends and is available for other special events coordinated by Kylee Haining, Manager of the Grande Prairie’s Recreation and Sport Development program. Information about our Hockey Legends, photographs and other hockey memorabilia are on display in the Lounge.

Many of the hockey legends played for or were in other ways associated with the A’s over the years and you may be sure that our hockey legends and their friends will actively support the new A’s. If Kurt, the Board and Glen have their way the A’s will reclaim their former glory and tickets for games will once again become a hot item. Who knows what implications this season of hockey has for future additions to the ongoing Legends story.

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Kurt Robinson (left) and John Lehners – taken in the Legend’s Lounge (Stan Neufeld photo)

The bottom line in the team building process is of course selecting the players. That process will keep us in suspense until September 13th when the tryouts begin. To begin with Kurt and Glen are hoping that some old veterans will show up at the trials to demonstrate that they still have gas in the tank. One simply has to watch senior recreational hockey in GP to realize that there is there is a great deal of hockey talent in town. However, it must be kept in mind that playing for the A’s is a huge commitment and not every eligible candidate for a spot on the team will be able make that commitment. In spite of the high level of competition in the NPHL no one is paid. The team is managed and coached and players play for the love of the game. It is amateur sport in its purest form. It is a workingman’s league that involves fitness routines, practice time and travel. Games often involve late nights and time away from spouses and families. Some exceptional local players have jobs that limit the amount of time that they have for hockey. However, as we have noted earlier, Grande Prairie has a rich hockey history on which to build. In the A’s last full season in the NPHL - 2014-2015 - the team lost in six games in the league final to the Spirit River Rangers. In 2009/10 the A's last captured the NPHL title over the Lakeland Eagles. Once again the challenge is to building a roster of players that will be competitive in the NPHL.

Will the team, like the Maple Leafs have a new image and take to the ice along with new sweaters, new colours and perhaps a new logo? We will wait with baited breath for that revelation. Messing with a team’s logo and colours can be controversial and risky. Look for an up-coming blog that will tell the story about how the legendary and popular Red Devils of a by-gone era were retired and replaced by the Athletics. Maybe the “devil logo”, fork in hand was an image that some locals thought was misguided. Maybe a religious lobby played a role. Maybe opponents of the devil image, fork in hand, failed to remember that farmers too are identified with forks. Having said that the A’s are now well established and only old timers like Max Henning, Billy Bessent and my older brothers Bob and Ron will remember Red Devil history that dates back more than half a century. After the red devil logo was abandoned the team adopted the original 1954 black and yellow A’s uniform that featured a full chest name on the front. The second version changed from black and yellow to orange and black featuring also a full chest name and a block letter “A” for the first time. Hockey Legend committee member Cam Henning and I are “babes in arms” compared to older brothers, Max and Billy. Over the two decades that Cam and I played as a defenseman for the A’s we had the privilege of wearing two different sets of jerseys. Max, Billy, Bob and Ron likely wore every colour of the rainbow in their history.

That’s our story to date of the blocks, the building and most importantly – the builders of Grande Prairie’s latest hockey initiative – but watch for further news and again - we invite the public to visit the Lounge at the Coke Center to see old jerseys and memorabilia that embody many stories and evoke special memories from the past. Maybe seeing the sweaters and other memorabilia will remind you of information that should be shared with other hockey junkies on our website. Please feel free to contribute information on the link About/Contact on the menu bar of gphockeylegends.com

Soldiers Ready For Rink and Battlefield

By Ron Neufeld

On July 8, 2016, Prime Minister Trudeau announced, “Canada will send a battle group of soldiers to Latvia by early 2017 as part of a NATO plan to counter fears of Russian aggression in eastern Europe.” The Latvian President, Raimonds Vejonis was quick to respond acknowledging that Canadians and Latvians have a common bond: hockey.  It is worth noting that Canada and Latvia faced off in the quarter finals of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.  Like Canadians, Latvians love hockey and Vejonis is hoping that Canadian soldiers who will start arriving early next year “will be up for a game.” (The Province Monday July 11, 2016).

This invitation from the Latvian President triggers memories of the role Canadian soldiers played in the introduction of hockey to Europe more than seven decades ago during WW11.  The Juno Beach Centre located in Normandy France is a museum that is dedicated to honour Canadian troops who landed on Juno Beach on June 6, 1944.  According to an article entitled “Dispatches From Juno: Hockey During the Second World War (November 4, 2014), “Canadians stationed in England trained for years before being sent to Sicily and Italy in 1943, and to Normandy in June 1944. Hockey was central to the social fabric and cohesion of the units stationed there. Tournaments on bases in Canada and in English towns enabled Canadian soldiers and English civilians to interact around the social event that a hockey night creates. The Maple Leaf, the Canadian Army’s newspaper during the Second World War, reported on games as did the plethora of regimental newspapers published in the field to provide humour and news from home for the fighting man overseas.” Most importantly, when the puck dropped in the face off circle it was “game on”. Players and spectators were able for the duration of the game to forget the horrors of war – the risks to life and limb – the consequences of dropping bombs and flying bullets. When the puck dropped the war stopped.


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Sixteen Grande Prairie hockey players gave their lives in combat overseas during WW11.  It is our fervent hope that current tensions in Eastern Europe will not result in warfare and loss of life.  If that should occur – the enemy beware.  During WW1 and WW11 Canadian soldiers proved to be as formidable in combat as they were on the ice: creative, skillful, daring and persistent.  In the meantime Canadians and Latvians will stand side by side in the political stand off but will tilt against each other on the ice and fans will be treated to some international hockey.

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Ron Neufeld resides in Vancouver but is Grande Prairie born and raised. He played hockey with teams such as Legion, Red Devils and Athletics. Along with Stan Neufeld, he serves as the editor and project’s “pen” writing Legend biographies and other material as needed. As a founding member of the Grande Prairie Legends of Hockey committee Ron has played a key role in the success of the project.

Educational services and advocacy for people with special needs has been a major theme throughout Ron’s career with experience in the disciplines of education, mental health and corrections. He has taught, conducted research and served in administrative positions in university settings in both Canada and the United States and is among the pioneers of distance education technologies to promote independent learning and open access to information for students in post secondary institutions. Ron is a retired professor Emeritus from the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Education. He holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., an M.A. from George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville Tennessee, a B.D. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and a B.A. from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Have we had enough  Phaneuf Yet?

Yesterday a flood of texts and emails filled cyberspace destined for my Inbox. I figured they might be invitations to lunch. Not so. Most were sarcastic comments about the Dion Phaneuf trade. You can only imagine.

This made me think back to the game my son, Chuck and I attended at the old Maple Leaf Gardens. I’m reminded that Leafs won the Stanley Cup 11 times  from 1932 to 1967 in that legendary building. I even had dinner with my son in the famous hot stove lounge. I’ve been to Rexall Place twice in the last few years to watch the Leafs and Phaneuf perform in front of a sea of blue and white with mostly Toronto fans chanting “Go Leafs go.”

Ok - I'm a  loyal Leafs fan. I had the Leafs logo on my diapers growing up. Growing up it was  either the Leafs or Habs. For road hockey you had to choose one team name or the other. For me it was a no brainer. Think about it.  NHL stars like Bobby Baun, Tim Horton, Johnny Bower…ice heros all! 

Not everything went smoothly growing up as a Leafs fan. When I registered for the first ever organized minor hockey at the Flats in 1960, almost half a century ago I thought I had an “in” with GPHM commissioner Roy Peterson. We were neighbours so made it known that I wanted to be signed up with the Leafs. Roy remained unmoved and for that entire season I had to wear a Habs uniform and played against my favourite team. To add insult to injury, I even had to pay 50 cents that first season - to wear a Habs jersey. 

There are certainly ups and downs being a loyal Leafs fan.  I admit it - this  year has been a tough season. I’ve had to buy my two Hab fan friends Marty Tingstad and John Lehners numerous lost-bet lunches. The Food was good but the company and conversation was painful. I have a Leafs Zamboni piggy bank-saving up for the Leafs run to the Stanley cup. One problem is company like Marty and John refuse to contribute to my fund raising campaign. In fairness they did give me a Leafs mug and picnic Leafs  lawn chair for Christmas. This chair will go very well with my Leafs fire pit that sits in my back yard thanks to Darren Cruse who even welded on names of a few of my old time favourites like Bower, Dave Keon and Darryl Sittler.

Dion Phaneuf
Now back to Dion Phaneuf. I've got his stick and sweater, both signed. On the guest list to visit the NHL stars behind closed doors. I’ve met Dion at Rexall Place twice after games. My last visit was thanks to my two lifelong pals Dave and Danny Johnson. Now that Dion has been traded to the conference rival Ottawa Senators does this increase or decrease the value of these items signed by Dion himself? According to one of my other friends Jay Smith, former mayor Rob Ford's tie has more sweat on it and worth more than anything  Phaneuf has signed.

What happens to my Leafs heading forward?  Well-my team is rebuilding. Now that we have another draft pick in 2017 and a bulging bank account things are looking up. We don’t have to retain Dion’s salary like we do for Phil Kessel which  certainly improves our cap position. Along with the draft pick in 2017 let’s not forget the five Leafs prospects who represented their respective countries at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships - the likes of Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott, William Nylander, Dmytro Timashov and Kasperi Kapanen. The trade wasn’t meant to better the Leafs for today but when boss Lou Lamoriello and coach Mike Babcock complete their long term plan for a run at the cup in a few years Marty and John will be buying me a lot of lunches. 

Bring it on - maybe even see hometown boy Steven Stamkos in blue and white. But Leafs could be blowing in the wind with more changes every day as management rebuilds this legendary team.

And by the way - I watched #2 in his debut with the Senators tonight.

Stan Neufeld

Clint Malarchuk Homecoming

Grande Prairie’s 23rd Hockey Legend

In October of this year Clint returned to his hometown for a second homecoming and was reminded of his colourful story and the support he enjoys in his childhood home. It was a homecoming like no other in which he was smothered by family and friends including his Uncle Max Henning now 91 years old. Clint acknowledged the powerful, positive role that his family and friends in Grande Prairie have played in his life. In this same spirit Grande Prairie is eager to recognize the remarkable contribution that Clint continues to make to people in all walks of life who struggle with mental health issues. Clint is a man who has turned adversity in his life to his own advantage and in the process to the advantage of countless others – what a life! Grande Prairie is proud to recognize Clint Malarchuk as a native son. He joined his Uncle Max on Grande Prairie’s Hockey Hall of Fame on Oct. 3, 2015. Clint Malarchuk, Grande Prairie’s 23rd Hockey Legend.

See the feature on Clint’s Induction