NPHL Finals Wrap
The Stanley Cup Series of the North WestBy Stan Neufeld
The Holy Grail, known in this context as the Campbell Cup, is becoming a permanent fixture at the MacLean Rec Centre in Spirit River. The Campbell Cup is to the North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) what the Stanley cup is to the NHL and last night the Rangers won the league championship against the Grimshaw Huskies in convincing fashion by a score of 9 – 1. They won the best of seven series in four straight games.
Ryan Albrecht and D’Lane Sather led a well balanced scoring attack with two goals each while Riley Boomgaarden, Colin Lefley, Khalin Marsolais, Trevor Mazurek and Andrew Buote got singles – there’s the Lefley name again. Ty Wiebe got the lone goal for the Huskies. Assistant coach Mel Vollman got it right when he predicted that if they rolled four lines, finished their checks and capitalized on chances they could finish the series and they did just that.
Assistant Coach and General Manager Mel Vollman said…
“ The Team played exceptionally well last night! I am very proud of this group of young men, the accountability, dedication, skill and commitment is the foundation of our success. It is not easy for the players as it takes a lot of time away from their wives and families. As a coach you learn to appreciate what the guys put into this. They work all day and play their guts out each night and do all over again one or two nights later. They're proud players, that want to win and they want to be the best and that's what we want to do help them get that opportunity with the ultimate goal of being Champions.So I say thanks to a great bunch of guys, coaches, and the executive. This championship is for you guys - each and every one of you should be proud of what you have accomplished. It is a cliché and probably gets over quoted but it is true that good teams can shut down one or two players. However it is awfully hard to shutdown 22 guys that believe in each other and play as a team and that is what defines our team. If you want to be measured by that stick and be the top team you have to be able do it again, again and again. For now, let the guys enjoy this and enjoy their time off and we will see you all next fall.”
The Lefley family: Mike (left) Jack, Linda and Colin - Photo by Deri Lefley
The history of the Campbell Cup dates back to the early 1950s. The North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) has the distinction of being the longest continually running senior hockey league currently in existence in Western Canada and Spirit River has been an important part of the history. At this point it seems legitimate to refer to the team as a dynasty.
What defines a sports dynasty? By definition it is “A powerful group or family that maintains its position for considerable time.” What this definition does not include is what is required to maintain that position over time. A good hockey dynasty benchmark is the Edmonton Oiler team with Gretzky, Kurri, Coffee and Fuhr who won five championships in seven seasons 1983-1990. Reflecting on their domination a dynasty calls for consistent performance on the part of players, coaches, the management, and consistent performance for a number of consecutive years. Like the Edmonton Oilers the Spirit River Rangers fit the bill on all fronts. So - let’s take a brief snap shot at the storied past of this hockey team.
Mel Vollman, General Manager and Assistant Coach of the Rangers has been a key part of their winning ways for almost three decades. Interestingly Ranger pride extends back much longer than Vollman’s 30 year association with the team. While there were ups and downs throughout their history the record shows that the Rangers hark back ninety-two years: to1922 – almost a century. During those early years it was pond hockey, open-air arenas and of course natural ice. That was Spirit River’s Romantic Hockey era.
Almost seven decades from those beginnings and building on that heritage along came Mel Vollman, Jack Lefley and an army of volunteers characteristic of small towns and highly motivated citizens with skilled leadership at the helm. They created the MacLean Rec Centre which is to Spirit River what the Wapiti and Memorial Arenas was to Grande Prairie. The MacLean Rec Centre was and is still today the ideal hockey facility for a small community like Spirit River - a great place that the Rangers call Home.
Not everything went smoothly throughout their history. Take October of 1955 for instance when the small community suffered an enormous set back. Their two-year old arena collapsed due to an extra heavy fall of snow. It forced the Spirit River community to drop out of the NWBHL but for only one year – a testimony to the communities dedication to Canada’s game. In December of 1956 hockey picked up where it left off and a team from Spirit River was once again in the League. A proud mayor Mayor George Kosowan had supported the immediate re-building of a new arena that was financed through a $30,000 debenture approved by the tax payers. Except to honour their history and past participants in the game the community and their team has never looked back.
The Rangers were an integral part of the SPHL until the 1960's. In the 1950's and 60’s teams that could afford it would sometimes import players. Typically imports were offered jobs by local businessmen. However, dependence on outsiders almost backfired one year when the “imports” refused to play in the playoffs unless they got more money. From that time forward the Rangers realized that they did not need to rely on fickle imports. Looking at their homegrown talent pool, the community was home to two families that came very close to forming a team: namely the Lefley and Listhaeghe clans. Art Lefley played his first hockey following WW11 in Grande Praire with the GP Legion team. Art had three hockey hungry sons as did John Listhaeghe. On the Lefley side in 1983 – 84 there were Bart, Jack and Tom and the Listhaeghe clan contributed Dan, D’Arcy and Doug. That’ not a bad start to establish a hockey team. These families, along with a regular stream of other local and surrounding area talent, continue to uphold the rich hockey tradition and their modern era indivudual achievements are too numerous to mention here.
In addition to the Lefleys and the Listhaeghe boys a number of Spirit River players stand out. For example Danny Muloin won the SPHL scoring title in the 1060-61 season tallying 33 goals and 14 assists for 47 points. Speaking of records, Muloin’s three goals in one minute to win a game against Dawson Creek 7-6 may never be broken. Four players who were a force for Spirit River during the 1964-65 season included Fred Zasadny, Johnny Listhaeghe, Freddy Hiltz and George Watt. Zasadny, who finished third in the scoring race the year before, scored four goals and collected eight assist to make it 50 goals, (a record), and 50 assists, (also a record), for 100 points, (a third record) for the season.
During the 1970’s The SPHL became the Central Peace Hockey League and with the Athletics, after folding for the second time in 10 years, were part of the North Peace Hockey League along with other former SPHL teams like the Hythe Mustangs, Dawson Creek Canucks and Rangers. The demise of senior hockey started when players started finding alternatives. In November of 1976 the Rangers regained entry into the SPHL and included a forward line consisting of Jack Lefley, Sid Giroux and Darcy Listhaeghe with Tom Lefley on the blue line.
In November of 1972 a meeting in Spirit River was called by well-known hockey veteran Johnny Listhaeghe of the Central Peace town " We're trying to get hockey revived in Spirit River, one of the best hockey centres in the Peace country,” said Listhaeghe, who that year hung up his players’s skates after 22 seasons. Listhaeghe was firmly convinced that the Rangers were one of the top drawing SPHL teams before they folded seven years earlier. They had operated for 11 years out of the Ice Palace, finishing first twice. They dropped to the bottom of the league in their final season, 1965 – 66. Back to the Ranger dynasty today - they have won the Cup a record 4 times in a row and five times in six years.
The more recent history of Spirit River’s domination Is outlined below.
2015-16: four game sweep over Grimshaw Huskies
2014-15: 4-2 game series over Grande Prairie Athletics
Note: For the first time in league history the Grande Prairie Athletics took a leave of absence during the 2015-2016 season. Kurt Robinson is spearheading a new plan to get the team back in the league for the upcoming season.
2013-14: four game sweep over the Falher Pirates
2012-13: four game sweep over Lakeland Eagles
2010-11: defeated Falher Pirates 4-1 in games
Do the Rangers deserve recognition as a dynasty in the North Peace Hockey league? I would say a resounding YES - especially since it is reported that Art and Johnny have an army of grandchildren poised to carry on the Lefley/Listhaeghe hockey tradtion. It’s in their blood.