OSCAR BLAIS(1929-1999)His given name was Eugene. His friends called him Oscar, a name he inherited from a devoted pet goose. His hockey buddies labeled him Suzie because he was not a “scrapper” like many of his hockey buddies.
When Oscar arrived in Grande Prairie in 1940 at the age of eleven the town featured a livery barn, hitching posts for horses behind Richmond Avenue, a few short stretches of wooden sidewalks and the Wapiti Arena, the largest building in town where hockey at all levels was played. Oscar was one of six brothers who played hockey. During the winter they claimed a section of the roadway in front of their home to play street hockey after school or in the evening under the faint glow of a street lamp. Brotherly love was set aside and sibling rivalry took over during shinny as they shuffled from goal to goal on moccasin-clad feet chasing frozen tennis balls.
At the age of seventeen Oscar realized his dream of playing senior hockey in Grande Prairie with the legendary Red Devils and continued to play in the Northern Wheat Belt League (NWBL) with various local teams for eighteen years. It may have been a Guinness record and confusing to the spectators and broadcasters alike when six Blais brothers, with Suzie in the net, played a novelty shift during a regularly scheduled Northern Wheat Belt League match-up in Dawson Creek. Center ice was his favorite position but occasionally he would strap on goal pads. His dedication to the home team proved itself one night when the regular goalie was injured and Oscar, who was in the stands recuperating from a broken collarbone, took over as net-minder. He was noted for his head bobbing skating style and uncanny anticipation for the puck. He was neither fast nor smooth on his skates and yet his goals and assists record was always respectable. He was a staunch advocate for fair play and he took greater pride in his reputation as a “good sport” than he did in his statistics. In spite of his resistance to fighting and the nickname of Suzie his competitive spirit was never in doubt. On and off the ice Oscar was known for his warm smile and quick wit. Humor was an important tool in his leadership arsenal. He often used it to diffuse tension in the dressing room, on the ice as a player or referee, and he used it to great advantage as a coach and politician. He was unsurpassed as a storyteller and dressing room comedian.
Oscar believed that sports and recreation were invaluable tools for the wholesome development of children and youth. Throughout his life he labored and lobbied for sports facilities. His community service involvement began in his youth when he joined other volunteers to pound nails during the construction phase of the Memorial Arena following the collapse of the Wapiti Arena during a snow storm. He went on to become the consummate volunteer and leader, quick to accept responsibility and even quicker to give credit to others. The scope of his service is too extensive to document here. It involved promotion, planning, fund raising, refereeing and coaching in swimming, baseball, hockey and other areas of recreation. He organized the Grande Prairie Midget Knights Hockey program, was actively involved in bringing Junior “A” hockey to the city and winning a bid to host an international tournament. By his own testimony, his greatest satisfaction came from coaching, a role that enabled him to influence young people, especially those who were disadvantaged. He took pride in his image as a father figure to many children and youth.
He was instrumental in organizing the Grande Prairie Athletic Association (GPAA), serving on that organization for ten years including a term as President. During his tenure the GPAA purchased land on the outskirts of town that was used for ball diamonds in the summer and hockey in winter. Oscar’s background in hockey as a player coach and referee and his experience with various service organizations prepared him for thirty years in Municipal politics; twenty seven years as an Alderman and three years as Mayor. Thanks in large measure to Oscar’s influence and promotion they were golden years for hockey in Grande Prairie and a testimony to his belief that sports activities are an important aspect of a community’s personality and character.
In 2000, Oscar was the recipient of the George Repka Award that recognizes major contributors to Grande Prairie in the areas of recreation, culture or social services. He was one of four Albertans in 1997 to receive a recreation volunteer award. These awards along with numerous honors and recognition bear witness to a busy and fruitful life. Hockey was an important element in is life and one of the reasons for the healthy status of hockey in Grande Prairie today.
Oscar Blais - a Grande Prairie Hockey Legend in 2007.
Grande Prairie Hockey Legends is researched, written and presented by Stan and Ron Neufeld