Hockey Legends

of Grande Prairie

Back Row: Walt Hiekkila, Gordon Bond, Don Swanston, Harold Ayre, Deb Crough, John Lynn(mgr.) Robert Card, Charlie Turner, Ernie Nelson, Roy Wright, John Listhaeghe
Front Row: Ron Neufeld, Bob Rigler, Johnny MacMillan, Fred Anderson, Lou Giroux, Jerry Moore, Kelly Schiekle

Real Heros

I could spin hockey yarns about every player in this picture (1950-51) but the story that stands out in my mind revolves around the four men who stand to the right of John Lynn, Manager of the Grande Prairie Legion hockey team. The team was structured by and around these men. They were hockey heroes in my mind but more importantly they were heroes and deserving legends who volunteered and bravely served their country overseas in WWII. They left home as boys and came home as men sobered by their experience. Hockey was an important link to their pre-war past and they were the leaders of this collection of players. Following are their stories as told to Stan Neufeld by Billy Bessent, another hero who survived the war and has a Distinguished Flying Medal to prove it. Billy is a founding member of the Legends Committee and an important source of information.

Bob Card is the handsome guy with the moustache standing directly to the left of the Manager. He was a bomber pilot and based on his distinguished service was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Next to him is Charlie Turner, who served overseas in the Intelligence Corps. Charlie was an unusually talented NHL caliber hockey player and a Grande Prairie Hockey Legend. While overseas he played hockey with members of the famous Boston Bruin “Kraut line”. Kraut is an abbreviation for sauerkraut and slang for German as all members of the Kraut line were of German descent and three are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. They were not referred to as the Kraut Line overseas. Next to Charlie is Ernie (Baby Face) Nelson. He was a rear gunner in a Lancaster bomber that was shot down in action behind the German lines. He survived the crash by bailing out but was captured and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp. While playing an “away game” against arch rival, the Hythe Mustangs, Baby Face, during the second period delivered a clean but crushing hip check to a bright young Mustang prospect that sent him cart wheeling into the boards breaking his arm. Between periods our bus driver came into the dressing room and informed us that after the game we should toss our equipment out of the dressing room and he would pile it in the bus. We were told to keep our sticks as the Hythe crowd wanted Baby Face. After the game we walked a noisy gamut of passionate, taunting Hythe fans. To Ernie, Bob, Charlie and Roy, the Hythe gamut was a “cake walk” – they had stared down death in a more threatening context. Roy Wright was an older brother to Grande Prairie Hockey Legend Pete. Like Pete he was skilled and rugged and could have been a career hockey player. He had a quick delivery and the hardest wrist shot I had ever seen. He completed a tour of duty overseas as a tail gunner in a Lancaster Bomber. Following the war he was content to return home, bought into a business and helped to reinstate home town hockey to its pre-war status.

The team spent time together travelling to hockey games and in dressing rooms but this quartet of veterans never spoke about the war or their adventures overseas. They never bragged about the number of Meserschmitts shot down – never told us what it felt like, crouched, all alone in a bubble on the tail end of a bomber with tracer bullets screaming past and explosions lighting up the inky black on a night raid. When tempers flared on the ice – when sticks, fists and pucks were flying it seemed to me that Bob, Charlie, Ernie and Roy had nerves of steel - small wonder. Their nerves had been tested in another arena. Hockey was just a game.

We are grateful to Billy Bessent for sharing their stories with us.

Grande Prairie Hockey Legends is researched, written and presented by Stan and Ron Neufeld