Rung # 1 – The Dugout Hockey Player
Farming is a challenging occupation dependent on careful planning, hard work but many conditions beyond the farmer’s control such as weather. Murray compares hockey to the harvest of a barley crop. The goal for planting a field of grain is to see it successfully harvested whereas success in hockey is like making it to the finals of a hockey tournament. The family farm instilled sound values in all of the boys. The Toews family consisted of Murray’s parents Bev and Don along with three brothers Tim, 18 months his junior, and twin brothers Greg and Jeff who came along seven years later in 1973. They were a closely knit family unit with a bit of an age gap between Murray and Tim and the twins. Sports activities including fastball, soccer and football were an important part of their lives twelve months of the year. During the summer months there was grass hockey and baseball with the barn as a backstop. Most importantly they played ice hockey during winter in the farm dugout adjacent to their house. Typically it was two on two - Tim with Greg competing against Murray and Jeff while Father Don made the foursome as a sometime player/ref.
Tim and Murray talk of spending a lot of time on the back yard dugout. When darkness fell Dad would shine the pickup’s lights on the ice surface and thus provide a few extra hours of ice time. Growing up we were very close and enjoyed playing minor hockey together every second year. We never went hungry. When work and play was done Mom was always there with the best meals ever. As a Hockey Mom she was our biggest fan. As we got older we could always hear her shouting words of encouragement from the crowd. There was never any doubt that we were Momma’s boys. Hockey and a competitive nature is lodged in our DNA. Dad claimed he wasn’t competitive but yet we always had to have a winner in whatever game we were playing. Whatever team he was on always won, on the dugout or not. If you didn’t get Dad on your team you wouldn’t win that day. He was equally competitive playing adult hockey with LaGlace in the Beaver Senior Hockey League. He was known to have a good shot and scored many goals for his team.
The family farm instilled great values in all of us boys. Tim remembers the family motto – “work hard and play hard” and fondly recalls watching hockey night in Canada. We only had two TV channels back then. Saturday night hockey was a must but during intermission Dad would say, “Okay boys - time to go for a jog.” No matter the temperature -30C or -40C we would jog a half mile come back and watch the next period, sometimes still wearing snow boots and skidoo suits. Our Dad didn’t start playing hockey until he was 18 years old. When he was missing we knew we could find him in the fields. Like his boys he loved the game and learned to skate and play on a dugout. He proudly reports that his first puck was a cow turd. For shin pads he shoved Eaton Catalogues under his pant legs. Dad was very active with us. We enjoyed lots of dugout hockey and part of the activity was scraping the ice. After school we would be out there until Mom hollered for supper. We had a rule – the team scoring the next goal wins and away we’d go for supper. After supper we’d be back on the dugout. We played a lot of hockey outside. Our equipment was all hand me down equipment. Dad is 82 now and still farming here with us. While wintering in Yuma with Bev, Dad plays slowpitch, pickle ball and golf. He still plays hard and he works even harder.
Sadly in 2007, the Toews family lost son and brother Jeff under suspicious circumstances while he was vacationing in Mexico. The exact details surrounding Jeff’s death have never been uncovered and the loss of their loved one has left a void in their family that can never be filled.
For 10 years the Grande Prairie Petroleum Association hosted the Jeff Toews Memorial Oilmen’s Hockey Classic with proceeds going to support Wembley Minor hockey, the Jeff Toews Foundation and STARS Air Ambulance. Don Toews, Greg , Murray and Tim participated in the 2013 event honouring Jeff. Photo courtesy of Murray Toews
Rung # 2 – The Minor Hockey Player in Wembley
It was in Wembley that Murray had his first exposure to organized league hockey at age seven. That might be considered a late start for many hockey players today. As you will see his late start was not an impediment as time passed, he caught up to his peers quickly. During his first league game he lost a tooth but that did not discourage him.
Wembley Pee Wees. Photo courtesy Grande Prairie Booster, March 26, 1980
He played through the minor ranks – atom, mite, pee-wee and Bantam B in the Trumpeter Hockey League that included teams from Grande Prairie. Every other year his younger brother Tim caught up to him and they played together. It was exciting to play from time to time in the old Memorial Arena in Grande Prairie. The highlight of Wembley hockey came during his last year of minor hockey in his home town playing with the Bantams.
Wembley Epicurian Bantams 1981-82
Back from from left: Tim Toews, Rodeer Arias, Murray Toews, Les Lindhout, Tim Dombrova, Arne Auger, Allan Mayer, Ken Dombrova, coach
Front row from left: Wade Hoflin, Kevin Kirscht, Lloyd Scheopp, Jim Dorscheid, Rodney Metz. Photo courtesy of Murray Toews
They defeated teams from nearby communities like Hythe and Spirit River to qualify for the Provincial Tournament in Sedwick. Along the way Murray won numerous scoring titles. His next step was to play midget hockey in Grande Prairie.