GPMH Commissioner Roy Peterson dropping the puck opening the 1962-63 minor hockey season at Bear Creek Flats
In addition to individual volunteers the Kinsmen and the Elks were eager promoters of the venture with the Kinsmen providing coaches and forty-five sweaters for every player in that first crop of participants. The cost was an astronomical $2,000.00. It was heady stuff with the Elks donating individual crests and team trophies to the championship team in each league. Roy reports that the Elks also donated helmets that resembled WW1 pilot gear. That was the first wave of a tsunami. In 1966 there were thirty teams in three divisions. By 1971 the venture spilled over the Bear Creek banks with 568 boys in eight different leagues playing in three outdoor rinks and two covered arenas with an executive coordinator for each league. The number of volunteers was impressive and the chemistry complex but Roy was an effective catalyst.
Every volunteer would have stories worth telling but most gripping are tales about the kids. I hate to tell you Roy - not every kid who played on the Bear Creek Flats is a success story in hockey. I am reminded of Richard Moon, a good friend of mine, who played on a team coached by Gordon Bloomfield. Richard told me that during one particular game the coach put him in the net. Picture this - his only protection is a WW I proto type leather helmet, scrawny shin pads and a well-worn belly pad. The thermometer reads 20 degrees below zero – the puck, hard as a rock. Richard is standing in the net, looking over, not through big black horned rimmed glasses that are completely fogged up. Bearing down on him from right wing is a future pro hockey player who releases a laser shot that slams into his chest. It was on that day and in that game that Richard decided on hoops not stick and puck as his preferred sport.
GP Hockey Legend Galen Head whose number eight jersey is retired in the Johnstown, Pennsylvania’s arena was one of my contemporaries at the Bear Creek rinks. He was captain of the team that played against the infamous Hansen Brothers in the movie Slap Shot. When interviewed about his memories of playing minor hockey at the Bear Creek Flats Galen recalls the shack between shifts during a game when it was especially cold. “We would go into the shack when we came off the ice. Soon the coach would run in saying it was time for a line change and then we’d go back out onto the ice. What I remember the most was the awful cold. I remember going out with our helmets on and our toques underneath to keep from freezing. Probably the best days I ever had.” Not infrequently there were frozen body parts but amazingly I don’t recall any serious hockey incidents during those years.
Another friend who remembers placing his name on Roy’s sign up sheet was Dan Zeyha. His coach was none other than Roy Peterson. Think of it - Roy ran a thriving minor hockey program for 568 kids and oversaw seventy-five volunteers, all out of his living room and he coached a team as well. He was a good coach with credentials to support his reputation. In the midst of his hectic schedule Roy made time to attend hockey seminars and workshops to strengthen his natural instincts as a coach. In a conversation with GP Hockey Legend Terry Bangen following Roy’s passing, Terry commented that he looked into an audience he was addressing at a hockey seminar some years ago and there was a face from home - Roy Petersen. Little did Terry know that later both he and Roy would be honoured as hockey legends in their home-town. A hockey leadership training school conducted at UBC by Father Bauer and Bob Hindmarch was among the professional development activities on Roy’s resume. An interesting side note illustrates the web-like connections in hockey circles. Bob Hindmarch was on the UBC Thunderbird hockey coaching staff when my brother Ron played for the Birds in the late fifties. Three decades and many miles later Bob and Ron came face to face on a Helijet to Victoria. Both were UBC Faculty members and Bob recruited Ron to play old- timer hockey. Ron had been away from the game for twenty-six years. For a number of years Bob and Ron got their “hockey fix” playing together weekly with the UBC Oldbirds and with the Vancouver Canuck Oldtimers, a tournament team.
Back to the Bear Creek rinks - my coach after team assignments were complete was Hockey Legend Roy Borstad. This exposes yet another interconnecting strand in the hockey web. Roy attended school with brother Ron and Ron assures me that I was fortunate to have Roy as a coach. Ron reports that he does not remember Roy playing much hockey in his youth but that he did not know a more ardent hockey fan than Roy and even as a high school kid Roy was a sophisticated student of the game. In spite of his superior knowledge of the game I remember Roy as unusually humble and reluctant to accept praise for the widespread positive influence he had on Grande Prairie young people. Humble they may have been but the two Roy’s stand out in my mind as Grande Prairie’s most outstanding hockey aficionados and hockey boosters. For Roy Borstad that includes his support for both minor and senior hockey including his role in reviving the Athletics. With volunteers such as Roy Borstad and Roy Peterson it is no wonder the late fifties and sixties were minor hockey’s golden years.