Monday, January 26, 2009


The Victory of the Belleville McFarlands

The Belleville McFarlands returned home to Canada in 1959 as the World Hockey Champions. They had defeated the best hockey teams in the world in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and returned home in early April.

The team had left Belleville three months earlier to embark on an exhausting exhibition schedule prior to the championships. Many fans lined the roof of the Malton Airport in Toronto to bid farewell to the team. They were flying to New York, then on to Scotland.

Everyone, that is, except Lou Smrke. Lou was born in Yugoslavia. At that time, Yugoslavia was behind the Iron Curtain, an imaginary line drawn across Europe dividing the continent into two sections-communist and the free world.

The Championships in 1959 were the first to be held behind the Iron Curtain. Only three years beforehand, the significance of the communist influence was brought to bear on the people of Hungary. They had arisen, as a people, and were demanding rights and freedoms. Within minutes, the strength of the Soviet Union came to bear on the nation. Tanks rolled into Budapest, and the Hungarian Revolution ended violently and abruptly.

The lines were drawn following the Second World War. The Axis Powers, which included Germany, Japan, and Italy had been defeated in 1945, and the victors were left with the daunting task of cleaning up the mess left behind. The Americans, the British, the Russians, the Canadians-in fact, most of the rest of the world was expected to take charge. The United Nations was established to help keep peace, similar in concept to the League of Nations formed after the First World War.

The smaller nations in northern and eastern European were tired, defeated, and broke. For years, they had been overrun by the Russians and the Germans. The Hun had been defeated, and now they had to deal with the great Russian Bear, and the Soviet occupation.

As children in Canadian schools, we were made aware of the significance of the Cold War-the undeclared war between the east and the west. It was barely ten years since the end of the Second World War. The Americans had ended the war in Japan by dropping atomic bombs on the major cities. An even more powerful explosive had been developed-the hydrogen bomb. All devices were being tested in the Pacific region. The Soviets had attained the secrets. They also had nuclear capability.

Canada’s Prime Minister recognized the nuclear threat. He arranged the construction of an enormous bomb shelter in the Ottawa Valley, near Carp, just in case the Nuclear War would ever come to pass. For several years, the shelter was manned by the Canadian Armed Forces. Today it exists as a museum, well worth the visit. Radio and television studios were established several stories underground, so that we would be able to hear Diefenbaker’s messages to the nation following the nuclear attack.

In almost every Canadian municipality, citizens were encouraged to build bomb shelters, and to stock them with supplies in case of war. Members of the Emergency Measures Organization visited schools in Belleville to teach students how to cope with air raids. We were taught to duck under our desks to avoid falling plaster from the ceilings. Air raid warning sirens were hung on telephone and hydro poles, and were tested monthly. We envisioned crowds of people scurrying for shelter like those in the early British movies during the time of the Battle of Britain in the Second World War.

In was not a time of panic, but a time of preparation, and caution.

In that environment, the American Government decided to refuse to give Lou Smrke permission to land in New York. He was born behind the Iron Curtain. No matter that he had come to Canada as an infant. There was always suspicion. Lou met up with the team in Scotland. He played a prominent role in the team’s success in Prague.

By no means was that the end of it, politically, as far as the Macs and their fans were concerned. Even in 1972, when the Canadians played the “Summit Series” against the Soviets, there were rumours of electronic “Bugs” and spies and subterfuge.

The Belleville McFarlands were followed by the Trail Smoke Eaters who won the World Championship in 1961. They were the last Canadian “teams”, chosen by the Canadian Hockey Association to represent the country following their victories in the Allan Cup finals. After 1961, Canada did not win a World Championship until 1994. By then, Canadian hockey authorities agreed to send our best, an all star squad from the National Hockey League.

James Hurst

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Senior Hockey in Belleville 1949-1950

Hockey programs can kindle fond memories. I recently received a copy of the program for the Belleville Diesel-Electric O. H. A. Senior Hockey Club, for the year of 1949-1950.

One of the first places to which I usually venture in these publications is the centre page, with the starting line ups for the opposing teams. The Belleville side was composed of the finest players in the city at that time: Al Meagher, Don Barrett, Tim Williams, Doug Free, Leo Goyer, Vern Goyer, Maurice Lefort, Bruce Woodman, Joe Nolan, Tom Schreider, Claire Williamson, Gerry Moher, Doug Day, Doug Bastedo, Pete Jones, Jack Wardaugh, Bryan Mulvihill and Keith MacDoanald. Another player not on the roster at that time, but pictured on page 22 is Earl Cousins.

Many of these players continued their Senior hockey careers in the Belleville area. The Mohawks and the Memos (an abbreviation for Memorial-the name of the arena at that time),were also Senior Hockey clubs. Of all the players on that list, only one went on to play for the Belleville McFarlands-Prince Edward county’s Keith MacDonald. The team was coached by Jim Ethier, and Mac Carson was the manager.

Most of the businesses in the program are long gone; however, some still are with us. On page ten there is an ad for Lorne McDougall Insurance Agencies Limited. Finkle Electric advertised on page 21. The back cover is occupied by the Northern Electric Company Limited.

Most of the other hundred or so companies and businesses mentioned in the program have disappeared. Meagher’s men’s wear, Clark and Miles Meat Market, Jim Truaisch’s Imperial Service Station, Ozzie Hales’ Grocery, and Reddick’s Bakery, to name a few.

In those days, the phone numbers were relatively uncomplicated. Barber’s Flowers on the Market Square could be reached by calling 516. That is correct---no area code, no seven digit numbers to follow. Three simple digits.

For entertainment, it was suggested that you drop by Tobe’s Country Gardens-The Dining and Dancing Centre of Eastern Ontario. It was listed as “Just Across the Bay in Rossmore”. Their phone was listed in the Mountain View directory-Number 50.

To make sure your shoes were correctly fitted, all fittings were checked by “X-Ray” at Leslie’s Shoe Store. On page 15, the people at the Belmont Restaurant, 289 Front Street, were there to wait on you after the game. Even the Moose Lodge supported the team with an ad.

There is almost a full page of adverts from the legal profession: Cameron and Sprague, Butler, O’Flynn, Maraskas, Robertson, Collins and Cushing, Robb and Ross, and Ted Folwell contributed to the program.

Billiard parlours, laundries, plumbers, car dealers, hotel proprietors, jewellers, and a host of other small town merchants pitched in to help the club.

The program and others like it will be permanently displayed by the Belleville Sports hall of Fame, once suitable display areas are constructed.

The current Sports Hall of fame activities involving the Belleville McFarlands will aid in the construction of the display areas.

James Hurst

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Steve Nash-A Raptor Some day?

Last weekend, the Toronto Raptors hosted the Phoenix Suns. Included in the Suns' all star lineup is the greatest Canadian basketball player ever to set foot on a court, Steve Nash. Although he was born in South Africa, he came to Canada as a child, and has played for the Canadian side in international play for many years. He is fiercely Canadian.

Though short handed, the Raptors played gallantly up to the final buzzer. The fans rose to their feet near the end of the game to spur their team on to victory. Alas, Nash and the Spurs had other ideas at that point. He whipped a pin-point pass to an uncovered Amar’e Stoudemire at the fringe of the basket for an easy two points. Nash drove the lane unmolested for a couple more.

In a matter of thirty seconds, the game was out of reach, and the Raptors had again come close, but with no cigar. They are wounded, to be sure. Kapono had the flu, Calderon is nursing a tender hamstring muscle, and O’Neal has an injured right knee. There is also an element of controversy surrounding Jermaine O’Neal, the hulking star who came to the Raptors at the beginning of the season. O’Neal has not met expectations for the Raptors, and rumours have him moving to Miami.

Herbie Kuhn, the energetic Raptor announcer mentioned that January 30th is Jermaine O’Neal “Bobble Head Day” at the Air Canada Centre. The marketing crew for the Raptors will be wringing their hands at this point. If he does get traded, they could substitute shares in Nortel as a gift to all the fans.

Louis Amundson is playing in his second year for the Suns. He is a California boy, and played his college ball at Las Vegas. He told me he got a touch of the Canadaian winter the day before the game. “We went to a charity event organized for Steve Nash. I went outside for a little while. I could not believe the snow you have, and the cold.”

After the game, Nash was asked about his knack for finding open men on the floor. He chuckled, referring to his teammates: “We’ve got a lot of mouths to feed here.” He ended the game with 18 assists, his high mark for the season.

While savouring the win, Nash had some sympathy for his friend Jay Triano, coach of the Raptors. “I’m sad for him because I thought he did a great job. Guys enjoy playing for him. It’s such a great day for me to come back here and get such a nice reception from the fans.”

Nash figures he’s got at least three good years left in the game. He does suffer with a nagging back on occasion, but indicated it is not a problem at this time. “I feel as good as I have ever felt. I’ve never really thought about playing for Toronto. But it would be a dream come true for me. I love what the team has done here for basketball. If I had to move, Toronto would be on the top of the list.”

The English-speaking reporters scurried off to get some quick quotes from Shaquille O’Neal. Nash then continued to answer questions-in Spanish. His wife grew up in Paraguay, which would be an incentive for him to pick up the language. Incidentally, he had a good grasp of the language. He listened intently to each question, and went from there. He uses funds from one of his endorsements to help finance an intensive care, post operative, paediatric cardiology ward in a Paraguayan hospital.

Coach Terry Porter recognized that Bosh and Bargnani were the keys to the Raps’ success. After the game he indicated that his game strategy was to make both of them work hard. “I wanted our guys to only give them tough shots.” He also knew that “they (the Raptors) were wounded, but they really gutted it out.”

Coach Triano has his work cut out for him. His record has been dismal since taking over from Sam Mitchell. A coach is only as successful as the players on the floor. Hopefully, the raptors will pick it up as the season draws to a close. I hope he asked Santa for a few more points in the paint.

James Hurst

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Macs World Champs!

In 1959, the Belleville McFarlands won the World Championship of Hockey in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The team had won the Allan Cup in 1958 in Kelowna, British Columbia. As Canadian champions, they were entitled to represent Canada on the World stage. Following their triumph in B. C., plans were immediately initiated to get the team overseas to play in the World Championship.

The Belleville Sports Hall of Fame is recognizing the team with a tribute in the city. Peter Lockyer, an independent documentary producer formerly with the CBC, is currently putting the finishing touches to a DVD about the McFarlands. Aaron Bell, who has a couple of hockey books under his belt is writing the history of the team. Both the DVD and the book will be introduced in a gala evening at the Empire Theatre in Belleville on Saturday, April 4, 2009. Tickets are now available.

At that time, all of the players at the tournament had to be amateurs. There were serious doubts about many of the European players, particularly those from Russia. All of the Canadian players had to have amateur status. Some had experience in the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League, which were both professional leagues at that time; however, by the time that the team was assembled to leave Canada, all of the players were deemed eligible.

The team was assembled by a Bellevillian named Drury Denyes. Denyes was the City Manager at that time, and he had an uncanny hockey sense to put together a winning group of players. His work began with local players, like David Jones and Keith Macdonald, and he added others as time went on. There is no doubt that he was a good listener, and was able to make great decisions about the player personnel from all of his sources.

Team captain Floyd Crawford had arrived in the city from the Quebec League, along with a couple of other outstanding players. Crawford was a Torontonian, and therefore had information about players from many different sources. Mostly by word of mouth, he and Denyes were able to find talented players to play in the city.

Teams would arrive at the Memorial Arena in Belleville expecting great nights of hockey. The rink was usually jammed to the rafters. At that time, it also had some wonderful idiosyncrasies. There was only one penalty box for both teams. Seriously.

Quite often the penalty time keeper, Don Dolan, would have to sit between combatants serving five minute majors for fighting. Others who were penalized would sit in the same box. Occasionally, penalized players sat with the fans when the box became overcrowded.

The Whitby Dunlops also played in the league, and were one of the McFarlands’ finest opponents. Many players at that time had played for both teams. The rivalries ran deep, and there were great battles on Friday nights in downtown Belleville. Harry Sinden was the object of much venom from the loyal Belleville fans, and occasionally would mix it up with one of the Macs. On one occasion, he and Crawford spilled out of the penalty box to the aisle below-about an eight foot drop. They continued their tussle until a local cop, one of Belleville’s finest, of British extraction, asked them to stop: “Now, now, chappies,” he said, “that’s quite enough”.

The Queen’s Hotel was on Front Street, and it was calculated, several times, that it was ninety-nine steps from the arena. Many fans made the trek to the Hotel between periods, to put down a couple of draughts. Some made it back to the arena for the second and third periods.

The arena was noted for the large steel beams which held the roof in place. I was most grateful for those beams because I weighed less than one hundred pounds at that time, and I neatly squeezed into one of them. It was a great vantage point to watch the game, never interfering with the sightlines of any other fan.

It was the only game in town. With the rink packed, with great rivalries, with wonderful players representing the home town Macs, it was a very special time.

There were more than two thousand members of the team’s booster club. Armin Duffy was the president of the club. The Mercier brothers, Andre and Paul, along with Snipe Matthews and “Senator” Harry Rollins led the cheering from their rink-side seats. The boards were low, and there was no glass to protect the fans. They could easily reach out and touch the players, and remind the referee to make the correct calls.

All week long the locals primed themselves for the Friday night tilts. In the barbershops, in the pool halls, in the court rooms and the dentists’ offices, hockey dominated the conversations.

There was a young star from the Belleville area named Bobby Hull making his way in the National Hockey League, soon to be followed by his brother Dennis. We followed the Hulls on the radio broadcasts, in the early television programs, and in the newspapers. That was all well and good, but for real life adventure, we had the Macs.

More than forty thousand people lined the streets of Belleville when they returned home from Prague. The team’s victory in Europe was a significant event in terms of the country’s hockey history. For Belleville, it was the city’s greatest moment.

Most of the players will be in attendance at the Empire on the fourth of April, sharing memories, signing autographs, renewing acquaintances. A great way to recognize a great team. See you there.
James Hurst

Thursday, January 08, 2009


Canadian Junior Wrap UP-2009

A few final glimpses at the World Under 20 Junior Championships from Ottawa.

After the final buzzer sounded, and the confetti rained down on the players and the ice, the flag was raised and the fans belted out the anthem. The Canadians had been successful for a fifth straight time, and there were even chants of “We want Six, We want Six!” I am fairly sure it was six they said, although they were young and spirited, and it did sound remarkably similar to something else. I’m sorry, I digress.

At about that point in time, someone appeared with a box of hats. The players are instructed to wear these hats. It is a must. It happens with so many teams that become champions---in all sports. It is a blatant advertisement, a marketing scheme. For years companies have paid for the right to have their products displayed by the winners, and the organizations have benefited from the income.

A couple of the Canadian players decided to play with the concept. John Tavares wore his newly won cap backwards throughout the ceremony. Cute, perhaps as a message. P. K. Subban wore his on the C C Sabathia tilt, which I personally love. The peak of the cap is moved either to the right or to the left, on about a 45 degree angle. It looks quite ridiculous, and CC no longer does it. His hundred million dollar deal with the Yankees may have helped him reconsider his angle of protest.

I sat beside several writers from Montreal. There was a real buzz amongst the group, and frequently overheard were the initials “P. K.”. The fans of the “Bleu, Blanc, and Rouge” can hardly wait to get the Bulls’ defenseman into their camp. As previously noted, his end to end rushes stirred the crowd like no other player throughout the tournament. He was selected to the All Star team, as was Swede Erik Karlsson.

Subban was the undisputed crowd favourite, whereas Karlsson and fellow Swedish blueliner Victor Hedman were constantly met with boos every time they touched the puck. Even goal tender Jacob Markstrom was the brunt of the Canadian fans, especially after some spectacular dives. It is recommended that he save those for the soccer pitch.

It is a game of inches. Against the Russians, the Canadians received a break when Dmitri Klopov iced the puck in an attempt to score into the empty net. There were forty-one seconds remaining in the game, and little hope. Eberle danced across the Russian crease and tied the game with five seconds left.

In the final against Sweden, the Canadians iced the puck at the vacant Swedish net. It struck the post and squirted at an eighty-seven degree angle towards the boards. No icing, no whistle, just a huge break for the Canucks.

With the game still close at 3-1, Evander Kane blew around a tiring Hedman on his way to the net. The Swede was assessed a two minute slashing penalty, with just over six minutes remaining. Momentum crushed.

Eberle potted an empty net goal with almost two minutes remaining. A minute later, the Prime Minister left the building with his son and entourage. He stumbled on the steps, and someone mentioned former U. S. President Gerald Ford. Harper posed for photographs with the fans between the second and third periods. Lucky subjects got a card that indicated they could access the photo from the official photographer. No fee was mentioned.

All the fans clad in red and white left the building with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Surprisingly, there was little wind outside the Scotiabank Place, and it was relatively mild, for Ottawa-probably minus 12.

Next year, Saskatchewan. You will need your woollies for that one Mabel. One perhaps, a bit of that screech from the Rock!

The disc at the top of this blurb is, in fact, the Canadian team’s Media Guide. I had John Tavares sign it after the Bulls-Generals game on Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at the Quinte Sports Centre. Tavares was traded the next day to London. P. K. Subban will also sign that disc, and it will be one of the items up for auction at the McFarlands Tribute Dinner for the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday, February 19, 2009.

James Hurst

Sunday, January 04, 2009


Canada's Quest For Gold!

Never in Doubt.

Sure. What are you smoking?

With ten seconds remaining in regulation time, the Canadian entry at the World Junior Championships looked like they were toast. There was no sustained pressure at the front of the net, no disorganized scramble that often results in a goal. The team was one goal down, the clock was ticking.

With 5.4 seconds left, a tiny forward who plays for Regina in the Western Hockey League, Jordan Eberle, lifted the biscuit over the sprawling Russian goaltender and dented the twine. Game tied. Overtime inevitable.

Then the strangest thing happened. I asked Coach Pat Quinn about it right after the game. My question was related to the Russian strategy in the overtime period. With four skaters against four, and with a truckload of talented players on his bench, why didn’t Coach Nemchinov try to bury the Canadians in overtime?

“I was really surprised at that. They played like they were preparing for the shootout. (After the overtime period). That didn’t concern me. We have been practising shootouts every day. I knew we had the guys to put the puck in the net. I was a little concerned about keeping their pucks out of our net.”

In the final analysis, he needn’t have been concerned. The first Russian shooter, Kugryshev, clanked the first attempt off the left goal post, a tender’s best friend, and the second, Chernov, was stopped cold by Tokarski. Eberle and Tavares beat the Russian netminder Zhelobnyuk like the proverbial rented mule to move Canada on to the Gold medal game against the Swedes.

Quinn coached Nemchinov as a player in Vancouver. He had nothing but good things to say about the Russian coach. Nemchinov praised his team’s play in the semi-final game: “I am very proud of my team. Tonight we played the best game in the tournament.”

Up to this point in the tournament, the Canadians had scored on 60% of their power play opportunities. Against the Russians, they scored once in nine opportunities. Nenchinov modestly stated that his team had played their positions well to thwart the Canadian power play.

Belleville Bull defenseman, P. K. Subban, again turned in a fine effort for the Canucks. He has become a fan favourite at the tournament. Once he gets the puck in his own zone, there are whispers of ‘Soooooban” in the crowd. When given an opportunity to free wheel through the neutral zone, it builds to a very audible chant. He has moved the puck well, carried it well, and compensates for his mistakes with his speed.

He was thrilled with the win: “The smallest guy on our team gets the biggest goal of his life. We were a little bit flat in the third period. We bounced back. We found a way to win.”

P. K. lowered his head during the shootout, for both Canadian shooters. . “But I lifted it when they crossed the blue line, both times. I will do that for the rest of my life!” When asked if # 19 might not score in the shootout, he replied, somewhat indignantly: “Of course he wouldn’t miss. It was John Tavares!”

He admitted that he was afraid near the end of the game, a goal down. “We were on the verge of being kicked out of the tournament. We didn’t want that to happen. We relied on our passion and grit.”

A Happy New Year, indeed. One more fish to fry. The Muppets had a Swedish chef. Perhaps it is the Canadians turn to mind the skillet.

James Hurst

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