Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Say hello to Bob for me!

I remain steadfastly passionate about sports. There are occasions when my interest wanes, but only slightly. One of the ways that I nurture my love of the game is through the collection of sports cards.

I collected hockey and baseball cards in the early 1950s. I can distinctly remember ripping open the wax packs to look at the 1952 Topps baseball cards, or the 1954-55 Topps hockey cards. The name Parkhurst was important to me as a kid, because that company produced the cards of the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens.

Our house on Church Street in Belleville was in a strategic position to help with my passion for sport. It was directly across the street from the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church tennis courts. On the southern edge of the courts lies the beloved “Campus”, the playing ground of the former Belleville High School. A couple of blocks away lies the Memorial Arena, the place where I vainly tried to earn a berth into the National Hockey League.

Queen Victoria School is on Pine Street in the city, perhaps half a mile from the house on Church Street. I attended the school for several primary grades. Aunt Sadie and Uncle Hugh lived on Albert Street. I discovered that I could pass by their house if I took a slightly longer route to school. This leads to a most significant confession.

I did not realize it at the time, but they were in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. I found this out rather quickly. I stopped by their house on the way to school in the morning. I was likely in Grade Two, about seven years old. “Is there anything I can help you with?” I asked, genuinely concerned about their inability to get around. “No, we’re fine thank you, James. Nothing right now. But here’s a little something to get a treat on the way to school.”

Ten bucks! I accepted it graciously. I alluded to the fact that their memories were not great. Here is the confession: I stopped by their place after lunch, on the way back to school. “Any chores I can help with?” “No, but thank you. And here’s a little something for you.” Bingo! Understandably, I visited them twice a day for several months.

Almost every nickel went into sports cards at the Pine Street Variety Store, directly across the street from the school.

Many kids in those days abused their sports cards. I could not believe it when I heard a kid race by me, for the first time, on his bike that roared like a motorcycle. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that he had fastened a sports card to the frame so that the spokes would rattle off the card to make the noise. Such a travesty!

Others threw their cards against the wall in a game to win more cards! Ding, ding, ding on the corners of the cards! Utter stupidity. Another slightly less invasive game was “Topsies”. Cards were place against the wall, at eye’s height. When released, they would flutter to the ground. As soon as a card landed on the others, that player collected all the grounded cards as his or her own, because that card “topped” one of the others.

I collected the sets of these cards for several years. I handled them with the same care as I did the stamps in my collection. I lined them up in order, breathing a sigh of relief every time I was able to complete a set. The garbage man collected them all off Church Street in 1967. The house had been sold. My parents were downsizing. I was away at university, unaware of the fate of my beloved collection.

I found out, years later. My mother fessed up. By that time, it really didn’t matter.

In the meantime, I still enjoy collecting, following the game through those little pieces of cardboard. Rookies, all stars, heroes, bums, ordinary super stars.

Al Wood has closed the door of his wonderful little card store in Belleville. We will now have to visit Bob Collins at J & B Books on Front Street in Trenton. Bob knows his cards, and his sports as well. It has always been a pleasure to deal with him.

For the next couple of months, I will be scouring the streets of Australia and New Zealand looking for sports cards.

Unfortunately, I will not be to stop at Aunt Sadie’s on the way to the shops. Nothing lasts forever. Until I return, keep your stick on the ice. Get the bat off your shoulder. Don’t linger in the key. Do not go offside. Keep those cards sorted.

James Hurst

Monday, January 18, 2010


Notes From the Near North-Part 2

As luck would have it, the puck ricocheted over the glass and into the stands. It smacked against the back wall, struck a pipe, and landed on the guest of honour. Shania Twain was thrilled, and made it perfectly clear to everyone that she was keeping that puck.

Earlier in the week, she had donated her Olympic suit and her Olympic torch to the municipality. It will be displayed in the Shania Twain Centre. I was sceptical as well when I heard, and read that there was a centre dedicated to the most famous export from the Timmins area. Rest assured, the centre is worth a visit. It is also connected to a real gold mine, now a museum.

In last week’s column, I led you to believe that Timmins was tough, but that Schumacher was a lot tougher. According to Hillary “Minnie” Menard, nothing could be further from the truth. “Minnie” came from a long line of outstanding athletes. Several brothers played professional hockey. Brother Howie toiled in the National Hockey League for half a dozen years.

“You got that all wrong,” Minnie told me. “The boys from Timmins were more respected in the north. But the rink was in Schumacher, and we had to fight our way out of that rink many times.” Minnie was a key player with the Belleville McFarlands, who, unfortunately had his promising career shortened by a serious eye injury. Menard finished his career in Des Moines, Iowa.

In the early days of professional hockey, the near north was the main feeder system for the game. The landscape has changed in many ways. There are significantly more Americans playing in the NHL than there were fifty years ago. Ditto for Europeans. Most Canadians in the NHL come from the large metropolitan areas, around Toronto, Montreal, and the larger western cities. This is largely due to finances, coaching, and opportunities for ice time.

Steve Sullivan is from Timmins, and he, along with Sean Donovan, is one of the very few locals now playing in the NHL. He began his NHL career with New Jersey in 1995, and was traded to the Leafs the following year. Following three years with the Hawks, he is now in his fourth year with the Nashville Predators. With more than 800 NHL games under his belt, he is a proven talent. An outstanding two way player, he has always finished the season with a positive plus/minus statistic---even with some very awful teams.

The walls of the McIntyre Arena are covered with photos of local players who skated in the NHL. This list is by no means complete, but gives an idea as to how important the north was in the development of the game: Allan Stanley, Gus Mortson, Alex Henry, Walter Tkaczuk, Paul Gagne, “Doc” Prentice, Dean Prentice, Gord Hannigan, Pat Hannigan, Real Chevrefils, Tim Horton, Frank and Peter Mahovlich, Bill Barilko, Pete Babando, Bep Guidolin, Al Lebrun, Jim Mair, Leo Lamoureux, Sean Donovan, Steve Shields, Murph Chamberlain, Baz Bastien, Bob Nevin, Eric Vail, Darren Turcotte, John McLellan, Don Lever, Dave Poulin, Paul Harrison, Hector Marini, Norm Defelice, Murray Costello and his brother Les, the founder of the “Flying Fathers”.

Every one of those names can conjure up memories for hockey fans. The tragedy of Bill Barilko, as an example. He scored the Stanley Cup winning goal, and was killed in a plane crash the following summer. The brilliant careers of the Mahovlich brothers, with Frank now in the Senate. McClellan and Guidolin played for the McFarlands. Guidolin will likely go down in history as the youngest player ever in the NHL: he played for the Bruins in November, 1942, when he was sixteen years old!

This January thaw has helped take away the chill from the north. A couple of months in Australia and New Zealand should help as well.

James Hurst

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Hocket as it Was in the Near North

Lest you had lived up to this point thinking that Timmins and Schumacher were one and the same, let me dispel that notion right now. Schumacher is tough, and Timmins? Well, let me continue.

First of all, the Under 17 World Hockey Championships were recently held in the McIntyre Arena in Schumacher. It was promoted as a Timmins event, and they do lie beside each other---Timmins and Schumacher, I mean.

The “Mac”, as it is called in the north, has been the home of hockey in that area for more than seventy years. I caught up with one local resident who opened the doors of history to me upstairs at the tournament.

Lou Battochio was there when they opened the Mac in December, 1938. He was eleven years old. “I watched them building it,” he told me. “The mine employees did much of the work. The electrical, the steel work, all of the carpentry. I was a student at Schumacher Public School.

The day that they opened the arena was really special for us kids at the school. We assembled in the auditorium and the entire Toronto Maple Leafs team came to visit us. I remember that like it was yesterday. Gord Drillon, Syl Apps, Wally Stanowski, the entire team. They signed autographs for us. They shook hands with us. I swore I would never wash my hands.”

Lou has lived his entire life in Schumacher. He taught school, served on council, did all of the community activities that make Canadian communities vibrant. He told me that the coffee shop at the Mac was open twenty-four hours a day when it opened. “The miners would come here for breakfast after finishing their shifts. We practiced here with the school team before school started.”

But the Mac was also home to world class figure skating as well. “They ran the Schumacher Skating School here in the small separate arena. Barbara Ann Scott, Canada’s Olympic Gold Medallist in 1948 skated and coached here. She stayed in the mine manager’s office.”

The Leafs played a “Blue and White” exhibition game for the fans at the Mac on opening night, on December 8, 1938. The arena was advertised as a replica of Maple Leaf Gardens. J. P. Bickell, the president of McIntyre Mines, was the driving force behind the construction of the arena. He was also a director of the Maple Leafs for many years.

The evening began with a concert by the Lions Boys Band at the eastern end of the arena. Prior to the game, a reception was held in the auditorium, where “J. P.” met the guests. The Croation Orchestra, under the direction of Joseph Begovich provided the tunes at the reception. The Timmins Daily Press reported that there was even “a dial phone, and a dumb waiter in the kitchen”.

Mrs. E Gooderham, runner-up to Sonja Henie at the World Championships, was one of many figure skaters performing for the crowd. Brunet and Joly, World pairs champions from Paris performed.

In the past seventy years, the Mac has seen more than a few hockey stars come and go. Likely the most famous were the Mahovlich brothers. But there is a very long list of fine hockey players who honed their skills in the Mac.

The tournament wound down with the Americans squeaking out a 2-1 victory over the Ontario team to take the gold. Belleville Bulls’ assistant coach Jake Grimes was behind the bench, and took the loss hard. He told me after the game that he knew that his players will “realize in time that they are better players for being here”. He was proud of the fact that they “overcame the adversity from their first game loss to get to the final.”

And yes, it was minus forty Celsius in the area. I did not get the full report on the brass monkey.

James Hurst.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


Team Ontario Reaches Final at Under 17 Worlds

In a nail-biting seesaw battle, Team Ontario survived pressure from a persistent Russian team to emerge as 6-4 winners. They now advance to the World Under 17 Final against the Americans Monday night at "The Mac" in Timmins.

The Canadians outshot the Russians 40-28. Belleville's Brad Teichmann was in the net for the Ontario squad. Although touched up for four tallies, he made the big saves when necessary. Both teams could be faulted for taking undisciplined penalties, resulting in power play goals. Russia's Albert Yarullin hammered the puck past Teichmann with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, on a power play.

After the game, we discussed the goal. "It changed direction on the way to the net," he told me.

Coach Jake Grimes indicated that Teichmann will start the final game Monday night.

Teichmann makes no bones about his feelings about the tournament. "This is the best experience of my life. We knew that the Russians would be tough."

The Ontario team routed the Russians 9-1 in exhibition play prior to the start of the tournament; however, experience tells us that the Russians often play possum when there are no chips on the table. When there is something on the line, you must be prepared to face an entirely different foe.

"We knew they would be fast, and skilled," Teichmann told me. "but I had a great team in front of me, and they played well defensively. I had full confidence, especially when we had a lead."

The Canadian team managed to snare most of the wayward pucks in the game, and pelted diminutive Russian goalie Vladimir Kramar at will.

Players of the game were Garrett Meurs for Ontario, and Anton Zlobin for the Russians.


Team Ontario's Winning Ways

The Ontario team continued its winning ways at the World Under 17 Hockey Tournament in Timmins Saturday night. With the mercury nearing the minus 40 degrees mark, Celsius, the boys from the Ontario Hockey League defeated Team West 5-2 to move to a semi final game against Russia Sunday night. Actually, there are two players on the team who do not play in the OHL: Chris Festarini a goalie from Port Colborne, and Lucas Lessio from the St. Michael's Buzzers of the Central Canada Junior Hockey League.

Alan Quine, of the Kingston Frontenacs, was the game's Most Valuable Player for Team Ontario. Jesse Forsberg copped the honour for Team West.

Team West opened the scoring following a bit of sloppy play in the Ontario zone. Boston Leier jammed the puck past the Belleville Bulls' Tyson Teichmann, assisted Chad`Robinson.

Team Ontario responded with a well-screened goal by Ben Thompson. Quine assisted on the tally.

Teichmann faced few challenges in the first two periods, as Team Ontario outshot their opponents 25-7. In the third period, the boys from the West had an upper hand with their aggressive play. One shot clanked off the right post behind Teichmann when the score was 4-2 for Ontario, certainly a turning point in the game.

Ryan Strome put the game away with the final goal on a fine long pass from defenceman Stuart Percy.

Coach Jakes Grimes speculated that he had his hands full before the game started. "I knew they were going to play desperate hockey. I planned to have the guys adapt, and respond early to the pressure.

I was really pleased with Quine's line. Thompson and Strome contributed as well, and that was critical. Our plan was to come up with four lines which were a threat on offense, but good defensively."

At the conclusion of our interview, an aid whispered to Grimes that the Belleville Bulls had defeated the Kingston Frontenacs in overtime.

Grimes smiled at the news. Yet another hat he has to wear, as the assistant coach of the Bulls. In the meantime, he has a couple of important pieces of business to take care of before he heads south. A semi-final Sunday, and, hopefully, a final on Monday night.

James Hurst

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