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

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