The Lost Voyageurs. Take The Money & Run

 

Vees_Ont_championship_photo(2)_2009Could someone please explain how the Kingston Voyageurs wound up in Collingwood, Ontario?  A resort town of 22,000 on the shores of Georgian Bay, that hasn’t had junior hockey for years and is home to a 70 year old arena?  Simple explanation, it’s all about the money.

Monday night at Collingwood town council there were actually two groups vying for a franchise.  Apparently there’s no shortage of people lining for the privilege to own a junior hockey team and lose tens of thousands of dollars each year doing it.  One bid was for a new Junior B franchise,  the other winning bid came from the group who had purchased the Kingston Voyageurs (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), headed up by Howie Campbell, who also happens to own the OHL’s Barrie Colts.  At a previous council meeting the Barrie group brought in coach Dale Hawerchuk, local town councillors were no doubt star struck by the former NHL great.   Also part of the new ownership group is Dave Steele, GM and coach of the Stayner Siskins, a Junior C team 20 minutes from Collingwood.

Collingwood’s new franchise will be called the ‘Colts’ and will be an affiliate team for Barrie.  Their ‘new’ home arena was actually built in 1949 (two years before our Memorial Centre), the 775-seat Eddie Bush Memorial Arena is located right beside the town hall.  Before you google Eddie Bush, the Collingwood defenseman played 26 NHL games with Detroit in the late 1930’s and early 40’s, and later coached the local team in his hometown back in the 70’s.  In Kingston, we’ve got five players who scored Stanley Cup winning goals, Jayna’s four Olympic gold medals and Hefford is among eight Kingston members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.  None of them has a rink named after them here.  Go figure.

So, how did we lose the Vees?  Money talks and hockey teams walk.  And the owners, well, they usually say nothing until long after the deal is done.  Deny, deny, deny.  Ask anybody in Belleville about the backdoor deal that took the Bulls to Hamilton.  There was no opportunity locally to save the team.   An $850,000 windfall can make it easy to forget about the volunteers who did the heavy lifting to keep this franchise going for 45 years, the players who played for the logo on the front of the jersey, the coaches along the way who did it for a small honorarium to give something back,  and the kids in Kingston who no longer have a place to play.

The real tragedy here, while the owners cash the big cheque, is the high school kid from Kingston who now has to move to a place like Smiths Falls (a town of 10,000), start classes at a new school and live with a billet family just to play Junior A hockey.  Shameful.

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That wasn’t the plan back in 1974 when well-known local hockey enthusiasts; Bill ‘Squeak’ Reason, Bill Darlington, Sam Kay, Jack Cliff and Bruce Landon each threw in $100 to ‘give local kids a place to play’.  Over the years many others followed, dedicated salt-of-the-earth guys like Ron Lavallee and Roy ‘Scotty’ Martin, who kept it going.

Thirty-two straight years in the playoffs,  that’s pretty damn good.  This team had its moments.   Former players went to the NHL, the OHL and played NCAA hockey.   Back in the late ‘80s the Vees were coached by Kevin Abrams and with almost all Kingston kids they competed with the best Toronto-based teams in the Metro Jr. Hockey League.   Just ten-years ago, the rink was full, Vees fever was everywhere, the games were on local TV and coach Evan Robinson and owner Gregg Rosen won an Ontario championship going to the RBC Cup national finals in Victoria.  Which begs the question, how did we wind up here?  Don’t blame the fans, like all owners do.  Kingston is still a hockey town when we have a team we can get behind.  Witness a packed Memorial Centre last weekend to see Queen’s win the OUA championship.

In the handbook of, ‘things you don’t do when selling a local hockey team’,  there’s a new Chapter 1.   When word got out the team was sold, the worst kept secret in junior hockey, the Vees owners still wouldn’t acknowledge a deal was in place.  There was no opportunity for a final goodbye.  At the final home game Scotty Martin Jr., his Dad, Ryan Vince, Kevin Abrams and countless others should have been paraded out to centre ice in front of a packed arena and properly thanked.   A lot of those shekels reaped from the sale were earned off their backs.  Instead, it ended with a whimper, the current players not even knowing what was next.

For them and the players before them, for the volunteers who floated this franchise for 45-years, the booster club supporters, and for the kids who now don’t have a place to play, they all deserved a whole lot better.

Mark Potter is a member of the Kingston Sports Hall of Fame, President of the Original Hockey Hall of Fame and a lifelong follower of Kingston hockey.

 

 

 

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Queen’s Cup: Turning Back The Clock

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On the night when the clocks went ahead,  we reached back a few decades at the Kingston Memorial Centre.   A raucous crowd of 2,800 jammed the nearly 70-year-old rink to watch the tricolour win the Queen’s Cup for the first time in 38-years, with a 4-1 win over Guelph.  In the final two minutes, the crowd was as loud as any I have heard in this town.  This used to happen every year or two, now these moments are separated by decades.  On the list of things I thought I’d never see, was Queen’s winning a trophy first awarded in 1903, second oldest to the Stanley Cup, in front of a packed house on York Street in 2019.

It was ‘Throwback Saturday’,  taking us back to the 1950s and 1960s when this scene was routine.   The Kingston Nylons, CKLC’s, Goodyears, EPHL Frontenacs, Junior B Frontenacs, Senior ‘A’ Aces and Senior ‘B’ Merchants all won titles at the York Street barn during that era.  Their faded team photos still hanging on the Memorial Centre walls outside the Queen’s dressing room.  After 50-plus years, time to make room for a new one and give this Queen’s team its rightful place in our hockey history.

Four minutes into the third period and tied 1-1 it was far from decided,  Queen’s forward Jaden Lindo came down the right side and threw the puck at the Guelph net, somehow it managed to elude Gryphons goalie Andrew Masters, who wasn’t hugging the post tightly enough.   The hockey Gods were smiling on Queen’s and for Lindo, who opened the scoring for Queen’s on an early second-period powerplay,  the two goals matched his regular season total (in just a dozen games played) and put Queen’s ahead to stay.   Three minutes later, Henry Thompson had the best snipe of the night to make it 3-1 and the party was kicking into high-gear.

Queen’s iced it in the final minute on Liam Dunda’s empty netter to close out a 4-1 win.  At the final buzzer, the on-ice celebration would match any Queen’s kegger at Homecoming.  Lindo basking in the moment, reflected on being recruited from the OHL’s Sarnia Sting two-years ago when he told Queen’s coach Brett Gibson, “If I’m coming to Queen’s, I want to win a championship”.  Mission accomplished.

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Queen’s came into this season with ten new players and an entirely new assistant coaching staff.  A fourth-place regular season finish didn’t exactly point to the Queen’s Cup, but, Gibson called his young team, “special and a fun group”.  He said the turning point for the program came a few years ago when along with former assistant coaches Tony Cimellaro and Andrew Haussler they decided,  “if we don’t start recruiting harder, coaching harder, there’s no point in having a program.  Once we made that decision, we went after the Kevin Bailie’s, Spencer Abraham’s, the sky is the limit, we have NHL draft picks coming to Queen’s now”.

The last glimpse most Kingston hockey fans had of this team was being steamrolled by RMC at the Carr-Harris Cup a few short weeks ago.   Maybe that was the wakeup call the Gaels needed.  With leaders like Spencer Abraham and Slater Doggett, the passengers in the room would’ve been reminded it wasn’t nearly good enough.   Maybe, it was that embarrassing loss that sparked this terrific post-season run culminating with their second Queen’s Cup win since 1914.   Next up, the University Cup in Lethbridge and the chance to win a national title.

The credit lies squarely at the feet of  Brett Gibson.  The likable Gananoque native, ‘Gibby’, a few months shy of his fortieth birthday, began his Queen’s journey 14-seasons ago and like any coach has endured his share of heartbreaking losses to get here.  Quick to deflect the credit, Gibson has brought the Queen’s program to a new stratosphere, through his leadership, he’s created a winning culture and sold the program to some of the brightest and best junior hockey players in the country.  Recruiting for Queen’s just got a whole lot easier, just roll the video of Saturday night’s win and who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?

For the rest of us, it’s a glimpse back to what hockey in Kingston used to look like, when championships were won.  It was worth the wait.

Mark Potter is President of the Original Hockey Hall of Fame, Kingston Sports Hall of Fame inductee & has spent a lifetime following hockey in Kingston.