Larry Mavety: A True Original

There are lots of great ‘Mav’ stories and many have been retold since Larry Mavety, a junior hockey icon, died in Kingston at age 78 last week. He was an original, one of hockey’s true characters and a legend in junior hockey.

My favorite Mav story happened in 1988, on the night he officially jumped from the rival Belleville Bulls to become the new Coach and GM of the Kingston Raiders. It was truly stunning news at the time.

We were at a downtown Kingston hotel following the announcement with Mav and owner Lou Kazowski that went late into the night. Mav and Kazowski had played together in the minors, so, to stir things up I asked Mav what kind of player was Lou? To paraphrase, Mav said, “Lou was dirty and never finished anything he started. I had to do it for him.”  From there the conversation heated up and eventually a frustrated Kazowski told Mavety he was ‘fired’, just hours after being hired. Things calmed down, a few laughs followed, but it was shades of George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin.

Kazowski renamed the team the Raiders with the tagline, ‘Real Hockey is Back in Town‘. It lasted one uneventful season, and at the end of the year he threatened to pull the team out of Kingston. That’s when Wren Blair and Bob Attersley bought the club, Mav stayed one more season, quit and went back to Belleville. Eight years later he would return to Kingston when the team was sold to the Springer family marking the beginning of a long relationship.

Mav’s cramped office at the Memorial Centre always had a well stocked fridge and a steady stream of visitors. A ‘Who’s Who’ of hockey, everyone knew Mav and they all loved him. Brian Kilrea, Bert Templeton, former players, NHL scouts were all regulars in Mav’s office for a beer to talk hockey.

Mavety, originally from Woodstock, ON, coached the Bulls when they were a Jr A team in the late 1970s. He recruited an undersized defenseman, 15-year-old Doug Gilmour, who was cut loose by the Kingston Voyageurs. Mav turned Gilmour into a forward and the rest as they say, is history. Gilmour became a scoring star in Cornwall and had a 20-year NHL career that landed him in the Hockey Hall of Fame.  Mav’s former players were very loyal, in 2008 Gilmour came full circle when he joined the Frontenacs as coach. Eventually Gilmour became GM, as Mav stepped aside from the day-to-day operations to become an advisor.

My relationship with Mav soured when he went back behind the bench in 2007 after Bruce Cassidy was fired (that worked out okay for Cassidy, who was recently named NHL Coach of the Year). I was hosting the games on CogecoTV and I would interview Mav on the post game show. While he had many media friends, Mav never really enjoyed being interviewed, especially on TV. He would bristle as I fired questions at him every week after another tough loss. Eventually he stopped doing the post game show and we stopped talking, which is how these things go. It wasn’t long before they moved downtown into the new rink and Gilmour was hired, then eventually Mav and I got back on good terms. Looking back on it, I don’t think Mav really wanted to coach again when Cassidy was fired, but did it out of loyalty to the owners.

It couldn’t have been easy being on both sides of the Kingston-Belleville rivalry, especially when Mav had two stints in both cities. He was a favourite target of vocal fans in both rinks and with no glass behind the benches in those days he was never shy about giving it back. He liked to tell the story how one night in Belleville while coaching the Bulls, a vocal fan sitting across the rink was giving it to him all night. At the end of the second period, he tore off his tie and jacket and started running across the big ice surface where he was going to go into the stands after the guy. As he recalled, luckily he never got there before being restrained. Mav had a short fuse, broadcasting the games we always knew Mav was ‘hot’ when the door of the players bench was open and sometimes he had one foot on the ice yelling at an official.

As a coach, Mav was tough on his players but honest to a fault, and most of his players loved him. Former players like Marty McSorley became lifelong friends. In a statement, OHL Commissioner Dave Branch remembered Mav this way, There are many things that he contributed to our game, but most importantly what stands out in my mind is how he took care of his players.”

Mav was gruff with that gravelly voice and his coaching style would intimidate players. It was tough love. I recall one game in Kingston, Mav coaching the Bulls and after an uninspiring shift he sent three forwards coming off the ice directly to the dressing room. I’d never seen that before, or since. They did return the next period. He didn’t win championships, but his teams were always big, tough and physical and it was never an easy two points for the visitors going into Belleville. In the 1980s when the Bulls played Kingston, in both rinks, the seats would be almost full during warmups, anticipating that things could boil over even before puck drop was an indicator it was that intense. These two rivals also played the longest game in OHL and CHL history, a six-hour plus marathon in the 1990 playoffs in Belleville. It went four overtime periods before Ken Rowbotham ended it, Mavety on the losing Kingston side.   

Quietly Mav helped many get a break in hockey. Online posts from people like long time OHL photographer, Aaron Bell, and former play by play caller, Kevin Dean, thanked Mav and spoke glowingly about how he helped them. Dean remembers the fun times on the road, in Barrie they stayed right across from the harness racing track and one night Dean and his broadcast partner, former goalie Steve Rexe, took their 10 dollar meal money and went to the track. Rexey hits a trifecta and instantly turns it into $300. They go back and tell Mav, who immediately wants a piece of the action. So, they head back with Rexey feeding Mav his picks, quickly Mav is down 50 bucks and not happy. According to Dean, on the bus ride all the way home all you could hear was Mavety chewing at Rexey about his terrible pony picks.

Mav helped out the Original Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012 when we were attempting to move downtown into the S & R building. Mav had Dave Branch’s ear and the OHL Commissioner was very interested in partnering with the hall to create an OHL Hall of Fame. Branch invited me to Toronto to pitch the idea to the Board of Governors, Mav was there working the room to generate support, but the proposed deal fell apart when Kingston City Council voted down our funding proposal.

Mav had a great love of country music, especially the old classics. He loved wearing his cowboy boots and we spent a few nights going till ‘plenty after twelve’ at the Rodeo Roadhouse bar. Last call for us was a lot later than for most, and quite often we would hang out with the bands after the show and it meant for some very late, memorable nights.

Kevin Abrams, the long time Commissioner of the Central Junior Hockey League, was given an OHL opportunity by Mav as a scout and assistant coach. Kevin shares this great Mav story from a game at the Quinte Sports Centre, “There was a stoppage in play and I was sorting out a defensive pair matching and Mav gave me a look and beckoned to me with a ‘come here’ finger wag. So I ventured down the bench sure I’d messed up a match or put the wrong guys on. Brooks and Dunn is blasting over the PA during the stoppage, Mav says to me,  “F—k, I love this song” and to this day I think of this moment when I hear Boot Scootin’ Boogie.”

No friendship in hockey was stronger than Mavety’s with Brian Kilrea. Their word was their bond and they completed many deals over a beer that helped both men. They’d been friends since they played for Eddie Shore in Springfield, and coached against each other for decades. Kilrea told the Canadian Press, “Honour and integrity were cornerstones of Mavety’s personality. His players loved him because he was honest with them.”   

As a player Mav was old school, tough as nails. He battled for years through several minor pro leagues and eventually the World Hockey Association, putting up pretty good offensive numbers while taking care of business in his own end. He even famously had a bit part in the iconic hockey movie, ‘Slap Shot’ with Paul Newman. Mav was also a catcher and a very good baseball player, winning Ontario championships for Belleville teams in both junior and senior ball.

His 681 wins and 1,500 games coached put him near the top of the all-time list in the CHL. Its’ too bad we didn’t get that OHL Hall of Fame in Kingston, because Mavety would be in it. He was inducted into the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.  Condolences to his wife, Brenda, and family on the loss of a true original.

Mark Potter is a long time Kingston broadcaster, Past President of the Original Hockey Hall of Fame, covered OHL hockey for thirty years and was inducted into the Kingston Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.

J.W. ‘Bill’ Fitsell: Hockey’s Recordkeeper Sets Down His Pen at Age 97

75th anniversary OHHOF – 2018

With the sad news of the passing of J.W. ‘Bill” Fitsell at age 97, Kingston and the hockey world has lost its preeminent historian. Bill dedicated his life to chronicling and researching hockey, writing volumes on the early origins of the sport, the greats of the game, and bringing to life many great Kingston hockey stories.

For me I have lost a friend of forty-years, a mentor, great supporter, and a father-like figure who for decades provided guidance and advice while doing a lot of the heavy lifting at the Original Hockey Hall of Fame.

No one contributed more to hockey in Kingston than Fitsell, not even the legendary Captain James T. Sutherland. Known as ‘The Father of Hockey’, Sutherland founded the International Hockey Hall of Fame and started the Memorial Cup among a long list of other achievements.

Bill wrote the book on hockey when he authored, ‘How Hockey Happened’ in 2006. It traced the early origins of the game from the European stick & ball games; bandy and hurley, to the British soldiers who brought the game to Halifax and then later to Kingston. Bill would get prickly when Windsor, Nova Scotia would call itself the birthplace of hockey. He strongly refuted their claim which in his view was based on a book of fiction.

In 2003, I collaborated with Bill on the book, ‘Hockey’s Hub – Three Centuries of Hockey In Kingston’. In the early days of working on the book I suggested we follow the lead of Capt. Sutherland who had claimed hockey started in Kingston. Bill quickly set aside his hometown bias and said emphatically the first organized game was played in Montreal in 1875, eleven years before the first game played on the Kingston harbour.

Hockey’s Hub – 2003

He never talked about his own impressive credentials. It’s a lengthy list that includes being inducted into two sports halls of fame, in his hometown of Lindsay ON and in 2009 honoured by the Kingston & District Sports Hall of Fame. He started the Carr-Harris Cup game in 1986 to formalize and honour the longest-running rivalry in hockey between Queen’s and RMC.  In 1991 he created the Society for International Hockey Research, bringing together hundreds of hockey researchers from around the world to share their work.

A gentle, kind man, Bill had a dry sense of humor and a quick wit. His most memorable joke was delivered in the early years of the Carr-Harris Cup. Queen’s had handed RMC a lopsided loss and he was presenting the MVP awards to each team at the post-game ceremonies. For the MVP from RMC, Bill quipped, “I’d like to acknowledge the trumpet player in the RMC band, he is the only cadet who can play!

Before technology, Bill was famous for always carrying index cards and making notes whenever he heard an interesting hockey fact or anecdote. When Bill wrote ‘Hockey’s Hub’, I told him he had managed to turn hundreds of index cards into a coffee table book that sold 2,000 copies.

One of my fondest memories of Bill happened two years ago at the 75th anniversary celebrations for the Original Hockey Hall of Fame. The day was a great source of pride for our museum, we had the Stanley Cup and the Memorial Cup on hand and I asked Bill to make a few remarks. He prepared a speech but asked me to read it because he wasn’t feeling up to it. At the last minute, at age 95, he decided to deliver it himself. He slowly approached the podium and then proceeded to reach back a couple of decades to deliver a stirring, passionate speech that spoke to his great love of hockey, the Hall of Fame and Kingston. It was the last speech he made to our Hall supporters and it was magnificent.

For decades, Bill was a great resource for hockey fans far and wide who had questions about the history of the game or wanted more information on a hockey artifact. Bill loved the challenge and would meticulously research any question sent his way. With his passing, many have posted online how Bill was so gracious and went above and beyond to answer the inquiries of school-aged kids and complete strangers.

70th anniversary OHHOF – 2013

While he had a great love of hockey his love of family came first. Bill and his wife, Barbara, recently celebrated an amazing 75-years of marriage and they have five daughters; Carole Anne, Diane, Jo-Ann, Gaylan and Jan Marie. As Bill would proudly say, just a goalie shy of icing an all-Fitsell team.

His other great love was the newspaper business. A ‘Navy Man’, although he rarely spoke of it, he had served in the Royal Canadian Navy during WW2 and after the war returned home to Lindsay with no real journalism experience to become a writer/reporter for the local paper.  He later moved to the Gananoque Reporter and ultimately on to the Kingston Whig Standard, where he served as District Editor, features writer and the popular ‘People’ columnist.

For decades Bill was an integral part of the Carr-Harris Cup and Historic Hockey Series. He looked forward to those events each year, keeping detailed records of the games and statistics. He had great fondness for the Carr-Harris family, especially the late Mary Carr-Harris, who would rally the family to support the event. He loved the tradition and he was such a large part of keeping that tradition alive. Those events won’t be the same without him.

In 1961, Bill made his own history when Bobby Orr was discovered by NHL scouts at a bantam tournament in Gananoque ON. He snapped an historic photo of Bobby & his Parry Sound teammates at a local diner. In later years, the legendary Orr would autograph the photo for Bill, one of his many prized hockey possessions. He also had a lifelong passion for the Toronto Maple Leafs, especially admiring Charlie Conacher and the classy Syl Apps Sr.

Bill was a prolific writer, he authored four books and penned countless articles and research papers, much of it done well past his 80th birthday. He lived a full life enjoying good health right up until the last couple of years. He stayed busy and engaged, never running out of projects, just eventually running out of time. Prior to his passing he was putting the finishing touches on his fifth book, ‘The Joy of Hockey Poetry’, a collection of hockey-related poems that I hope will get published.

I will leave the last word to Stephen Smith, a friend of Bill’s, fellow author and historian who wrote in a recent tribute, “In hockey terms, his calibre might be best expressed in a Lady Byng Trophy context: his proficiency at what he does is only exceeded by his good grace and gentlemanly conduct.”

A huge part of the fabric of Kingston, Bill enriched the lives of so many in the hockey world. He will be missed.

Mark Potter is a long time Kingston broadcaster, Past President of the Original Hockey Hall of Fame and honoured member of the Kingston & District Sports Hall of Fame.

Saying So Long To Len Coyle

There is a special place in heaven for someone who could chirp the refs the entire night from the end of the Kingston bench and still be welcomed into the official’s room for post-game beers.  That was Len Coyle.  You couldn’t stay mad at him for long. And you knew his good-natured ribbing came from the heart.

The news of his passing stung like a slapshot from former Kingston defenseman Mark Suzor. It hurt, a lot. A note to 2020, we sure could use a little good news.  Recent losses of Bubs Van Hooser, Bud Anson, and before that we lost Guy White. Great Kingston sportsman, gone to the great beyond.

Lenny touched everyone around him. He didn’t make acquaintances, he made friends.  I hope this morning someone is stitching a banner with his name on it to hang in the Leon’s Centre.  If one person was synonymous with junior hockey in Kingston, it was Lenny.  A fixture at every game since day one – when the first puck dropped for the Kingston Canadians at the Memorial Centre in 1973.

When a former player came back to Kingston the first guy they’d seek out would be Lenny. That tells you all you need to know. Teenagers gravitated to him when they arrived here far from home to play in the OHL fishbowl. If they had an issue on or off the ice they wouldn’t go to the coach, they’d go to Lenny.  A father figure, he’d give them straightforward, honest advice and it never left the room. That’s what creates lifelong bonds.

Lenny played the game relying more on hockey smarts than raw talent. He was part of the Kingston Merchant teams in the late ’60s that won back to back Ontario Senior/Intermediate championships. An electrician by trade, he was a ‘plumber’ on those teams; team manager, an extra defenseman when needed,  the kind of teammate who would load the bags, sweep the dressing room, and drive the bus if you asked him. It’s why everyone loved the guy. No job too big or too small. He’d just do the work, never complain, and never take any credit.  That was Lenny.

Former junior players like Tony McKegney would tell Len everything was better in the NHL, except the skate sharpening! They never found anyone who did it as well.  It’s as close as Len ever came to bragging; clearly he was a master at his craft.

Years ago when Len stepped away after decades as the Frontenacs assistant trainer, he didn’t go far. At every game he stood at the corner of the rink closest to the entrance to the Fronts dressing room. He still knew every current Fronts player, every coach, every official, and every scout.  A trip to Kingston for those around the OHL always meant a visit with Len.

The Coyle’s did double duty on game night. His wonderful wife, Freda, forged great friendships running the media room for the scouts and media. Veteran scouts, many were former NHL players, wouldn’t leave the room without a hug, and Freda stuffing a couple of homemade cookies in their pocket.

As a kid, Lenny grew up as a rink rat at the old Jock Harty Arena, back in the days when Don Cherry skated for Max Jackson’s Junior ‘B’ Kingston Victoria’s. On Saturday’s in the fall when Queen’s football got going, he’d be up the street at the old Richardson Stadium chalking the lines for a couple of bucks. Eventually, he would find his way to the timekeeper’s bench. And when Len committed to something he was there for the long game. That timekeeping stint lasted fifty years, much of it spent beside the recently passed Bubs Van Hooser and the late Phil Marshall. It wasn’t football at Queen’s unless Len Coyle was seated at the timer’s bench.

One of Len’s favourite days of the year was in February when the Original Hockey Hall of Fame played its annual Historic Hockey Series. He was a fixture there, pretty much since it began in 1969. Len loved the tradition and the importance of recognizing the first games played in Kingston.  He was famous for never wearing gloves when he officiated the games, even on days it felt like minus 20 on the Kingston harbour. We all marveled at how he did it, well into his 70’s he was way tougher than the rest of us.  It was also ironic, the guy who made a career out of chirping officials would once a year don a white smock and ring a cowbell to officiate our games.

Afterward, I would stay late into the evening with Len, having a beer or six and the stories flowed as freely as the beer. He was an encyclopedia when it came to his knowledge of Kingston teams and athletes. And he gave you the straight goods. The kind of inside knowledge you wouldn’t find in old newspaper clippings. Let’s just say he had a good read on people.  Len would also share stories from his youth, how as a teenager he left school to sail the Great Lakes working on the freighters. He was still a kid among men, learning life lessons they don’t teach you in school.  He also learned the value of hard work that he carried with him for life.

A few years ago, we decided to honour Len for his years of dedication to Historic Hockey and we renamed the tournament MVP trophy after him. It came as a surprise, and he was genuinely choked up at the honour. It meant a lot to us and him. Much like in 2009, when he was inducted into the Kingston Sports Hall of Fame, he humbly accepted it as someone who just loved what he did and wondered what all the fuss was about. Those who give the most, expect the least.  It’s why you cheer the hardest for people like Len Coyle. Because they did it for all the right reasons. 

Freda was his rock, and to her and the Coyle & Horton families, we offer our deepest condolences.  Kingston is a little poorer today, without Len Coyle here to share a story.

Mark Potter is a long time Kingston broadcaster, Past President of the Original Hockey Hall of Fame and a member of the Kingston Sports Hall of Fame.

Potter’s Hockey Wish List For The Next Decade

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1. New owners for the Kingston Frontenacs. ‘Well-intentioned’, clearly doesn’t translate to playoff wins. The Springer family have been OHL owners since the late ’90s and the on-ice record speaks for itself. New owners, a return to the Kingston Canadians name & uniforms, a fresh start with real hockey people in charge and long lost fans might even find their way back to the Leon’s Centre. Winning will do that. When you don’t win for decades and nobody cares that’s trouble.

2. Build a new rink at Queen’s. They tore down the Jock Harty with no real plan to replace it. Queen’s has elite hockey programs, both men’s and women’s, and they play out of a 70-year old arena off-campus. It’s embarrassing. They found a way to build the Isabel Bader Centre and to refurbish a football stadium that nobody goes to, surely there is a path to building a new 2,000 seat arena on the site of the former St. Mary’s of The Lake Hospital. Does Stu Lang like hockey? (Lang, a former Queen’s football star, donated millions towards the new Richardson Stadium).

Voyageurs _ City Hall _ 2019.62204160

3. Bring back the Kingston Voyageurs. Kingston needs Tier II hockey if for no other reason than to allow our local, elite players to stay home and pursue their hockey dreams here. It needs to be in the Central Canada Hockey League with Ottawa-area teams. We’re sending kids to places like Smiths Falls and Wellington to play Tier II. Really?

4. Kingston needs just one Minor Hockey Association. Like many other communities we have far too many silos within minor hockey. We need ONE minor hockey association with a single vision that offers it all; house league, girl’s hockey, Triple-A. While we’re at it let’s get rid of Single-A to improve house league and let’s get a funding model in place to ensure kids who are good enough to play Triple-A can actually afford it.

5. Stop the insanity at the Memorial Centre. You can’t put lipstick on a pig and you can’t dump $40 million more into the Memorial Centre. That’s just a really bad idea. It’s a glorified dog park with an arena at least 40 years past its ‘best before’ date. Tear it down and put up a plaque. If you want to do something useful twin two new rinks on the property, put bowl seating in one of the rinks and mothball Centre 70.  Turn the dog park into mixed use residential housing and if anyone wants to go the Kingston Fall Fair, it will be on McAdoos Lane.

6. I will admit my own bias here, but let’s put the Original Hockey Hall of Fame somewhere people will see it. Kingston is the birthplace of hockey and we need to embrace the story, share it with tourists and relocate the museum to the Market Wing of City Hall that backs on to the outdoor ice surface at Market Square. Another downtown attraction for tourists. Kingston has a wonderful, rich hockey history.  Let’s share it.

And if I can throw in one extra; let’s play an outdoor game on the parade square at Fort Henry and have Queen’s & RMC renew hockey’s oldest rivalry there. Now that would be cool.

Who knows what the next decade will bring for Kingston hockey, but let’s hope we can continue to collectively grow the game here and win a few championships along the way. We can dream right?

Mark Potter is an honoured member of the Kingston Sports Hall of Fame and has followed local sports since he was a kid in Portsmouth Village.

  

 

Clifford’s Number 29 Banner Raised

Chris Clifford goal

For many Kingston hockey fans Chris Clifford’s goal in January 1986 is the standalone moment from 45-plus years of OHL hockey in the Limestone City. I share that view, followed closely by another game involving the Toronto Marlboros, the 1975 epic playoff series where Mark Napier scored a goal that still hasn’t gone in, or the 1990 playoff game in Belleville that went four extra periods before the Bulls ended it.

On the night they raised Clifford’s number-29 banner at the Leon’s Centre it’s easy to remember the ‘good old days’ of the Kingston Canadians era, until we remind you that chapter for the franchise ended with 28 consecutive losses in 1988. All that was forgotten on Friday night with the focus on Clifford and the Frontenacs wearing Kingston Canadians uniforms for the first time in over three decades. Kudos to the Fronts for a perfectly executed, emotional pre-game ceremony. It hit all the right notes and Clifford, as you would expect, was gracious, humble and genuinely touched by the honour. The home side rose to the occasion playing inspired hockey in their new red-blue-and-white jersey’s rolling over the Peterborough Petes 7-2.

Kingston Frontenacs Peterborough Petes during Ontario Hockey League

On that cold January night in 1986, 1,200 fans were at the Memorial Centre to see the Canadians and Toronto Marlboros when Clifford made history with a huge assist from Mike Maurice. He became the first goaltender in the Canadian Hockey League to score a goal into an empty Toronto net. I was calling the game on the radio with Jim Gilchrist and had ducked out with about 2 minutes remaining to head back downtown to the TV station to prepare the sports for the 11 o’clock news. I heard the roar from the parking lot and found myself  two-minutes and 100-yards away from witnessing hockey history. The next morning, Jim Tatti, the popular co-host of Global TV’s Sportsline show was on the phone wanting the video. The game wasn’t televised, CKWS-TV wasn’t there shooting the game and the only video that existed was the in-house video from the Canadians. It wasn’t great footage, but we shipped it to Toronto on a Voyageur bus where it aired on Global TV and ultimately on TV stations across North America. That Saturday the OHL Game of the Week was aired from Belleville and Clifford made an appearance on the broadcast where of course the video of his historic one-handed, backhand goal was played.

In my 30-years broadcasting OHL hockey, I had the opportunity to meet and interview hundreds of players. A handful stood out as people you knew would be successful wherever life took them. Clifford was among them. Thoughtful, articulate, insightful, and reflective, interviewing Chris was never a string of typical hockey cliches.  He’s always had that appealing, humble, ‘aw-shucks’ demeanour that is rare among elite athletes.  Clifford had a brief stint in the NHL with Chicago, didn’t allow a goal in two relief appearances (and stopped the legendary Gilbert Perreault on a breakaway). Chicago had two other future Hall of Fame goalie prospects; Eddie Belfour and Dominik Hasek (who would be traded to Buffalo) and Clifford spent seven seasons riding the buses in the minors for Chicago and Pittsburgh. He chipped away at university correspondence courses before quitting pro hockey to return home to Kingston and ultimately earned his law degree at Queen’s. Today, Clifford and Ted Bergeron run one of the most successful personal injury law practices in Southern Ontario and they generously volunteer and support many local charities giving back to our community in a significant way.  For Clifford, the historic goal is just a footnote in a long list of successes. In life there may be ‘no parade at the end’, but occasionally along the journey one of the really good guys is properly recognized and a banner is raised in his honour. No one is more deserving or appreciative than Kingston’s number 29.

Mark Potter is the Past President of the Original Hockey Hall of Fame and a longtime sports broadcaster. He broadcast Kingston Canadians hockey through the 1980’s.

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.

Voyageurs final game _ 2019.962048

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.

 

 

 

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.     

 

Queen’s Hockey: Build them a Rink

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It’s hard to imagine how much Friday’s win over McGill meant to Brett Gibson.  An overnight success takes time.

Eleven years of hard work building a program, doing it the right way and trusting, in the end, it all pays off.   In recent years, CHL players started committing to Queen’s and they built an elite program.  But, it seemed like every year at playoff time ‘good wasn’t quite good enough’, and with it came plenty of playoff heartbreak.

Heading into Friday night’s game at the Memorial Centre, sixty minutes of hockey stood between the Gaels and the CIS championships.  McGill hit the post twice in the early going and it seemed like on this night the Gaels would actually catch a break.   Dylan Anderson scored three times and goaltender Kevin Bailie, who has been brilliant all season,  turned aside 34 shots, many were big saves at key moments.

Last time Queen’s went to the CIS finals was in 1981 and it’s fitting another Gananoque native,  Fred O’Donnell, was behind the Queen’s bench.   I ran into Fred leaving the rink Friday night,  he was there to support Gibson and the Gaels and remarked how this Queen’s team, “is good enough to win it all”,  and he should know.

What’s most remarkable about the program Gibson built are the fifteen former CHL players he recruited to play here.  Players with plenty of options, who could play anywhere in the country or turn pro.

Queen’s is not an easy sell.   Academically the entrance requirements are as high as any school in the country, with no exceptions made for student athletes.  The hockey facilities?  Shameful.

The Kingston Memorial Centre is a perfect home for the local Church Athletic League kids, but for a CIS team challenging for a national title, are you kidding me?   The ‘glory days’ for the M-Centre were 60 years ago when the Kingston Goodyears Senior teams were packing the place.  It’s worse than going to a Queen’s football game (prior to last year) and worrying the grandstand might collapse underneath you.  Queen’s poured tens of millions into the new opera house at the Tett Centre,  great for the arts, but somehow they’ve managed to turn a blind eye to the hockey programs and the desperate need for a new facility on-campus.

Did I mention virtually every CIS program has a full-time hockey coach?  Yet Gibson runs a successful family business by day,  and in his off hours has built a hockey program that is among the best in Canada.

I’m sure when Gibson brings a new recruit to town he sells every other aspect of the hockey program before showing them the rink.   Yep, it’s a 20-minute walk from campus and there’s an oversized portrait of Queen Elizabeth that’s been hanging there since the doors opened in 1951.  She looked pretty good in her 20’s didn’t she?  Want to see our off-ice facilities?  Well, here’s our fitness & wellness center;  3 stationary bikes beside the washer & dryer at the back of the old Kingston Frontenacs change room.    These players had access to better facilities in their hometowns when they were playing Double-A Novice.

When Queen’s knocked down the Jock Harty Arena, to make way for the new ARC and provide the basketball and volleyball teams with state of the art facilities, there were promises a new hockey facility would be built. The Memorial Centre was a stop-gap measure and yet years later here we are.   Did Stu Lang ever play hockey?  He might be worth a call.  He pretty much self-funded the newly refurbished Richardson Stadium for the football team.

Queen’s isn’t exactly the Ryerson Rams.  They have 130 years of hockey pedigree with the tricolour, played in some of the earliest games of hockey on record and challenged for three Stanley Cups.

Gibson has done his part, building a program that might deliver Queen’s a National Championship.  It’s time Queen’s made hockey a priority and built them a decent rink to play in.

Mark Potter is a former Kingston sports broadcaster and member of the Kingston & District Sports Hall of Fame

Remembering Dick Trotter

Isn’t it something that a man named Trotter would spend most of his life around horse racing?   The aptly named Dick Trotter, a longtime broadcaster, passed away on December 27th in Port Perry, Ontario at the age of 79.

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His passing made me reflect back on a great time in my life; the CKWS newsroom in the 1980’s.   We were a tight-knit group, most of us in our early 20’s trying to fake it until we made it.   We worked hard and played even harder.  Dick was like the dad from a TV sitcom, older and wiser he stayed above the fray quietly smirking at our jokes and ongoing antics. Years before he had been there, done that.   Somehow you just knew he had much better stories from his 20’s then anything we were doing, he just never bothered to share them.

Dick seemed quite crusty when you first met him, but when you got to know him he was a great guy with a very dry, sarcastic sense of humour.

He was two feet to my left on the news desk for over a decade and every night I’d go on and bash the Leafs or throw verbal bricks at somebody.   Anytime I could get a snicker or muffled laugh out of Dick I knew I had just delivered a good line.

Dick was old-school, the consummate broadcaster with a level, measured tone never veering off script.   A true anchorman.  He spent most of his early career in sports before arriving in Kingston.   In the 1960’s he did play-by-play for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals and it led to a stint in the pros; calling games for the Detroit Red Wings short-lived minor league affiliate in Virginia.

From there he found his way to Peterborough, near a race track of course and he worked in local radio.  He built a reputation as one of the best race callers in standardbred racing, where he was highly respected and seemed to know everyone in the harness racing industry.   Lots of broadcasters do play-by-play; very few can call a horse race, the rare and unique talent he had mastered.

In the early 1980’s Dick was hired by CKWS to read the sports on the six o’clock news and to be the track announcer at Kingston Park Raceway.   At the time, the legendary Max Jackson had just retired from CKWS.   I was doing sports on the eleven o’clock news and I wasn’t thrilled when I learned that Dick was being brought in from Peterborough to do the six o’clock show.  However, it didn’t take me long to appreciate he was a really good guy, who had far more experience in life and in broadcasting.

Not long after,  tragedy struck our newsroom.  David Green, who was in his 30’s, was the news anchor at six o’clock.   One day Green came into work not feeling well and less than two hours before his nightly newscast he left the newsroom, walked into the hallway and shockingly dropped dead of a massive heart attack.

It was tragic and one of the saddest events you could imagine.

Dick was asked to step in and read the newscast.   I will never forget under the worst circumstances imaginable, Dick Trotter went on the air, calm, collected and professional.

None of us could have possibly done what he did.

His maturity, his leadership, and professionalism got us through that night and the sad days that followed.   It’s a memory that will never leave me.   Dick then became the permanent news anchor and I took over the sports.

That lasted for about 10 years and co-anchor Christine Ross was with us most of that time.  We truly were a team and often heard from viewers they could see we genuinely liked each other and got along well.  That’s pretty rare in television news.

I also heard from viewers that, “it must be great to work with your Dad”, apparently we had really bad graphics in those days or they weren’t paying real close attention that he was Trotter and I was Potter!

In 1992, I was running out of material and the Leafs had traded for Dougie Gilmour, so I left to start a new career in the financial world.

A year or so later Dick left CKWS to try to resurrect Kingston Park Raceway.  He found a Toronto-based business partner, they reopened  the track and tried to make a go of it.  They put everything they had into it, but without slot machines it was a bleak time for harness racing in Ontario and they couldn’t make it work.

I didn’t see Dick again until 2004,  at the 50th anniversary of CKWS-TV when the old gang reunited to anchor the six o’clock newscast.  Dick and Christine Ross read the news, Dave Lewington did the weather and I was back on sports.

For one night we were back together and it was like Dick had never left.   He still had his textbook on-air delivery; calm, measured and smooth.

Dick Trotter left his mark on television viewers in southeastern Ontario and with harness racing enthusiasts province-wide.   I am sure in heaven, long-time CKWS photographer Peter Owen, who took the photos at Kingston Park Raceway and also passed away in 2016, is taking Dick’s photo in the ‘winner’s circle’ and they’re toasting with a cocktail or three to celebrate lives well-lived.

Mark Potter is the former Sports Director at CKWS-TV

Red Deer Roadblock

If if’s and but’s were candies & nuts,  wouldn’t it be a Merry Christmas!” –  former football great ‘Dandy’ Don Meredith

For the Kingston Frontenacs the Road to Red Deer and this year’s Memorial Cup came to a crashing halt in St. Catharines Wednesday night,  the best shot they’ve had in twenty years ended with Niagara fans throwing brooms on the ice to celebrate a sweep.

The Fronts were  2,247 miles and a dozen more playoff wins away from Red Deer.

So now we go back to being the OHL’s all-time leader in;  could have’s, would have’s and should have’s (Dandy Don nailed it).

Note to self;  this time let’s blame it on the hot goaltender who stole the series.

A bitter pill to swallow for die hard Kingston hockey fans,  who were ‘all in’  on the dream this was going to be the year.    It was easy to be fooled,  the hometown Fronts played like champions all season and won their first Eastern Conference title.  They set franchise records for wins and points along the way.   Lots to be proud of.

They exorcised those playoff demons that haunted them for two decades,  actually getting through the first round –  stopping Oshawa in five games.   It’s where you start counting for real in most OHL cities,  but no small accomplishment in this town.   Following that giant leap,  nothing could stop this team;  it was Red Deer or bust.

Then they ran into ‘Ned’.   That’s Alex Nedeljkovic, the six-foot, 20 year old Niagara goalie,. a second round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes.  This is Ned’s third OHL stop, thrown a lifeline when he was acquired from the trainwreck in Flint.

Ned was pretty much unstoppable against Kingston.  But to say a hot goalie ended the dream for the Fronts wouldn’t quite be fair or accurate.  Ned was spectacular,  but Kingston never played the way they did all season.  It’s really hard to explain why?

That’s the question that will haunt the players,  it’s coaches and fans for a long time.    In the last ten minutes of regulation in that thrilling Game Two at KRock,  the Fronts  pumped three goals past Ned, making him look almost human.    If Kingston played like that for the entire series,  there’s no way this ends the way it did.  But they didn’t.

Kingston’s top guns produced,  but the secondary scoring was missing.  Too often they started slow and were back on their heels .   The goaltending wasn’t as good as it should have been,  even going back to the Oshawa series.    Coach Paul McFarland couldn’t decide who was his number-one,  that’s never good for the goalies or the team.  Mishandling the goalies showed his inexperience,  as did the inability to change the game plan to counter what Niagara was doing.  They had beaten the Ice Dogs 3 of 4 during the season and finished 20 points ahead of them in the standings.

Niagara coach Marty Williamson is going to his fifth conference final in 12 OHL seasons. That’s the difference.  He’s been there done that and  knows how to win when it really matters.   With McFarland,  the Fronts have a young head coach facing big time playoff expectations for the first time.

At playoff time when the pressure turns up,  you start to “leak a little oil”.  You  overthink things,  your team gets tense and it hurts more than it helps.   When it’s over you’ve hopefully learned some valuable lessons, but I’d rather have a coach who has already learned those lessons – coaching someplace else.

What about the future?   This is a veteran team that was built for a long playoff run,  with a lot of guys moving on.   Michael Dal Colle, who was electric from the day he arrived,  will continue his season with the New York Islanders AHL farm team.  What a pleasure he was too watch.    Many others will move on in hockey and in life,  remembering fondly a great regular season & the banner they earned,  but carrying with them the weight of what could have been?    They’ll watch the Memorial Cup like the rest of us,  knowing they likely could have beaten any team that’s there.

Kingston gave up a boatload of draft picks to get Dal Colle and Desrochers.   That’s going to mean long waits between picks at the draft table and missing out on building blocks for the future.

They mortgaged the future to take a run at it,  good for them, but when it doesn’t work,  it will make those long nights ahead even longer.

It will  be another decade or more before we see another Kingston team as good as this one.   Until then, 2016 was just another dagger to the heart for Fronts fans.