All aboard for Corner Brook
Memories of the very first minor hockey team to represent CBS
PILLAR TO POST By Craig Westcott
For thousands of boys and girls throughout Newfoundland, these past few days and the coming week are, next to Christmas, probably the most exciting and adventurous days of the year – if they are tangled up in minor hockey.
Easter is when the annual all Newfoundland and Labrador minor hockey tournaments happen.
In these days of helicopter parenting, not as many children venture out on a team bus to spend a week 500 or 600 kms away with strangers. But in my day, not as many of the parents could afford to travel with their youngsters to Twillingate or Lewisporte or Marystown to watch their progeny lace ‘em up against teams from other towns.
For the kids, travelling to a strange town with a band of teammates and their parents at home was a recipe for adventure. Those trips made for a lifetime of memories, stories and friendships. There are true, and half true, tales that still get retold, but are probably not fit for a newspaper.
They were exciting times, those hockey tournaments in the 1970s. It meant something to wear your town’s jersey and to square off in a rink of deafening fans against some other crowd of fellows who looked as unfamiliar and mysterious as Saracens.
So, I can only imagine how exciting it was for the very first CBS team, a group of boys who ventured to Corner Brook in 1964 for an all-Newfoundland peewee tournament. It was a team cobbled together from lads who had learned to skate, and still practiced, on the local ponds and the trip meant an overnight ride on the Newfie Bullet across the island.
This was in the years before even the Holy Spirit Minor Hockey Association existed. It came about because of a bunch of volunteers, led by the coach of the Foxtrap senior hockey team, Wilson Butler, started to worry about what would happen when his team’s stars and stalwarts started to retire.
There was no farm system for young players then, no minor hockey system on this part of the shore.
“So, we started to pick a team for peewees,” said Butler. “We put an ad in the paper and said we were going to pick a team.”
The tryouts were held on Seal Cove Pond and Butler’s Pond.
“Anybody at all could come and play who wanted to play,” said Butler. “We said as long as you can skate, come out. And if they could skate at all we’d pick them, anybody who could play and could skate was all right.”
There was a big turnout, said Butler. “Every young fellow who could skate (showed up)… We picked out 20 or 30 players and that’s who we kept.”
Butler and his group rented St. Bon’s a few times as well as Feildian Gardens and Prince of Wales Arena. They would hold a practice whenever they could find an hour’s ice time. The cost was $25 per hour, a standard rate at all the rinks. They’d rent a bus to bring the boys out.
The late Muck Taylor was a big part of the organization, along with George Mercer and George Petten.
“Anything you wanted from Muck all you had to do was sing out to him,” said Butler.
Then came the spring tournament in Corner Brook.
“We got the train up at Kelligrews Station,” remembered Dennis Morgan, the team’s goalie.
When they arrived in Corner Brook, the players had to stay aboard a sleeper car for a night until they were berthed in local homes.
“Myself and Dave Bishop were billeted out with the Anglican Minister in Corner Brook at the Anglican Manse,” said Morgan.
The team included Kevin Trickett, Chris Davis, Gerry Tilley, Amos Porter, Barry Tilley, Roger Jefford, Eddie Barnes, Calvin Morgan, Wayne Fagan, Frank Dawe, Dennis Dawe, Bob ‘Tousser’ Bussey, Dave Bishop, Ronnie Chaytor, Boyd Canning, and Doug Ennis, among others. Morgan can’t remember all the names from that year.
The team wore black and white jerseys and had CBS emblazoned as a crest. Ray Bishop paid for the crests. The team didn’t win any games but played well.
From start to finish, the trip was an adventure.
“We got stuck on the Gaff Topsails on the way back,” said Butler.
One of the players was billeted with a family that had two sons and a daughter. Years later the CBS player went back and eventually married the daughter.
Essentially, the same group of players spent the next few years travelling to tournaments throughout the province as they grew older, including a bantam tournament at the original Joe Byrne Arena in Grand Falls and a couple of trips to Labrador. In tow, most times, was a group of local girls who had formed a cheerleaders group.
“We were the only Peewee team in Newfoundland that ever had cheerleaders,” said Butler. “And they’d go to every game. I tell you, we didn’t mess around, when we were going, we were going full swing.”
Sandra Batten was the leader of the group. Dot Bishop was critical too. “She was there for everything,” said Morgan.
The girls, who included Rosalind (nee Porter) Petten and others from various parts of the shore, were fitted out in sweaters that left no doubt which team they supported.
Bishops Service Station and Supersweets were the teams’ main sponsors.
“Lindy Morgan was a right-hand man,” said Butler. “Everywhere the team went, Lindy went, guaranteed.”
Aiden Petten, George Petten, and Heber Best were also involved.
The team travelled to Buchans, Gander, Bell Island. “There would always be tournaments somewhere,” said Butler.
Sometimes the CBS and Bell Island teams would travel together to share the costs. One year the team travelled to a tournament with the Conception Bay North CeeBees.
“We held our own,” said Morgan. “We didn’t win any tournaments or championships, but we held our own. We didn’t get blown out of the water. We surprised a lot of them I guess, because we were coming from a small town.”
Unlike the other squads, the Conception Bay South team did not have its own rink.
“I remember the first time going to Memorial Stadium for a practice,” said Morgan. “All of us were going around with our mouths open. You wouldn’t know but we were at the Montreal Forum.”
Paying for the trips meant a lot of fundraising. A ‘women’s auxiliary,’ of hockey mothers did a lot of it. There were card games at the old Star Hall, located near where the Mary Brown’s Restaurant in Manuels is now, as well as dances, bake sales, and turkey tees. They showed movies at the old Queen Elizabeth school on Saturday nights to raise money. Muck Taylor would work the door.
“Muck was as good as gold,” said Butler, “as good as gold… We used to sell tickets on 10 pounds of puddings. We made money where we could make it. And if we didn’t have any to make, we’d have to put our hands in our own pockets.”
The fundraising covered the cost of hockey sticks, and other expenses.
“We used to sell tickets on a sack of turnips,” recalled Morgan. “One of the boys, his father was a farmer and he would gather up a sack of turnips and donate them and we would sell tickets then for 10 cents a ticket to buy gear.”
One night a crowd from Mundy Pond showed up at the Kiwanis Club in Kelligrews where the CBS minor hockey organizers were holding a dance.
“We knew they were coming in to have a racket,” said Butler.
So, Butler went down to the Top Hat in Manuels, where the senior hockey crowd was having a dance, and got Muck Taylor to come up to Kelligrews.
The late Fred Coates, who would later be a much-respected mayor of CBS and well-noted for his gentlemanly behaviour and level-headedness, stood back to back with Taylor prepared to take on all comers from Mundy Pond. With those two bruisers on the door, the seven or eight fellows from Mundy Pond stayed outside and threw rocks in through the windows. Eventually the RCMP showed up.
The players did get their own rink, eventually, an outdoor surface on Dunn’s Hill Road, near where the ball field is now. It lasted about a year. There was music and a string of lights running above the ice surface.
By the end of the season, with things getting mild, the ice melted early. It marked the end of the rink and Butler’s time as the defacto head of minor hockey in CBS. He retired from it. This was sometime during the late-1960s. Butler isn’t clear on the date.
“Glad Duff (at Holy Spirit School) got tangled up with it after we gave it up,” said Butler.
Under Duff’s leadership, Holy Spirit Minor Hockey came about, which eventually grew into the Conception Bay Regional Minor Hockey Association.
But before that, there was Butler’s minor hockey group, and before that, informal pond games. Many of those contests were played on an outdoor rink that existed just west of the current Hickey’s Timber Mart in Upper Gullies.
“Someone from Long Pond or Foxtrap would link up with somebody from the Gullies to play and a bunch of us would go up in a van or the back of a truck or something, getting dressed on the way,” said Morgan. “I can remember going somewhere into the back of Greeleytown on a little gully to play the boys from Foxtrap… There were a lot of good memories. It’s too bad we didn’t mark more stuff down.”
Butler was inducted into the CBS Sports Hall of Fame in 2006. Morgan later became a standout goalie in the senior league, first for Foxtrap and then for Foxtrap’s dreaded rival, Long Pond. He even got a callup to the Ottawa 67s for a tryout camp.
“I guarantee you there were a lot of good hockey players on the Shore,” said Butler.
“Yes, it was good hockey,” said Morgan, whose memory of that first trip to Corner Brook still resonates. “They were good memories.”