and "Snapshots" From the PastBy Stan Neufeld
It’s a memory now but my recollections are still vivid - of hockey games I played in the post War Memorial Arena proudly wearing an As uniform – the arena packed to the rafters with screaming fans. Some of the most memorable games that we played pitted us against the Ft. St. John Flyers – games that were sure to bring out every hockey fan in town. Hence it was a strange feeling to walk into the rink last night with camera gear – not a hockey bag over my shoulder. I bear some scars to remind me of the intense rivalry between the As and the Flyers during the 70s.
Last night (November 10) the Athletics lost a well played hard fought over-time battle at the Coca Cola Center to the Flyers. They overcame a 3-1 deficit in the final frame only to fall short in extra time. Ryan Trudeau gave the As an early lead but a goal by Josh Bruha of the Flyers sent teams to the dressing room in a 1-1 tie. The Flyers took a 3-1 lead in the second with goals by Brennen Giroux and Cole Calliou but the As stormed back with markers from MacKenzie Caron and Mark Stojan in the third period to knot the score 3-3 forcing the game into extra minutes. The winning goal came from the stick of Flyers Marshall Sidwell at 4:15 in overtime.
"The first two periods were a little sloppy on our part" said A's president Kurt Robinson after the game. “We hit the post in overtime and they got the rebound, came down and scored.”
Goaltender Dave Larson snags this shot. Photo by Stan Neufeld
After a one-year hiatus from the NPHL the Athletics are back to compete in the West Division of an interlocking league that includes the Dawson Creek Canucks, Fort St. John Flyers and defending NPHL champions - the Spirit River Rangers. The East division has been reduced to three teams – the Grimshaw Huskies, Falher Pirates and the Valleyview Jets. The Jets have returned following a three-year absence from the league. High Prairie dropped out at the last minute.
For me – in the words of Yogi Berra, watching the game last night was “déjà vu all over again”. In spite of the camera in my hand while watching the Athletics play historic arch rivals, the Flyers, my mind consistently wandered back in time to my adventures on the ice against them - even feeling a flood of emotion when one of the As was on the receiving end of a questionable hit. I yearned to be on the ice to take up his cause. There is a long-standing history of fierce contests between the As and the Flyers dating back to the 50’s. One indelible memory is of a bench-clearing brawl that resulted when I was the target of a gang tackle by three Flyers. My teammate Jack Lefley immediately jumped into the fray to even the odds somewhat. That season we were especially proud and rewarded when we won the SPHL championship against the Flyers. In spite of several scars and a crooked nose that are daily reminders of fierce battles with the Flyers my memories of those contests are mostly good.
The Flyers had some outstanding players including outlaw pros who were banished from higher level play for various infractions but to be fair – so did the As. Not surprisingly the South Peace Hockey League was widely known in those days as an “Outlaw League”. It was good hockey but as rough and tough as the game gets. I was a green 15-16 year-old feeling honoured to be playing with my hockey hero and indomitable GP Hockey Legend – Pete Wright. Trying to emulate Pete I was known more for dealing out hits than scoring goals. However, in January of 1979 with standing room only in the Memorial Arena I tied a record for the most goals scored in one game by a defenseman. It was an especially proud night for me as it came during a game against the Flyers.
Gone are the days when Hockey Legend Fran Tanner of CFGP was in his gondola office doing play by play. However, I am pleased to point out that we now enjoy a swanky third floor skybox Legends Lounge at the Coca-Cola Centre where fans can watch the game in comfort. Last night as I was taking my place behind the plexiglass for a good camera angle long time Grande Prairie citizen and faithful volunteer Arnie Severson walked by to his spot in the visitor’s penalty box. For a spell during the 70s Arnie was on CFGP’s advertising staff so it comes as no surprise that he knows something about Grande Prairie’s hockey history. Arnie is one of those quiet, unsung heroes who has been an As volunteer for more than a decade. I was reminded that he was in the stands when I was still on the ice. Today he occupies a place in a long line of largely invisible volunteers who support local senior hockey. That line includes the likes of Johnny Macdonald, Roy Borstad and currently Robinson. I would be remiss if I failed to mention another behind the scenes stalwart - Randy Bearisto who has faithfully provided decades of service. There are others too numerous to mention here. Arnie contends that hockey during the era of the Outlaw League was somewhat rougher and tougher than it is today. He reminisced about one 1970’s Athletic’s line in particular that consisted of Pat Gouchie, Chuck Hesse and Denis Prefontaine. And then there was Murney Nellis who stood up many opponents at our blue line with his “Gordie Howe” bone crushing elbows. Although the games played today in the SPHL may not be as rowdy as the game during the 70s you may be sure that the players are not “wall flowers” - the games are entertaining and worth watching.
This is a new era for the Athletics. They have a new look including a new coach, new jerseys and a fresh young batch of players.
As are in good hands with new coach Glen Watson at the helm. Photo by Stan Neufeld
The game I saw bodes well for this season. Hopefully the League and the As team will catch fire in Grande Prairie and once again the downtown might ring with cheers from fans in the Coca Cola Centre when the As are on the ice on a Saturday night. They are worth watching.
MacKenzie Caron (22) makes a Connor McDavid type move and scored one of the As goals last night. Photo by Stan Neufeld
We invite readers with local hockey stories that they treasure to share them with us.
A Tribute to Kurt Robinson and other volunteersBy Stan Neufeld
You might say it’s just a hometown hockey team - but guess what! Cobbling together a team to participate in the North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) hockey requires the same basic skills that are needed to lead a nation.
Numerous books have been written about leadership, dissertations written, university courses taught and conferences conducted. Individuals recognized as having great leadership skills have been dissected, placed under microscopes, and their character, wit and spleen analyzed endlessly. Skill sets associated with leadership ability include organizational skills, the insight to identify strength and weakness in others, how to draw the best out of them, the ability to listen and knowing how and when to act to name just a few. Since this blog is not a treatise on leadership I will not go on – just to say that Kurt Robinson has agreed to serve as President of the newly formed Executive of the Grande Prairie Athletics. This is good news as it is my opinion that Kurt has the skills noted above to build a successful hockey team. In terms of experience, Kurt served as President of the As in 2011 and other leadership roles. That experience will prove invaluable as he is already familiar with many of the people and organizations that will be involved. However, it is no small enterprise and especially labour intensive.
The first step of the A’s reincarnation began Jan 29th of this year when Kurt called a meeting for players and volunteers at the Coke Centre. Since that meeting an Executive Board has been named and I contend that it is a strong cast of characters including Maurice Trudeau and Brent McCurdy - Vice Presidents, Ashley Callon - Marketing Director, Danielle Commander - Director of Off- Ice Officials, and Darren Walker - Player Liaison. Appointing the Board represents placement of the first block in the complex building plan to put a team on the ice this fall. It is my feeling that the venture is in good hands. The skills and abilities of Kurt and his team are highly valued in the market place and yet they are offered to this community project for free. Mustering stable support for senior hockey in Grande Prairie is a daunting assignment considering the competition for the public’s time and money for entertainment that includes a Junior A franchise: the GP Storm. Undoubtedly fans that support senior hockey will also support the Storm but for many there is only so much time and money to go around.
Finding the right coach is essential to building a successful team. John Lehners is a hometown lad with encyclopedic knowledge about the game and has been involved in numerous local hockey initiatives over the years. I should know - he has been a crucial element in the Legends project from the beginning. The original concept of the Legends project came about in the year 2000 when Max Henning and I were looking at a picture of the legendary Red Devil team. At that time we discussed the notion of a Legends project. The opportunity to implement the idea came in 2004 when Grande Prairie hosted the Nation’s Royal Bank Cup. John was the Special Events Coordinator and he identified funds for the GP Legends of Hockey project. Back to the re-invention of the As – John, along with fellow committee member Marty Tingstad concur that Glen Watson’s appointment as the A’s coach is a step in the right direction. He comes to the A’s with excellent on and off-ice coaching credentials. According to Kurt Robinson, “ Our new coach is going to be great. He will bring a fresh new look with a wealth of experience and coaching success at a variety of levels. “
The Legends Lounge overlooks the rink where the A’s will play. It is a gathering place for the legends and is available for other special events coordinated by Kylee Haining, Manager of the Grande Prairie’s Recreation and Sport Development program. Information about our Hockey Legends, photographs and other hockey memorabilia are on display in the Lounge.
Many of the hockey legends played for or were in other ways associated with the A’s over the years and you may be sure that our hockey legends and their friends will actively support the new A’s. If Kurt, the Board and Glen have their way the A’s will reclaim their former glory and tickets for games will once again become a hot item. Who knows what implications this season of hockey has for future additions to the ongoing Legends story.
Kurt Robinson (left) and John Lehners – taken in the Legend’s Lounge (Stan Neufeld photo)
The bottom line in the team building process is of course selecting the players. That process will keep us in suspense until September 13th when the tryouts begin. To begin with Kurt and Glen are hoping that some old veterans will show up at the trials to demonstrate that they still have gas in the tank. One simply has to watch senior recreational hockey in GP to realize that there is there is a great deal of hockey talent in town. However, it must be kept in mind that playing for the A’s is a huge commitment and not every eligible candidate for a spot on the team will be able make that commitment. In spite of the high level of competition in the NPHL no one is paid. The team is managed and coached and players play for the love of the game. It is amateur sport in its purest form. It is a workingman’s league that involves fitness routines, practice time and travel. Games often involve late nights and time away from spouses and families. Some exceptional local players have jobs that limit the amount of time that they have for hockey. However, as we have noted earlier, Grande Prairie has a rich hockey history on which to build. In the A’s last full season in the NPHL - 2014-2015 - the team lost in six games in the league final to the Spirit River Rangers. In 2009/10 the A's last captured the NPHL title over the Lakeland Eagles. Once again the challenge is to building a roster of players that will be competitive in the NPHL.
Will the team, like the Maple Leafs have a new image and take to the ice along with new sweaters, new colours and perhaps a new logo? We will wait with baited breath for that revelation. Messing with a team’s logo and colours can be controversial and risky. Look for an up-coming blog that will tell the story about how the legendary and popular Red Devils of a by-gone era were retired and replaced by the Athletics. Maybe the “devil logo”, fork in hand was an image that some locals thought was misguided. Maybe a religious lobby played a role. Maybe opponents of the devil image, fork in hand, failed to remember that farmers too are identified with forks. Having said that the A’s are now well established and only old timers like Max Henning, Billy Bessent and my older brothers Bob and Ron will remember Red Devil history that dates back more than half a century. After the red devil logo was abandoned the team adopted the original 1954 black and yellow A’s uniform that featured a full chest name on the front. The second version changed from black and yellow to orange and black featuring also a full chest name and a block letter “A” for the first time. Hockey Legend committee member Cam Henning and I are “babes in arms” compared to older brothers, Max and Billy. Over the two decades that Cam and I played as a defenseman for the A’s we had the privilege of wearing two different sets of jerseys. Max, Billy, Bob and Ron likely wore every colour of the rainbow in their history.
That’s our story to date of the blocks, the building and most importantly – the builders of Grande Prairie’s latest hockey initiative – but watch for further news and again - we invite the public to visit the Lounge at the Coke Center to see old jerseys and memorabilia that embody many stories and evoke special memories from the past. Maybe seeing the sweaters and other memorabilia will remind you of information that should be shared with other hockey junkies on our website. Please feel free to contribute information on the link About/Contact on the menu bar of gphockeylegends.com
The A’s Will Play In the NPHL in 2016/17By Stan Neufeld and Ron Neufeld
Senior hockey is once again alive and well in Grande Prairie - at least on paper.
The Grande Prairie Athletics will compete for the Lawrence Cup in the up-coming 2016/17 NPHL season. Senior hockey has been resuscitated under the leadership of a new executive with Kurt Robinson as President, and a new coach, Glen Watson. With this recent announcement senior hockey is poised to regain its former reputation and popularity with Grande Prairie fans. That is how it should be. Grande Prairie failed to enter a team in the North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) last season interrupting a long-standing, colourful history of local small town hockey that is the backbone of our national sport and the NHL.
In spite of the A’s absence in the NPHL last season we covered the playoffs in a series of blogs that saw Spirit River, a community of 1,025 bring home the cup. As we covered the playoffs we were reminded of the manner in which communities rally around hometown teams in a workingman’s league and the important role that sports can play in building local spirit. The series featured community spirit at its best. It was the talk of the towns that were represented and local fans showed up to rally around their local heroes. In addition to the entertainment value small town hockey provides it remains the backbone of the NHL and other professional leagues throughout Canada and the US. From the roster of GP Hockey Legends names that stand out are Duke Edmundson, Johnny MacMillan, Ken Solheim and Clint Malarchuk to name just a few. It illustrates that the need to play extends into adulthood and as such has recreational value for the players – and it’s more than that. On the streets of the town players are local heroes and they are often role models for the younger generation.
As noted elsewhere in the website, Canadian hockey players including young men from Grande Prairie, played a significant role beyond the NHL and North America, by helping introduce hockey to Europe. During WW11 our Gov’t. recognized the important morale building role that hockey could play for soldiers during the war and promoted the sport at home and overseas. During WW11 the Wright brothers, Charlie Turner and other local lads were represented on military teams that played to bolster patriotism that helped to defeat the Axis powers. Following the war our local veterans came home and engineered what we recognize as the Golden Age of hockey in Grande Prairie and throughout the Peace River country. During the late forties and fifties the hottest ticket in town was admission to the legendary War Memorial Arena to watch local young men compete against teams like the Hythe Mustangs or the Dawson Creek Canucks. Fans would flock to the Arena (standing room only) to cheer on the team. For fans unable to attend the game our own Foster Hewitt, WW11vet and GP Hockey Legend Fran Tanner enabled them to follow the play-by-play on radio station CFGP. You can listen to a sample of his play-by- under his Legend’s Biography as a Media Specialist.
No “Go A’s Go” chant rang from the Coke Centre last winter. It was the first time the Athletics failed to ice a team since they joined the NPHL in 1998-99, some 17 years ago. Until last year the As held the record for the longest consecutive participation in league competition for teams in the Peace River country. During this period senior hockey in the Peace was recognized as supporting the northernmost hockey league in the world and it was one of the best in the domain of small town hockey. Before WW11 there were teams like the Maroons and the Red Devils. During the war D-Company was the local team that participated in the renowned Defense League against entries from the Signal Corps, the Army and the Airforce. Following the war returning veterans including Charlie Turner and Bob Card along with Max Henning and Billy Bessent organized teams like the Key Club and the Legion to join the Red Devils who were later renamed the Athletics.
The above history was made possible by the unwavering dedication of countless volunteers. Regrettably we are unable to acknowledge all of them. Eleven of the most active are recognized in the Grande Prairie Legends of Hockey as Builders. They are citizens of the town who were/are determined to make sure that ice surfaces are available and maintained. They include men and women with the organizational skills needed to form leagues, teams and schedules and make certain there are coaches and referees. The tasks are endless. Considering hockey started here in 1913 and our Legends project never got off the ground until 2003 we are playing “catch up” to acknowledge the contributions of these remarkable volunteers. This is a history of sport and recreation in its purest form with no money exchanging hands for services.
So – listen once again for the chant of “Go As Go” rising from the Coke Centre and look for further news as the Athletics, under the competent leadership of Kurt Robinson as he re-connects the broken thread of participation in the NPHL and brings senior hockey back to Grande Prairie.
Will we see any of these faces when training camp opens on September 13th? Photo was taken by Maurice Trudeau, new vice-president of the Grande Prairie Athletics.
The Stanley Cup Series of the North WestBy Stan Neufeld
The Holy Grail, known in this context as the Campbell Cup, is becoming a permanent fixture at the MacLean Rec Centre in Spirit River. The Campbell Cup is to the North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) what the Stanley cup is to the NHL and last night the Rangers won the league championship against the Grimshaw Huskies in convincing fashion by a score of 9 – 1. They won the best of seven series in four straight games.
Ryan Albrecht and D’Lane Sather led a well balanced scoring attack with two goals each while Riley Boomgaarden, Colin Lefley, Khalin Marsolais, Trevor Mazurek and Andrew Buote got singles – there’s the Lefley name again. Ty Wiebe got the lone goal for the Huskies. Assistant coach Mel Vollman got it right when he predicted that if they rolled four lines, finished their checks and capitalized on chances they could finish the series and they did just that.
Assistant Coach and General Manager Mel Vollman said…
“ The Team played exceptionally well last night! I am very proud of this group of young men, the accountability, dedication, skill and commitment is the foundation of our success. It is not easy for the players as it takes a lot of time away from their wives and families. As a coach you learn to appreciate what the guys put into this. They work all day and play their guts out each night and do all over again one or two nights later. They're proud players, that want to win and they want to be the best and that's what we want to do help them get that opportunity with the ultimate goal of being Champions.So I say thanks to a great bunch of guys, coaches, and the executive. This championship is for you guys - each and every one of you should be proud of what you have accomplished. It is a cliché and probably gets over quoted but it is true that good teams can shut down one or two players. However it is awfully hard to shutdown 22 guys that believe in each other and play as a team and that is what defines our team. If you want to be measured by that stick and be the top team you have to be able do it again, again and again. For now, let the guys enjoy this and enjoy their time off and we will see you all next fall.”
The Lefley family: Mike (left) Jack, Linda and Colin - Photo by Deri Lefley
The history of the Campbell Cup dates back to the early 1950s. The North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) has the distinction of being the longest continually running senior hockey league currently in existence in Western Canada and Spirit River has been an important part of the history. At this point it seems legitimate to refer to the team as a dynasty.
What defines a sports dynasty? By definition it is “A powerful group or family that maintains its position for considerable time.” What this definition does not include is what is required to maintain that position over time. A good hockey dynasty benchmark is the Edmonton Oiler team with Gretzky, Kurri, Coffee and Fuhr who won five championships in seven seasons 1983-1990. Reflecting on their domination a dynasty calls for consistent performance on the part of players, coaches, the management, and consistent performance for a number of consecutive years. Like the Edmonton Oilers the Spirit River Rangers fit the bill on all fronts. So - let’s take a brief snap shot at the storied past of this hockey team.
Mel Vollman, General Manager and Assistant Coach of the Rangers has been a key part of their winning ways for almost three decades. Interestingly Ranger pride extends back much longer than Vollman’s 30 year association with the team. While there were ups and downs throughout their history the record shows that the Rangers hark back ninety-two years: to1922 – almost a century. During those early years it was pond hockey, open-air arenas and of course natural ice. That was Spirit River’s Romantic Hockey era.
Almost seven decades from those beginnings and building on that heritage along came Mel Vollman, Jack Lefley and an army of volunteers characteristic of small towns and highly motivated citizens with skilled leadership at the helm. They created the MacLean Rec Centre which is to Spirit River what the Wapiti and Memorial Arenas was to Grande Prairie. The MacLean Rec Centre was and is still today the ideal hockey facility for a small community like Spirit River - a great place that the Rangers call Home.
Not everything went smoothly throughout their history. Take October of 1955 for instance when the small community suffered an enormous set back. Their two-year old arena collapsed due to an extra heavy fall of snow. It forced the Spirit River community to drop out of the NWBHL but for only one year – a testimony to the communities dedication to Canada’s game. In December of 1956 hockey picked up where it left off and a team from Spirit River was once again in the League. A proud mayor Mayor George Kosowan had supported the immediate re-building of a new arena that was financed through a $30,000 debenture approved by the tax payers. Except to honour their history and past participants in the game the community and their team has never looked back.
The Rangers were an integral part of the SPHL until the 1960's. In the 1950's and 60’s teams that could afford it would sometimes import players. Typically imports were offered jobs by local businessmen. However, dependence on outsiders almost backfired one year when the “imports” refused to play in the playoffs unless they got more money. From that time forward the Rangers realized that they did not need to rely on fickle imports. Looking at their homegrown talent pool, the community was home to two families that came very close to forming a team: namely the Lefley and Listhaeghe clans. Art Lefley played his first hockey following WW11 in Grande Praire with the GP Legion team. Art had three hockey hungry sons as did John Listhaeghe. On the Lefley side in 1983 – 84 there were Bart, Jack and Tom and the Listhaeghe clan contributed Dan, D’Arcy and Doug. That’ not a bad start to establish a hockey team. These families, along with a regular stream of other local and surrounding area talent, continue to uphold the rich hockey tradition and their modern era indivudual achievements are too numerous to mention here.
In addition to the Lefleys and the Listhaeghe boys a number of Spirit River players stand out. For example Danny Muloin won the SPHL scoring title in the 1060-61 season tallying 33 goals and 14 assists for 47 points. Speaking of records, Muloin’s three goals in one minute to win a game against Dawson Creek 7-6 may never be broken. Four players who were a force for Spirit River during the 1964-65 season included Fred Zasadny, Johnny Listhaeghe, Freddy Hiltz and George Watt. Zasadny, who finished third in the scoring race the year before, scored four goals and collected eight assist to make it 50 goals, (a record), and 50 assists, (also a record), for 100 points, (a third record) for the season.
During the 1970’s The SPHL became the Central Peace Hockey League and with the Athletics, after folding for the second time in 10 years, were part of the North Peace Hockey League along with other former SPHL teams like the Hythe Mustangs, Dawson Creek Canucks and Rangers. The demise of senior hockey started when players started finding alternatives. In November of 1976 the Rangers regained entry into the SPHL and included a forward line consisting of Jack Lefley, Sid Giroux and Darcy Listhaeghe with Tom Lefley on the blue line.
In November of 1972 a meeting in Spirit River was called by well-known hockey veteran Johnny Listhaeghe of the Central Peace town " We're trying to get hockey revived in Spirit River, one of the best hockey centres in the Peace country,” said Listhaeghe, who that year hung up his players’s skates after 22 seasons. Listhaeghe was firmly convinced that the Rangers were one of the top drawing SPHL teams before they folded seven years earlier. They had operated for 11 years out of the Ice Palace, finishing first twice. They dropped to the bottom of the league in their final season, 1965 – 66. Back to the Ranger dynasty today - they have won the Cup a record 4 times in a row and five times in six years.
The more recent history of Spirit River’s domination Is outlined below.
2015-16: four game sweep over Grimshaw Huskies
2014-15: 4-2 game series over Grande Prairie Athletics
Note: For the first time in league history the Grande Prairie Athletics took a leave of absence during the 2015-2016 season. Kurt Robinson is spearheading a new plan to get the team back in the league for the upcoming season.
2013-14: four game sweep over the Falher Pirates
2012-13: four game sweep over Lakeland Eagles
2010-11: defeated Falher Pirates 4-1 in games
Do the Rangers deserve recognition as a dynasty in the North Peace Hockey league? I would say a resounding YES - especially since it is reported that Art and Johnny have an army of grandchildren poised to carry on the Lefley/Listhaeghe hockey tradtion. It’s in their blood.
The Spirit River Rangers are 60 minutes away from winning yet another North Peace Hockey League championship. Rangers defeated Grimshaw Huskies 6-3 at home last night taking a commanding 3-0 lead in the best of seven series.
Now the big question: Can the East division champions conjure the same magic to just sneak in one win and save their 2015-2016 season? Will a little pep talk after three straight losses and historically insurmountable odds get Grimshaw out of this big hole?
Rangers, who outshot their opponents 56-26, had a well balanced scoring effort from Ryan Trudeau, D’Lane Sather, Ryan Albrecht, Marco St. Pierre, Mike Lefley and Jordan Hack. C.J. Wass got the nod in goal for the winners who have peppered the Grimshaw net with over 100 shots in just two games. Take note that Mike – another member of the Lefley family scored. Carson Ewing and Bond Hawryluk scored for the Huskies.
According to assistant coach and GM Mel Vollman
“The Team played a strong game Tuesday. We had the territorial play and by puck possession we dominated - where we didn’t do as well as we would have liked is finishing our scoring chances. I have to credit the Grimshaw team and the Goaltender Szamata who played great and was the reason the game was closer than maybe it should have been. Grimshaw is a good Hockey club and will not lay over and die. It is their home rink and they have great fans! I expect Thursdays game to be a close affair, our expectations is for us to keep rolling four lines, make sure we finish our checks and capitalize on our chances when they present themselves. If we do that we should finish the series.”
Mel’s son Tyler is the head Coach this season.
The series returns to Grimshaw on Thursday. Suddenly, the Huskies are facing elimination, and if they don’t win Game 4 in front of nervous home town crowd, their season is over. Game on!
This is “down home” Canadian hockey at its best.
On Thursday night ½ the population of Grimshaw will be on the ice and the other half of the town will be in the stands and the noise when the hometown boys score will threaten to bring down the arena. Seriously, although Spirit River (1,025) has half the population of Grimshaw (2,515) it seems to have by far the stronger of the two teams but you can be sure that if the Huskies lose it will not be without a gallant effort to extend the series. After all - like the Spirit boys they are of tough pioneer stock. Grimshaw is named after a pioneer Doctor dating back to 1914 and was incorporated as a village in 1930. It is mile zero on the MacKenzie Highway system - gateway to the vast North West Territories and mineral rich Yellowknife, 1000 kms via road.
Spirit River had its beginnings in 1891 as a fur trading post and was incorporated as a village in 1916 – about the same time as Grimshaw. Both communities are surrounded by rich agricultural land and supported by mixed farming. By nature the residents of both communities reflect the tough, gentle and generous spirit of their pioneer ancestors but you would not know that by watching the highly competitive and boisterous players and crowd at a hockey game. One would think it is a life or death contest.
Check in on Friday to view the results for what threatens to be the last game of the season that brings together these two colourful northern communties.
The Rangers have decided not to participate in the Senior AA/A Provincials but Marty Tingstad will report on the upcoming Senior AAA Championship between the Bentley Generals and the Stoney Plain Eagles.
By Stan Neufeld
There are always stories within the larger narrative of hockey games and a series. One story worthy of note pertains to one of the Peace countries colourful and dedicated hockey families: the Lefleys. One of the goals scored by the Rangers last night came from the stick of Colin Lefley. Colin is the grandson of Art Lefley making him a third generation hockey player in a family name that is legendary in the Peace Country. Art launched the growing tradition of Lefley hockey players in Grande Prairie in 1951 playing with the Grande Prairie Legion. Following a move to Spirit River his name appears on the roster of the South as late as 1963-64 when they won the South Peace Hockey League Championship.
He passed on his hockey genes to four sons Jack, Tom, Bart and Allen who have all left their mark on various teams in the Peace Country. At times when Spirit River was unable to form a team their names appear on other rosters including Fairview, Hythe and Grande Prairie . Their will to play the game was undeniable leaving a continuous line of Lefleys starting with Art.
Art eventually retired from actively playing the game to serving as a goal judge: a position from which he continued to coach his sons, never letting them off the hook when they were not performing up to par. Allen has been a long time stick boy and equipment manager, a role he still occupies today. Jack was a scoring wizard in both the South Peace Hockey league and Beaver Hockey league winning a number of scoring titles. Jack’s three sons Colin, Mike and Kelly, have carried on the Lefley tradition and now backstopped by an army of rapidly growing grandchildren that are destined to keep the Lefley hockey dynasty moving forward for the foreseeable future. In December of 2007 Mike became just the second player to have his number (11) retired by the Grande Prairie Storm, since the team was formed in 1995. I was privileged recently to spend a day with Jack and believe me - there is more - much more to the Lefley story and their contribution to the Spirit River community than I have reported here. I will have to leave that for another day.
In the meantime, the Lefley family story is a Canadian story documenting the important role played by countless small communities and “Hometown Hockey” throughout the country. From a cultural perspective hockey is an important feature in our Canadian identity and forms the backbone of the NHL today. Back to Spirit River and the current battle for the cup: will the Coach and General Manager Mel Vollman of the Spirit River Rangers manage to keep the Campbell Cup in the display case of the Spirit River MacLean Rec Center? If Vollman has anything to say about it the answer is YES and if so it will be their fourth consecutive North Peace Hockey League championship.
Sunday, March 6th
Does a team lose their edge when they advance to the championship series by an event that is not of their doing? In this case players for the Grimshaw Huskies had packed away their hockey gear for the season but due to the Ft. St. John fiasco of bolstering their lineup with an ineligible player thus rendering them ineligible contenders for the cup the Huskies were called upon to quickly sharpen their blades and re-motivate themselves to compete in the League Championship series. How does this effect a teams ability to get ready both physically and emotionally?
These are issues confronting the Huskies and for that matter the League following an 8-1 shellacking by the visiting Spirit River Rangers last night. Following last night’s game Grimshaw finds themselves down 2 - 0 in the series but it is by no means doomsday. For game 3 on Tuesday night in Spirit River the Huskies will need to re-load their sticks if they want to get back into the series – a tough assignment but by no means impossible. Last night the Rangers recorded goals from eight different players including Dan Nichols, Jordan Hack, Marco St. Pierre, Trevor Mazurek , Colin Lefley, Ryan Trudeau, Fred Tanguay, and Paul Laroque, and outshot their opponents 46-14. For a reasonable chance to be competitive the Huskies will need to shut down the formidable Ranger offence and score more than once. Last night the Huskies only marker came from the stick of Huskies Boyd Hawryluk who spoiled a shutout bid by Ranger goaltender Alex Wright midway through the second period on a power play goal.
Friday, March 4th
Coach and General Manager Mel Vollman probably did a lot of starts and stops, aerobic and scrimmage drills with his defending champion Spirit River Rangers during their almost two week holiday from the North Peace Hockey League championships. Some analysis's will argue when you stay away from the game that long, you aren't going to have the efficiency or the effectiveness you had when you left. But nearly a two week layoff didn’t seem to bother the Spirit River Rangers last night when they opened the first game of the NPHL championships at home in the MacLean Rec Centre.
The defending champions quickly regained winning form outshooting their opponents 42-21 defeating Grimshaw Huskies 4-2 taking a one game lead in the best of seven series and the race to defend for the Campbell Cup. According to referee Marty Tingstad, the Huskies hung on for most of the game and did not really generate much for the first two periods of play. Grimshaw came to life in the third but it was not enough as Rangers goaltender Alex Wright stood tall and shut the door. D’Lane Sather led the Rangers with a pair of goals while Andrew Buote and Alex Curran netted singles. Ty Wiebe and Bond Hawryluk scored for the losers.
Rangers certainly won’t have time to let the rust set in this time around or even let their equipment dry as game two goes tomorrow night in Grimshaw .
What happened with the Ft St John Flyers is quite the fiasco. This is not the first time that something like this has occurred with Senior Hockey in Alberta. In 2012, The Horse Lake Chiefs made their second run at the Allan Cup. This squad did not have the big names that the Horse Lake Thunder had in 2005 but they still had a competitive group. The 2012 team eliminated the Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs in the Quarter Finals and the Bentley Generals in the Semi Finals. The only thing in their path to the McKenzie Cup (Alberta/BC playoff with winner advancing to the Allan Cup), was the Stoney Plain Eagles. Horse Lake won Game 1 in Stoney Plain, only to forfeit that game because of an ineligible player on their roster. Eventually Stoney won the series, in 7 games, and advanced to the Allan Cup. Their bid came to an end in the Quarter Finals, losing to a team from Grand Falls – Windsor. Rules are rules and I’m quite sure that this is a lesson that the group in Ft St John will not soon forget.
The benefactor of The Flyer’s misfortune is the Grimshaw Huskies who will now face the Spirit River Rangers for this season’s Campbell Cup. Dethroning the defending champions will not be an easy task however this season’s Huskies squad have all of the necessary components to give the Rangers a run for their money.
The Rangers should be well rested by virtue of their first round bye as well as sweeping the Falher Pirates in the second round. On the other hand, the Huskies also had a first round bye but went through a grueling seven game series with the Ft St John Flyers.
The two teams match up fairly well from top to bottom. On paper, it would appear that Spirit River has their largest advantage in goal. The Ranger’s goaltender Alex Wright has the best goals against average throughout the playoffs (2.5 GAA). The Huskies have a GAA of 5.1 but this is skewed by an 11 – 2 loss to the Flyers in Game 4. The Huskies have a potent offence led by the Hawryluk Twins, Bond and Brendan. They had 15 and 13 points respectively in their series with the Flyers. Grimshaw also possess a couple of big defensemen that can lay on the body when required.
Spirit River possesses a combination of speed and grit up front as well as a solid and sometimes punishing defense. The difference in this series may well come down to discipline. The Rangers averaged just over 40 minutes in penalties per game in their series with Falher while the Huskies average is just 19 minutes per game. Grimshaw was successful on over 23 % of their power play opportunities while Spirit River only converted just over 14 % of theirs. For the Rangers to retain their title this season, this will need to be addressed.
Mel Vollman, General Manager/coach of the Spirit River Rangers with the Campbell Cup hoping to keep it at home for yet another year.
No matter who wins the cup this year, the series promises to be fast, hard hitting, and very exciting. For the players, fans, and the on-ice officials, it is the best time of the year. The atmosphere will be second to none. Fans from all over the Peace Country will be in attendance to take in what should be an excellent and entertaining Campbell Cup Finals Series.
** Special thanks to long time NPHL league Statistician, Chris Clegg, for doing an excellent job in keeping the league stats all year. Chris works tirelessly to keep everyone up to date after each and every game. Here’s some amazing statistics about this amazing statistician . Chris has just completed his 26th season as statistician for senior hockey. During this time he’s only taken one year off. He’s got every player’s career stats since 1970 except for Peace River one season. This has to be some kind of record.
The tentative schedule is as follows:
Thu, March 3 – Grimshaw at Spirit River
Sat, March 5 – Spirit River at Grimshaw
Tue, March 8 – Grimshaw at Spirit River
Thu, March 10 – Spirit River at Grimshaw
*Sat, March 12 – Grimshaw at Spirit River
*Tue, March 15 – Spirit River at Grimshaw
*Sat, March 19 – Grimshaw at Spirit River
(*) if necessary
- Chris Clegg, NPHL Statistician, for NPHL President Jack McAvoy
North Peace Hockey League
Monday, Feb. 29, 2016
[For Immediate Release]
Head line: Fort St. John Flyers Forfeit Game 7 vs Grimshaw Huskies
The North Peace Hockey League was notified on Monday, Feb. 29 about the possibility of the Fort St. John Flyers using an illegal player in Game 7 vs the Grimshaw Huskies on Saturday, Feb. 27. After further investigation, the NPHL confirmed that the Flyers used 26 different players after the Feb. 10 deadline, which violates a league rule that states only 25 different players can be used. The 26th different player used was Jeff Fast.
Fort St. John won Game 7 by a score of 5-3 and advanced to the NPHL Final. However, due to the use of the illegal player, it is the ruling of the NPHL that Fort St. John must forfeit the game. NPHL President Jack McAvoy’s statements are as follows:
“Upon further discussion it is the ruling of the NPHL that Fort St. John forfeit Game 7 due to an illegal player, and also forfeits the series to Grimshaw.”
“The NPHL Final series between the Grimshaw Huskies and Spirit River Rangers will now start on Thursday, March 3 in Spirit River.”
Fans who bet on the Fort St. John Flyers should go out and buy lottery tickets. Turns out betting on the Flyers, who at one point in the series were 0-3 game under dogs, was smart money. Odds makers will tell us the chances of such a comeback are probably only 9.5% but the Flyers did it in Grimshaw last night defeating the Huskies 5-3 to win the North Peace Hockey league best of seven semi-final championship four games to three. Ironically, like they did in the series, the Huskies took a 3-0 lead early in the second period last night but the Flyers came back with five unanswered goals to send Grimshaw their walking papers.
From an elimination point of view teams that lose the first three games are likely to lose game four resulting in a “sweep series.” Leading 3-0 in the series, Huskies had history and statistics on their side - but it was not to be. The writing might have been on the wall when Flyers came back to life with convincing wins of 5-0 and 11-2 against their rivals. Fort St. John certainly has the fire power outscoring Grimshaw 36-23 in the series.
Flyers now advance to the NPHL championship against the defending champion Spirit River Rangers.
If blogger Marty Tingstad, who predicted a Flyers’ win, bet on the game he’s got extra change in his pocket today. Look for Marty to provide a synopsis on the championship series.
Friday, February 26th
They say it’s hard to beat a good team four times in a row. It’s also hard to beat a bad team four games in a row. But Toronto Maple Leafs did it in 1942. Can Fort St. John Flyers do it in 2016? Even in the National Hockey league few teams ever come back from 3-0 deficits but the Leafs defied the odds by defeating the Detroit Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup back in 1942.
Pete Langelle, Conn Smythe and Dave 'Sweeney' Schriner and Lorne Carr from the 1942 Leafs team.
Although it’s not the NHL, history tells us Flyers have a one in 50 chance of coming back from a 3-0 deficit so only time will tell if the they can replicate this gargantuan task of winning one more game against the Grimshaw Huskies and advance to the North Peace Hockey League championships.
Last night the Flyers edged the Huskies 5-3 at home to even their best of seven-semi final NPHL series at three games each. Flyers, who have never played a Game 7 in their history, will have to do it on the road Saturday in the seventh and final game of the series. They certainly carry the momentum having outscored their opponents 31-20 so far in the series. Statistics look even worse for Grimshaw if we look at the last three games where Flyers outscored the Huskies 21-5 with wins of 5-0, 11-2 and 5-3. Flyers have one shutout win while the Huskies won a game in overtime. Winner advances to the NPHL championships against the defending champion champion Spirit River Rangers, who have had a chance to let their equipment get good and dry.
Marty Tingstad, our first blogger, predicted a Flyer’s victory in five games.
Tuesday, February 24th
Fort St. John Flyers are striking back with vengeance in their best of seven semi-final series against the Grimshaw Huskies. Flyers blanked the hometown Huskies 5-0 last night to win their second consecutive contest but still trail the series 3-2 in games. Troy Hunt, the West Division League all-star goaltender, certainly sent Huskies a strong message last night as he registered a first ever playoff shutout by the Flyers. Rick Cleaver proved his League MVP status and along with Ryan Carter, each scored two goals as Flyers outshot the Huskies 48-21.
Huskies could wrap up the series in Fort St. John on Thursday but the Flyers certainly have the momentum.
Sunday, February 21st
Falher Pirates certainly didn’t go down without a fight. Spirit River Rangers advanced to the North Peace Hockey League championships last night in Falher but it took an overtime goal by Trevor Mazurek at 17 seconds in overtime to dispose of the Pirates 4-3 and sweep the best of seven series four games straight. Rangers, winners of the West division, are the defending NPHL champions.
The plot thickens in the other series. In a do or die situation Fort St. John Flyers staved off elimination courtesy of an easy 11-2 win over the visiting East division champion Grimshaw Huskies who missed a chance to sweep their series. Huskies lead the series 3-1 in games and return home for game five on Tuesday night.
Friday, February 19th
Grimshaw Huskies and Spirit River Rangers are on the verge of advancing to the North Peace Hockey League championships. Huskies defeated the Fort St. John Flyers 5-3 at home last night (February 19) while Rangers downed the visiting Pirates 5-2.
Both Huskies and Rangers are 3-0 heading into Saturday night games and could each sweep their best of seven series.
NOTE: by Chris Clegg, NPHL Statistician
Only twice in the 63-year history of the NPHL has a team come from 3-0 down to win a series:
1978-80 Grimshaw Huskies defeated the Falher Pirates in the NPHL Semi-Final.
2012-13 Lakeland Eagles defeated the Falher Pirates in the NPHL Semi-Final.
From Horse Drawn Sleds to Comfortable Motor Coaches and Airplanes
By Stan Neufeld and Ron Neufeld
Let’s compare local hockey travel over the years from 1915 to present day. From a horse drawn sled in 1915 to the comfort of a motor coach with onboard entertainment, rest rooms, folding tables, armrests and recliner seats. Have we got it easy or what?
The bus ride from Grimshaw to Fort St. John is about 230 kms, a comfortable two and a half hour bus ride, the longest road trip facing teams currently competing in the NPHL semi-finals this year. In a working man’s league in which hockey is purely a recreational pastime even this is a stretch taking a toll on work and other domestic activites.
Now - compare today’s circumstances to conditions in 1954 when the Grande Prairie Red Devils travelled by bus to Whitehorse to play the Whitehorse Merchants in Wheat Belt-Yukon Hockey League game.
It was a nineteen hour bus ride covering 1,600 kilometres. The only entertainment was a deck of cards and refreshments. The Red Devils travelled 3,300 kilometres in five days! The team and a few fans pulled into the Grande Prairie depot shortly after nine on a Tuesday morning. They had departed from the Yukon capital at midnight on Sunday, travelling nonstop on the return trip. To help finance the trip the team had organized a five-dollar per plate banquet.
There were furious debates in every town that participated in the Wheat-Belt Yukon Hockey League experiment about the worthwhile nature of the experiment. To make it feasible the Yukon Capital made certain concessions such as free accommodation and help with meals but even so the cost to each team making the trip was approximately $1000; a lot of money in the era.
Not surprisingly the Wheat Belt - Yukon Hockey League lasted only a year. With Whitehorse dropping out, the league became known as the “South Peace Hockey League” with the addition of Spirit River Rangers. A year earlier the North Peace Hockey League emerged championed by the Fairview Monarchs.
In the end the Wheat belt - Yukon Hockey League was a bold experiment but not out of character for the reckless pioneers of the North. It was in the tradition of hockey players hungry for competition dating back to March of 1915, a month that often saw the mercury drop to -40 when nine players from Peace River Crossing piled into a horse drawn sled along with their hockey gear to test their skills against teams from Grande Prairie and Saskatoon Lake. It was an adventure of epic proportions covering 515 Kms. - in a horse drawn sled – to play a couple of games of hockey!! A horse drawn sled on a long trip covers ground at about 6.4 kms. per hour. A motor coach on today’s highways moves at 100kms. per hour. Are we spoiled or what?
(See Episode One of One Hundred Years of Hockey).
Wednesday, February 17th
Grimshaw Huskies and Spirit River Rangers have taken two game leads in their best of seven North Peace Hockey League semi-finals.
The Huskies defeated Flyers 3-1 in Fort. St. John last night (February 16) while the Rangers thumped the Pirates 7-2 in Falher.
Sunday, February 14th
Defending champion Spirit River Rangers and Grimshaw Huskies took one game leads in the North Peace Hockey League best of seven semi-final playoffs last night.
In Spirit River, the Rangers defeated Falher Pirates 6-3 while in Grimshaw the Huskies squeaked out a 7-6 overtime win over the Fort. St. John Flyers.
The fans will get there a little earlier, the grill and coffee pot will be turned on a little sooner, and the tape will be wound a little tighter. The NPHL semi-finals are set to begin.
The marquee matchup should be the Spirit River Rangers playing the Falher Pirates. Perhaps their Jan 21st game provides us with a preview of what is to be expected when there were 172 minutes in penalties, including several fighting majors. The physical play can be expected to continue when the puck is dropped Saturday night in Spirit River. Both teams have better than average goaltending and are well coached. While the Pirates might have the edge in overall team speed, look for the Ranger’s combination of team toughness and a slightly better defense core (Spirit River allowed the fewest goals against this season but Falher allowed the second fewest) to take this series. The Rangers also have Alex Curran, the player voted in as the league’s best defenseman manning their blue line. Look for a Sprit River victory, likely in 6 games.
Also on Saturday night, the Grimshaw Huskies will be hosting the Ft St John Flyers. Perhaps the most remarkable fact from this series is that Grimshaw went from going winless all of last season to finishing first in the East Division this season. As a result of this, Huskies Coach Sheldon Szamata is this season’s Coach of the Year. Of course it does not hurt when you have the league’s leading scorer and unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year, Tyrin Wiebe (24 goals and 33 assists), on your team. The Huskies are young and they are quick. They led the league in goals scored and have decent goaltending. However, there is plenty of hardware in the other dressing room as well. The Flyers have league MVP Rick Cleaver who scored 19 goals with 20 assists in 20 games played. They also have West Division All Star Goaltender Troy Hunt between the pipes. The Flyers are big and they are physical. Look for the “a good defense usually outlasts a good offence” adage to hold true in this series as well. I would predict a Flyer’s series victory in 5 games.
Chris Clegg is the NPHL Statistician and does an amazing job keeping track of every kind of record in this league.
NPHL Semi-Final Schedule
Chris Clegg, NPHL Statistician
Falher Pirates vs Spirit River Rangers (Best-of-Seven)
Sat. Feb. 13 Falher at Spirit River
Tue. Feb. 16 Spirit River at Falher
Thu. Feb. 18 Falher at Spirit River
Sat. Feb. 20 Spirit River at Falher
*Tue. Feb. 23 Falher at Spirit River
*Thu. Feb. 25 Spirit River at Falher
*Sat. Feb. 27 Falher at Spirit River
(*) if necessary
Fort St. John Flyers vs Grimshaw Huskies (Best-of-Seven)
Sat. Feb. 13 Fort St. John at Grimshaw
Tue. Feb. 16 Grimshaw at Fort St. John
Thu. Feb. 18 Fort St. John at Grimshaw
Sat. Feb. 20 Grimshaw at Fort St. John
*Tue. Feb. 23 Fort St. John at Grimshaw
*Thu. Feb. 25 Grimshaw at Fort St. John
*Sat. Feb. 27 Fort St. John at Grimshaw
(*) if necessary
Note by Stan Neufeld
Fort St. John - The Flyers defeated Dawson Creek Canucks 7-2 here last night (February 11) to wrap up their North Peace Hockey League quarter final series 3-2 in games. Flyers now advance to the semi-finals against the Grimshaw Huskies who won the division title and a first round bye. Falher Pirates and defending NHPL champion Spirit River Rangers tangle in other semi-final action.
Dawson Creek - Dawson Creek Canucks have forced a fifth and deciding game in their best of five North Peace Hockey League quarter finals with Ft. St. John Flyers. Canucks defeated the Flyers 4-3 here last night (February 9) to knot the series at two games each heading into the final and deciding game tomorrow night (February 11). Winner of this series will go on to play Grimshaw Huskies who won the division title and a first round bye. The other semi-final series has been decided and the matchup will include Falher Pirates and defending champion Spirit River Rangers.
Saturday, February 6th
Falher - The Pirates gained a thrilling 4-3 double overtime victory over the Manning Comets here last night to win their series three games straight. Pirates now advance to the semi-finals against the defending NPHL champion Spirit River Rangers.
Friday, February 5th
Fort St. John - The Flyers dominated Dawson Creek Canucks 9-1 here Friday taking a 2-1 lead in their series.
Thu, February 4th
Dawson Creek Canucks defeated Ft. St. John Flyers 5-4 in overtime at home on Thursday evening to knot their North Peace Hockey League at one game apiece in the second game of their best of final quarter final.
In the other series Falher Pirates defeated the Comets in Manning 4-1 taking a 2-0 series lead.
Wed, February 3rd
Fort St John Flyers defeated the Dawson Creek Canucks 4-1 at home while the Pirates defeated the Manning Comets 7-4 in Falher during opening games of the North Peace Hockey League playoffs last night (Tuesday, February 2). Both series are a best of five quarter final. The dates for the remaining Flyer’s/Canuck’s series are Feb 4th, 5th, 9th, and 11th (if necessary) while the Pirates/Comets play the remaining games of their series on Feb 4th, 6th, 9th, and 11th (if necessary). All games in this league start at 8:30 pm.
By virtue of the Spirit River Rangers and Grimshaw Huskies winning their respective Divisions, they receive a first round bye. As winners of the East and West Division, Grimshaw and Spirit River are automatically given the higher seeds. Therefore, Grimshaw and Spirit River have home ice advantage in the NPHL Semi-Finals. Grimshaw will host the winner of the Dawson Creek vs Fort St. John series while Spirit River will host the winner of the Manning vs Falher series.
The NPHL is one of the best Senior AA Leagues in the Province with intense rivalries that have been built upon years of tradition. Come playoff time, the action is ratcheted up a few notches and fans rarely leave disappointed. The hockey is both fast and hard hitting, and if your 50-50 ticket is drawn, you’re likely to receive quite a wad of cash! For hard core hockey fans, it is truly one of the best entertainment values around.