Category Archives: hockey

09 Dec

My First Falcons Game

Pictures and a few observations from last night’s GOJHL game between the St. Catharines Falcons and the visiting Ancaster Avalanche at the ancient Jack Gatecliff Arena:

1. Despite the larger-than-normal “crowd” of 433 in attendance at the 3,500-seat arena, buoyed by the presence of a high-school-age team from Cleveland, I didn’t exactly have a long wait in line to buy a ticket. The elderly gentleman at the counter almost seemed surprised that I wanted one.

2. Upstairs, two more seniors acted as the greeting committee, one of whom stamped my hand and thanked me for coming. It was a pleasant change from an IceDogs game at the Meridian Center, where rude rent-a-cops rummage through your belongings and act like they’re doing you a favor by allowing you in the building.

3. This guy in a red jacket with a black “SECURITY” cap hanging out at ice level was all there was as far as security was concerned. The way it ought to be.

4. Though the GOJHL is hardly a guaranteed ticket to future stardom, there are a handful of players who have made it from the Falcons to the NHL, a fact they proudly display on this banner.

I was surprised to see former Fighting Moose Brandon Nolan’s name on the list. During my time as a fan, he was little more than a third- or fourth-line player whose career seemed to be going nowhere. In addition, St. Catharines native and former Falcon Daultan Leveille was a first-round draft choice of the Atlanta Thrashers back in 2008.

5. Shots around the sparsely populated concourse:

6. The $1 puck toss took place in the first intermission with the big prize being a chicken dinner from Swiss Chalet on Fourth Avenue. In addition, the lucky winner of the 50/50 draw took home $298.

7. Shots around the historic rink. For those who are unaware, not only was this once the home of the IceDogs, but it was where stars like Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Marcel Dionne and Pat Stapleton spent their formative years. During the early 1980s, the AHL’s St. Catharines Saints, then the Leafs’ farm team, also played at “the Jack.”

8. The smell from decades-old fermented sweat that permeates every corner of the stands stuck to my nostrils so badly that I was still smelling it when I woke up the following morning.

9. I think it was warmer outside than it was in the stands.

10. Given the rink’s age, I wasn’t all that surprised to see how hacked up the glass was. But at least the place was clean. I didn’t have to wipe down my own seat and despite covering much of the rink, I didn’t find any sticky spots on the floor. The SMG staff who “clean” the Meridian Center should come by and take some lessons from the city crews.

11. Line combinations or defensive pairings written on the glass at the visitors’ bench:

12. Just like the old Winnipeg Arena, a picture of the Queen hangs in one end:

13. Scenes during the warmup:

14. I got the distinct impression that this person is a regular. Call it a hunch.

15. The Falcons are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, something they proudly display at center ice:

16. Section F’s collection of bell ringers. Every low-level junior hockey team seems to have them.

17. Aside from the team from Cleveland seated in the far end, I was one of only a small handful who wasn’t drawing CPP and who didn’t know most everyone else there. Many of them are probably still wondering who that guy with a notepad and a camera was.

18. Before the game:

19. The siren sounded like a recording of a pig being slaughtered.

20. It was a nice touch for them to honor a longtime Falcons fan who had passed away earlier in the week with a moment of silence.

21. For the anthem, I had expected a tape-recorded version of O Canada to be played, but instead, the P.A. announcer opened up the door behind him and handed the mic to a woman seated there. She actually handled the task pretty well, much better, in fact, than the school choirs the IceDogs frequently use.

22. Unlike the case at IceDogs games, the P.A. announcer did not deem it necessary to introduce himself.

23. The opening faceoff:

24. First period action:

25. In contrast to games played at higher levels, they keep the games moving quickly in this league. No fussing around, no TV timeouts and no lengthy pregame ceremonies. Drop the puck and let’s go.

26. Shots of both benches:

27. When and if this kid ever gets married, he should seriously consider using his wife’s name.

28. Sound carries particularly well throughout the rink, especially with so few people in attendance. The officials, coaches and players really can hear fans when they scream and likewise, we could hear them and their frequent use of the F-bomb.

29. Apparently in this league, a boarding penalty carries an automatic 10-minute misconduct. For the most part, I think that’s a good idea.

30. Are they penalties or are they penal ties?

31. After the Falcons’ second-period goal, lights flashed near the bench:

32. During the second intermission, instead of having a lucky fan stand at center ice to try and shoot a puck through the empty spot in the board covering the net to win a prize, they had a player do it. Unfortunately, the player missed both shots, drawing a couple of boos for his efforts.

33. They sold beer at a pub? Who knew?

34. The Falcons’ “Main” man:

35. Largely dominated by their opponents, particularly so in the third, the Falcons were fortunate to get out of regulation with the score still tied at 1-1. In this league, rather than use the three-on-three overtime followed by a shootout, they play five minutes of four-on-four, followed by another five-minute period of three-on-three. Since neither team could break the deadlock, however, the game ended with a tie score, marking the first time I had been at a tie game since the (real) Jets’ final season at the Winnipeg Arena.

36. After the game:

19 Nov

IceDogs vs. Ottawa

Thoughts and observations from the game last night as the IceDogs rallied to beat Ottawa:

1. There was an exceptional amount of traffic and activity downtown before and after the game. Our mayor thinks that’s a good thing. I’m not sure I agree with him.

2. In the washroom before the game, I spotted someone putting in eye drops after doing his business at the urinal. Then he went to wash his hands. You just can’t make stuff like this up.

3. Someone nearby took her seat and proceeded to devour an order of ketchup with some chicken fingers and fries on the side. In the second period, someone had an order of gravy with some fries on the side. They are condiments, not meals.

4. During the warmup, LauraLeigh came to escort a couple of nearby fans down to the “best seats in the house” as part of a promotion they hold every game. Instead of watching the game through Gary Bettman’s gift to the world, they got to sit in a sofa at ice level and attempt to follow the play through the grimy glass. I think I got the better view.

5. Despite how wide and spacious the seats at the Meridian Center are, some guy a few rows in front of me had trouble fitting into his. Maybe that will be the final straw for him to get off the “see food” diet.

5a. This heavyweight bore a striking facial resemblance to a late ex-colleague of mine.

6. Just when you think the IceDogs P.A. announcer can’t possibly engage in more self-promotion, he does. In addition to his customary pair of self-serving introductions every game, now he gets his name and face on the big screen before the game. I swear he must be convinced that fans pay to hear him announce rather than to watch the game.

6a. So as not to give him more of the attention he craves, I refuse to identify him.

7. As part of the pregame ceremonies, the four newest members of the St. Catharines Sports Hall of Fame were introduced. One of them had apparently attended St. Catharines Collegiate, so the announcer made sure to tell us that St. Catharines Collegiate was in St. Catharines. Here I thought it was in Welland. Thanks so much for clearing that up.

8. A girls’ choir from Governor Simcoe Secondary School did a fine job with the anthem. Even better, they were fully clothed and did it entirely in the Canadian language.

9. Every section seems to have its own Howie Meeker wannabee and mine was no exception. I kept hearing “come on” and “keep an eye on him” from this guy who, like so many others, must think the players can hear and will listen to him.

10. The usher in the next section looked like Sean Connery when he played the submarine captain in The Hunt for Red October.

11. One of the groups in attendance was from St. James Catholic School. Back in the Old Country, I lived in St. James for many years.

12. One fan had no problem making himself right at home.


13. During the game, there was a giveaway for a CAA card in a nearby section. It reminded me of a hotel where I once worked back in the Old Country that was “CAA Approved.” As one snarky painter who did some work there once said, it was approved by the cockroaches, ants and animals, not the Canadian Automobile Association.

14. During a second-period TV timeout, someone proposed to his girlfriend and she said “yes.”

15. A senior in the next section had a nose ring. It looks awful on an 18-year-old and it looks even more out of place on someone who should know better.

16. In the second period, there was another classic Bengt Lundholm moment when Kyle Langdon went through the Ottawa defense only to have the puck dribble off his stick.

17. Despite giving up a bad goal in the second period when he misplayed the puck behind his net, Stephen Dhillon looked better. Less awkward. He still needs more playing time, but there’s been some noticeable improvement since the last time I saw him.

17a. Entering the third period, it was looking like that miscue was going to cost his team the game, but his teammates rallied to take him off the hook.

18. Full marks to the boys for the aforementioned third-period rally to pull out the two points. Unlike what happened too often over the past couple of years when an early deficit meant “game over,” they kept working and were justly rewarded for their efforts.

19. Despite the two goals, Aaron Haydon still looks like a fish out of water up front. He belongs back on the blue line.

20. 4,698 was the announced attendance. Reduce it by 10 or 15% for the actual figure.

21. Fans began leaving during a third-period TV timeout with 9:07 left. What is this, the Old Country?

22. On the bus after the game, everyone without exception said “thank you” to the driver on their way out. On second thought, this is definitely not the Old Country.

07 May

London Calling

On Thursday evening, I was one of a busload of fans who went to see the IceDogs take on the Knights in London in the opening game of the OHL’s championship series. It would mark the first time I had been at a championship series of any league in person since the Jets were in the WHA. Yes, it’s been a long time.

As those of you who know me would expect, I was one of the first to arrive at the Jack, where I spotted this woman passed out on the front steps of the IceDogs’ former home rink.

From the looks of her, she was probably homeless, and someone who our mayor, Walter L. Sendzik (the “L” stands for Liberal), would no doubt like the city to reach out to as part of his “compassionate city model.”

Though apparently lacking the wherewithal to put a roof over her head, she did, however, have the resources to care and feed for the animal in the pink cage. She also dug out a cigarette and lit up before leaving to make way for the gathering crowd.

And I’m supposed to feel sorry for her. Those who are big believers in the social determinants of health obviously conveniently overlook cases like this.

But I digress.

Before the bus came, I chatted briefly with the other early birds who were waiting. One couple had been on every single road trip since the team moved to St. Catharines in 2007 and a couple of others told stories about how they had been treated in other cities. By and large, it seemed to be an older crowd and it would prove to be a significantly less rowdy bunch than the group who went to Brown’s Town, undoubtedly due to the fact that it was a weekday. I strongly suspect that Saturday’s road trip for Game 2 will be much different and it was probably a blessing in disguise that it was sold out before I could get my name on the list.

Once the bus pulled up to the curb, we all piled on and once again, many brought their coolers full of beer. Since getting highway pictures is more important to me than the game, I undoubtedly get chastised for my ulterior motives when going on these road trips, but the many who gorge themselves on beer have no room to talk. For them, IceDogs hockey is but one of many convenient excuses to get drunk.

One of the more than 50 passengers on board was the owner of Pete’s Pizza, a local chain with many locations in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls. He brought five boxes of pizza on board for the group and on the way, someone walked up and down the aisle offering free pizza. As I was busy taking pictures during the two-hour ride to London, I declined, but it was a nice gesture and worthy of a free plug.

With everyone present and accounted for, we took off just after 3:30 into the thick of rush-hour traffic.

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It was stop and go on the Red Hill Valley Parkway and the Linc, but once we got onto the 403 and left the Hamilton area, traffic moved pretty smoothly.

Of the many highway pictures I got en route to London, this one in Brantford stood out. As a five-year Winnipeg Jets season ticket holder who saw the Jets roll over so often for Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers, I somehow resisted the urge to blurt out, “Gretzky Sucks!” Old grudges die hard.

Moving on, when we got to Woodstock and merged onto the 401, perhaps the biggest surprise of the ride for me was seeing how much busier the 401 was in this area as compared to the stretch between C.U. and Kingston when we went to Ottawa last year.

Upon reaching London, we exited the 401 at Highbury Avenue and proceeded north for a long tour of the city of over 360,000.

I spotted these signs along Hamilton Road. Details of this tree trunk tour are left as an exercise to the reader, as I didn’t care enough to check as to what this was all about.

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Making our way through downtown, we pulled up to the Budweiser Gardens and walked across the street as Nick Williams of the IceDogs went to get our tickets.

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Outside Budweiser Gardens.

Nick was nice enough to give me a seat on the aisle and when they opened the doors, I made a little tour of the rink.

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In the stands. I noted with considerable interest that in a facility named for a popular brand of beer, they had an alcohol-free section, one that I would be a regular in if I lived in London.

To my astonishment, the glass behind the goaltender was even in worse shape that it is at the Meridian Center. I didn’t think that was possible. Then again, the Budweiser Gardens has been around a lot longer than the Meridian Center has.

Though I had snuck in some food of my own, I paid attention to the offerings and prices at the concessions, as I am always fascinated by the exorbitant prices people are willing to pay for food at sporting events. A hot dog would set you back $4.75, as would a slice of pizza, and even a chocolate bar could not be had for less than $4.25. There were some other options that I could have availed myself of, such as chicken fingers and fries for $7.75, but didn’t.

Looking outside toward downtown from the 300 level.

I then headed to my seat high up in the upper deck. The term “nosebleed section” doesn’t do it justice as I had to make the steep climb up to row J. For the benefit of readers in the SPRM, the only rink I’ve been in with a steeper incline was the upper deck at the old Winnipeg Arena.

Interestingly, row J was located one row behind row H. I’m still not sure what happened to row I. Perhaps they’re using a special London alphabet. In any event, this was probably the highest elevation in southwestern Ontario. To say the least, anyone who has a problem with heights needs to avoid the upper deck at the Budweiser Gardens.

Despite the mild temperatures outside, the area where we were sitting was downright cold and even though I had a light jacket on, I was freezing all night long.

Moments before the pregame introductions, a gentleman from our bus took the seat next to me. He would provide me with more fodder for a future book than the game itself. For the sake of discussion, let’s just call him Jack.

Jack likes beer and I suspect he was well on his way to becoming inebriated even before stepping inside the building. He brought a cooler on board when we went to Brown’s Town and though I didn’t notice this time around, he undoubtedly did likewise on this trip.

Before they even dropped the puck, Jack had made two beer runs, getting his limit of two beers each time. Later in the game, he made another trip and picked up two more cans of his favorite beverage. All told, at $9 a pop, the six beers at the game set him back $54, to say nothing of the beer he probably brought on board what would be termed the “booze bus.”

For the record, after checking their website, a six-pack would have run him $13.95 at LCBO. Plus KST, of course.

In the understatement of the month, Jack is not a careful shopper.

Later in the game, Jack would visit the concessions and both purchase and eat a plate of poutine. From the looks of it, he spent another $6.50 for fries that had been held underneath the back end of a cow with diarrhea.

Jack also has a booming voice. His often-repeated lines of “Come on boys,” “Let’s go boys,” and “Get ‘er done,” resonated in my eardrums during and long after the game. I have no doubt that, despite our distance from the ice and the noise from the other 9,000 screaming fans, some of the players could actually hear him.

No player could move a muscle without a comment from Jack. He was, if nothing else, on top of the action.

Evidently needing some exercise to go along with his beer runs and subsequent trips to the washroom to unload his rented beer, he stood up at one point during the game and did some light calisthenics, swinging his arms around, barely missing me. One loyal reader will understand the reference to a former colleague whose first name rhymes with “truce” who used to do this with regularity during meetings before leaving our place of employment under a cloud.

Moving on from our friend Jack, I noticed there was a second IceDogs rooting section at the other end of the ice. Seated in the front row were the Burkes along with Wayne Gates, the Communist MPP for Niagara Falls, and the ghost of Jim Bradley. There are unconfirmed rumors circulating around town that he’s still our MPP. But again, I digress.

Following the pregame introductions, the anthem singer took the microphone. He was good, fully clothed and performed O Canada entirely in the Canadian language. He even paused midway through to allow the crowd to take over for a few verses.

After the opening faceoff, I noticed how Josh Ho-Sang was booed each time he touched the puck. No doubt, there was some past history dating back to the days when he played for Windsor. There was also a chant for London’s Cliff Pu every time he touched the puck. There was something odd, however, about having 9,000 or so people yelling “poo.”

As I looked around the rink during the play, at the entrance to the ramps in the lower bowl were ads for several real estate agents, one of them being George Georgopolous. All I can say is that it must have been a difficult pregnancy for his mother.

During the first period, London’s Matthew Tkachuk, son of Captain Weasel, the ever-disgruntled ex-captain of the real Jets, was involved in a little fracas. From what I saw, he’s a chip off the old block. He took and doled out plenty of abuse in front of the IceDogs’ net, was certain to be at the center of any display of hostility and took a couple of dives. For his sake, I hope he didn’t inherit his father’s legendary immaturity.

As for the game, which was almost a secondary concern, following a scoreless first period, the IceDogs scored first on somewhat of a fluky goal just after Alex Nedeljkovic stopped Captain Weasel, Jr. on a breakaway. From there, however, it was all downhill. London scored twice before the end of the second and added two more in the third.

As the third period was winding down and the fans were chanting “warm up the bus,” it reminded me of the opening game against Oshawa last season. In that series, the IceDogs lost in five games to a vastly superior team who outclassed them in every respect. I can only hope it doesn’t turn out that way in this series.

Needless to say, it was a rather subdued bunch who reboarded the bus after the game for the ride back to St. Catharines. Nonetheless, as always, it was an interesting and enjoyable experience.

26 Oct

Ode to the IceDogs

Here is a tale that will rhyme
About when I saw the IceDogs for the second time

I found little buzz on the street on this day
There was only this mascot from the local Subway

Under the auspices of security, a guard rifles through your bags and devices
They just want you to pay the high concession prices

Never bought food at a hockey game, that’s a fact
It’s a streak I intend to keep intact

I really don’t want to be mean
But is it asking too much for the seat to be clean?

New banners were hung from the rafters
Honoring the team that was the Eastern Conference masters

Before the game, Bones posed for a picture for me
There would be not many others in the stands for the mascot to see

The IceDogs played their backup goaltender, giving him a fling
We found out why he’s second-string

Battalion shooters found him easy to strafe
Don’t worry Brent, your job is safe

The work of the officials was not a delight
“I’m blind, I’m deaf, I want to be a ref,” was easily the line of the night

An altercation caused many to scoff
One man near me yelled, “Rip his head off!”

The biggest cheers came from a third-period fight
The guy to my left pounded on the glass with all his might

After the game, dejection was written all over their faces
It hardly seemed worth tying up their skate laces

The light crowd was not happy, to say the least
As their team crept closer to the bottom of the East

Looks like a long year ahead for fans like me and you
They’ve played a dozen games and only won two

15 Aug

Hockey Night in St. Catharines

Last night, I attended Hockey Night in St. Catharines, the fifth annual such event in support of the United Way of St. Catharines and District. It is not an event I would normally have attended, but it was a way of taking the first baby steps to becoming part of my new home city. It also allowed me to see some former WHA players in addition to those who played in another major league, many of whom I have not seen for a decade or more.


The game took place at the Gatorade Garden City Complex, a.k.a. Jack Gatecliff Arena, now, with the completion of the Meridian Center, the former home of the Niagara IceDogs.


I was one of the first to arrive and I got some pictures around the seating area.


The flags along with a picture of the Queen at one end. Ironically, the Winnipeg Arena, a building that saw my shadow hundreds of times, was famed for its long-standing picture of the Queen that hung in the south end before being moved across the rink once the Jets moved from the WHA into another major league. Unlike the picture that hung in the Arena, the Queen is sporting a cheeky grin, much like the one on my face when my one-way WestJet flight was taking off from Winnipeg two weeks ago.


The banners honoring the Memorial Cup champion St. Catharines Tee Pees. The 1953-1954 Tee Pees were led by Rudy Pilous, who would later spend many years with the WHA Jets. Pat Stapleton, a former longtime major pro player and a wonderful man whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting twice, was a member of the 1959-1960 team.


Before the game, Rick Dykstra, our MP, was circling the ice sporting a blue jersey with the Conservative logo.

After the warmups, it was time to introduce the players.


Former WHA player Dave Gorman.


Former Winnipeg Jet Bill Derlago.


Dave McLlwain, another former Jet. Mark Osborne, playing for the red team, would make it a threesome of ex-Jets.


MP Rick Dykstra.


Steve Ludzik, a former pro player and someone who I last saw behind the bench of the Detroit Vipers of the late, great IHL. The woman circling the stands selling raffle tickets for the free WestJet flights and wearing one of his jerseys said that Detroit was “about four moves ago.” She also mentioned that Darren Banks, one of Ludzik’s former players with the Vipers, was playing for the red team. For those who don’t know, I followed the IHL for several years and the subject of my next book will be my experiences with the IHL’s Manitoba Moose. Pro hockey’s most unwanted team, its owner/president/general manager/head coach and its handful of supporters will be dissected with heavy doses of humor and sarcasm.

Interestingly, coaching the red team was former WHA player Jim Dorey. Like me, Dorey is also a member of the WHA Hall of Fame advisory board. For those interested in the history of the WHA, I encourage you to visit and, specifically, the database section that represents countless hours of research on my part.


Former pro great Phil Esposito did the honors for the ceremonial opening faceoff. I found it odd that a security guard packing body armor followed him out to center ice. This is St. Catharines, not Winnipeg.


O Canada being performed by Antonella Cavallaro.


Al “Stomach Muscles” Secord chats with referee Ron Hoggarth. Hoggarth had a microphone with him all night and did his best to entertain the crowd, but I found it a bit much after a while. Having seen him work many Jets games at the Winnipeg Arena, it seems like he hasn’t changed a bit.

During the first intermission, Hoggarth took his act into the stands. Later in the intermission, he had Kraig Nienhuis sing a little of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. I know one reader will appreciate the reference as it relates to my late uncle.


Second period action. The game itself, as one would expect, was little more than an organized pillow fight with all the intensity of a Jets-Oilers playoff game from the 1980s. Sorry, old grudges die hard.



“Bones”, the IceDogs’ mascot made appearances throughout the stands. On this occasion, he was dangling a woman’s purse over the boards and put on a show as he rifled through it. I didn’t find all that funny, but maybe it’s just me.


The post-game handshake.


Our MP holds up a ceremonial check for $182,329.00, the amount raised at the event.



Both teams gather for one last picture.

All in all, it was an interesting evening and I’m glad I went. I’m looking forward to October when the puck drops for real at the Meridian Center.

07 Feb

New Jets Book

I am pleased to announce the release of my newest title, Coming Up Short, the comprehensive history of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets (1979-1996). The 294-page paperback edition and accompanying Kindle edition covers the original Jets’ 17-year NHL history in exhaustive detail.

To purchase the paperback edition, please click here and for the electronic edition, please click here.

It is written by a fan, for fans, to remember their team’s legacy with equal parts fondness, anguish and humor. The Jets of the NHL were anything but a successful team, but they were a vital and beloved member of the community they called home.

This book is the culmination of years of research and I hope all fans of the original Jets enjoy reading it just as much as I did in putting it together.

Among the people who I would like to thank are Kerry Kotlarchuk, the original “Benny,” who provided his memoir and some valued pictures; Morris Lukowich, who spent countless hours on the phone with me; and the staff at the micromedia counter on the third floor at the Millennium Library in downtown Winnipeg. I have no doubt that they’re wondering where their most frequent customer has gone.

17 Dec

Moose Flashback: “We’re Not Marketing Fighting”

“We’re not marketing fighting on our hockey team.”

Those were the words of Tim Scott, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing of the Manitoba “Fighting” Moose back in 2000, as told to the Winnipeg Free Press, in response to the instant backlash to an ad that the Moose had placed in the Free Press.

Do you remember this infamous ad?

The ad in question was designed like a fight card and couldn’t help but remind hockey fans of the scene in Slap Shot when Reggie Dunlop was in Joe McGrath’s office going over a similar ad with the heading of “Aggressive Hockey is Back in Town.” Dunlop suggested, among other things, putting a picture of a groin injury and a “For Sale” sign on the ad, since the fight-happy Charlestown Chiefs were scheduled to fold at the end of the year.

The Moose were in no less trouble than those fictional Chiefs. Their lease was expiring at the Winnipeg Arena and despite having recently rattled off ten wins in a row and sitting comfortably in first place, attendance and fan interest were bottoming out. Crowds were regularly announced in the 6-7,000 range, but, in reality, there were less than 4,000 actually in the building. Many of the Moose’s fans had apparently doused themselves in some leftover invisible paint that Wile E. Coyote had ordered from the Acme catalog as part of one or more of his futile schemes to catch the Road Runner.

Two weeks earlier, Mel Angelstad, the Moose’s fighter, got into a scrap with Chris Neil of the Grand Rapids Griffins after Neil had tried to pick a fight with Moose captain Brian F. Chapman. Sensing an opportunity to capitalize on a potential rematch between the two heavyweights, the Moose placed this ad and printed off 2,000 posters of Angelstad to be given away that night.

Fighters came and went, but there were none like Mel Angelstad. Known as “Mad Mel” or the “Angler,” Angelstad was unquestionably the biggest “celebrity” fighter in the game at the time. He tracked his fighting numbers the way a sniper would track his goals and would boast with pride about his annual totals of 30-40 fights in a season.

He also understood better than anyone that sports was an entertainment business and there was no bigger showman than Mel Angelstad. After taking care of business on the ice, he would tip his helmet and beam his child-like smile at his admirers on the other side of the glass. While he was with the Moose, most of those admirers were the Moose’s preferred demographic, the 8-12 year old boys who were pounding on the glass yelling, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

As the Moose had hoped, the ad did generate plenty of attention, but, as was commonplace during that era, it was very negative attention. The Moose were forced to hastily backtrack and reworded the ad the following day to instead promote the opposing power plays and penalty killing units.

“We realized right away it wasn’t an accurate reflection of what we’re all about. So we said, ‘Let’s change it,’” said Moose owner/president/general manager/head coach Mark Chipman to the Free Press.

But it was an accurate reflection of what the “Fighting” Moose were all about.

During their five seasons in the IHL, the Moose had more fights than points in the standings and they had led the league in number of fights the previous season. “Fight! Fight! Fight!” was easily the most common chant during those years. By contrast, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that I heard a “Go Moose Go” chant.

This was but one of many colorful, zany stories from an otherwise forgettable era of hockey history in Winnipeg that few fans saw.

Hmmm, maybe someone should write a book featuring all those stories.

And maybe someone is doing just that.

26 Jun

WHA Fan Day at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

This past weekend, I was a participant at “WHA Fan Day” at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary.

I had initially planned to risk being beheaded and go via Greyhound, but the 21-hour bus ride across the continent caused me to have second thoughts. Instead, I made the bold step and booked what would be my first plane trip.

My first instinct was to fly WestJet, but after seeing the high fare, I decided to check into QuebAir and eventually booked with them. I saved over $70 by going with Quebec’s airline rather than the supposed low-budget carrier. Go figure.

Anxiety over the flight caused me to lose an awful lot of sleep over the preceding week and I arrived a nervous wreck at the Winnipeg airport on Friday morning. To say the least, I did not need the alarm clock to get me up in time.

Still wondering what I had got myself into, I got in line and submitted to the standard security checks. Being what seemed to be the only newbie in the entire airport, I went with the flow and grabbed a bucket like I was in line at the Stupid Store. With all of my possessions unloaded from my person, I went through the line without incident while being served by a trio who each needed a bowel movement in the worst way.

After passing through security, I breathed a sigh of relief and took the opportunity to stroll around the part of the airport that I had never been in before. From there, you can see all the planes like you used to be able to do from the observation deck at the old terminal.

Sadly, not only is the old terminal gone, but there is no observation deck for non-passengers in the new one. It remains a gross oversight on the part of the Winnipeg Airport Authority.

After unloading my bladder and bowels, I took my seat near Gate 12 and waited for boarding.

Among the first to assemble at Gate 12 was a middle-aged princess carrying her dog in her purse. At least I am assuming that it was a dog. It could easily have passed for a brown rat that had stuck one of its paws into an electrical outlet. Mike Masterson and the team on the popular Discovery show “Verminators” have probably caught many such creatures in their T-Rex traps.

It became plainly obvious after only a few minutes that this princess cared far more for her dog/rat than her daughter who was seated at her side.

This was hardly a pleasant sight, but what was far more annoying were the terminals at each gate blasting CBC. I had always thought that it was the job of airline personnel to keep their passengers calm, yet if there’s one thing that can push someone over the edge of sanity, it’s repeated, long-term exposure to CBC. This is a policy that needs to be seriously re-evaluated by the WAA.

My nerved were not calmed by the sight of a QuebAir training van pulling up to the side of the plane that I was minutes away from boarding.

As we boarded, I was surprised by the fact that the size of our carry-ons were not checked. On their Web site, there is much made of how large your carry-on bags can be and there are many sizers around the airport, yet no stringent checks were made. I was a little concerned about this since I wasn’t checking any baggage and was instead stuffing two days worth of clothing into my backpack.

Welcome aboard.

The aircraft seemed a little underwhelming and I had the feeling that I was flying with Bearskin Airlines instead. It was at this time that I couldn’t help but think of the scene in the movie “Major League” where Roger Dorn had asked if there were any stewardesses aboard their vintage “Indian Express.” Willie Mays Hayes countered with the line, “I wonder if there are any pilots.”

Before takeoff they told us that there were two washrooms, one up front for executive class, the other in the back for those of us in steerage. After takeoff, they would even draw a little curtain between the two classes, separating those of us who were more careful with our money and those who spent three times as much for the same product. I was glad to be on the right side of the curtain.

We took off with little fanfare and I was able to recognize various places from the air as we headed west.

The north Perimeter at PTH 6.

Portage la Prairie. Ironically, I would meet someone on my return trip who hailed from Portage.

At times, I felt like we weren’t going anywhere and that the plane was going to start falling from the sky. I tried not to think of the second “Die Hard” movie or the Gimli Glider incident remake on Discovery’s “Mayday” series.

The skies were mostly cloudy as we crossed the Farmers’ Republic of Saskatchewan and on into Alberta.

I was glued to the window for the entire flight and I was almost disappointed to hear that we were a half hour ahead of schedule. Nonetheless, that would mean extra time for my day-long adventure exploring Calgary. I had planned to go downtown, go up the Calgary Tower, get some shots of the Corral and possibly the Saddledome, then take the CTrain.

My day wouldn’t exactly go as planned.

After disembarking, I wandered around the airport for a while.

I soon stumbled upon a teenager wearing a Niagara IceDogs jacket. Only those who know me will understand the full significance of that sighting.

I made it to the Mac’s store on the arrivals level and purchased a Calgary Transit day pass for $8.50, then waited outside for the bus to take me downtown.

Once the bus arrived, I got on. While punching out the card, the driver asked if I was going downtown.


“No, you’re not. City Hall is flooded out. Nothing’s going downtown.”

He explained that he was just going as far as 16th Avenue, which was the Trans Canada Highway. Since I wanted to stop there anyways and get some highway pictures, it was no big deal. I would just walk downtown afterwards.

No, I wasn’t in Winnipeg.

After a brief layover, we took off and headed south on Deerfoot Trail, part of Highway 2 that connects Calgary to Edmonton. Though it was effectively a freeway, the posted speed limit was a shocking 110 km/h. Even in the U.S., it is common to have to reduce speed on Interstate highways within a major metropolitan area.

On 16th Avenue, or 16 Avenue as the street signs say, I spotted this character:

Then, right above him, I got my first shots of Alberta highway signs.

It’s a big deal to me.

As I proceeded west, I saw this police car headed east in the westbound median lane:

The eastbound lanes were so clogged that the only way the police car could get through was by crossing the median.

Another reminder of Winnipeg.

Once I got my fill of shots along 16th Avenue, I went back to Center Street and headed south towards downtown.

A typically Canadian scene – a lineup at Tim Hortons all the way to the door. Even the massive flooding that was so close by that I wasn’t aware of yet failed to dampen Calgarians’ need for Tim Hortons.

As I continued south, I was curious as to why all the traffic was headed north out of downtown. I soon found out why.

The Bow River was raging out of control and streets were flooded.

Once I crossed the Center Street Bridge, I saw that all the buildings were closed and that there was no power anywhere. It was like a war zone. On Facebook, I would use the phrase, Beirut of the foothills. So much for those plans of exploring downtown.

As the rain began to fall once again, I went back across the Center Street Bridge.

This is a shot of the washed-out Prince’s Island that I was hoping to visit.

I then headed north back towards 16th Avenue, where I got this shot from McHugh Bluff Park:

I stumbled upon this SUV with New Brunswick plates:

There was a tag at the back indicating that the car was purchased from a dealership in Moncton. Message sent. Message received. Only those who know me will understand the significance.

As always, I had prepared ahead by studying maps and I knew that I would find the Banff Trail Station by heading west on 16th Avenue. From there, I could catch the CTrain that would take me to within a 2½ mile walk of my hotel, assuming that the train was running. To borrow a line from the movie Under Siege 2,” chance favors the prepared mind. It did for me this weekend.

After a lunch break at Subway, I continued west towards the North Hill Shopping Center, where I had hoped to stop and dry out for a while. Unfortunately, the entire mall was closed due to a lack of power.

Interestingly, there was a collection of Greyhound buses idling in the parking lot. It looked as though the shopping center was being used as a substitute depot since the regular depot was downtown. Despite all my anxieties about flying, for the first time, I was relieved that I had chosen that option.

As I continued west, I saw a train emerging from a tunnel, so I breathed easier knowing at least part of my journey would not have to come on foot in the torrential rain. I took the time to walk around McMahon Stadium as well as the baseball stadium where the Calgary Cannons had once played.

I made my way to the Banff Trail Station and waited for the train across from a series of hotels. In my last visit to Calgary nearly 40 years earlier, we had stayed at one of them.

The train came quickly and I took a seat.

Within minutes, we were at the Crowfoot Station, which was the end of the line.

Armed with a day pass, I decided to get back on board and take a ride back to the Lions Park Station, the last stop before flooded-out downtown.

Interestingly, during that trip, I was talking with someone who used to live in Winnipeg. He also used to own the resort next door to the Crystal Harbor Resort in Sioux Narrows, where I was in 2008 and might be visiting again in August.

After returning to the Crowfoot Station, I got out and began the final leg of my journey to my hotel.

While passing through the Park and Ride lot, I noticed one of many signs warning thieves that bait cars are everywhere. I was most impressed. Obviously, Albertans actually want to catch criminals, not wrap their arms around them like the Winnipeg chief of non-police.

Keeping an eye on Canada Olympic Park high in the background as a reference point, I proceeded south along Nose Hill Drive.

One interesting sight was the Crowchild Twin Ice Arena and a sign for Morris Lukowich’s Lukowich had been kind enough to share many stories with me over the phone last year for my next book and one of the reasons that I came to Calgary was the chance to meet him in person.

As I approached the bridge over the Bow River at 85 Street, my heart sank when I saw that police had closed off the bridge. Playing the part of the weary, helpless tourist, I managed to convince the officer to let me across. I must say that this officer, along the one I encountered when crossing Center Street near downtown, was very courteous. This was another strong indicator that I was no longer in Winnipeg, where police officers are almost universally snotty and rude, just like the many of the citizens who they pretend to serve.

Shortly thereafter, I made my triumphant entrance at the Sandman hotel.

While catching my breath and drying out in my room, housekeeping staff made two unannounced visits in short succession. I quickly put the deadbolt on to prevent more.

The hotel room was clean and I can’t complain about it overall, but I did notice a fair bit of, um, deferred maintenance.

Flies that appeared to have been taped to the ceiling.

It’s not what I would have expected from a first-class hotel.

Later that evening, I joined Tim Gassen, his wife Sarah, and legendary WHA player Pat Stapleton for a dinner at a nearby pasta restaurant. I had already eaten, but I kept them company and enjoyed some conversation. I had last seen them in person three years earlier at the Hot Line reunion in Winnipeg, yet it seemed like it had been just three days ago.

Saturday was the big event at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame a short distance across the highway.

I met many of the staff, including Mario Siciliano, President of the CSHoF, then toured their impressive facility that included a section dedicated to the WHA.

Wandering around, I took many other shots around the facility:


As a fan of the USFL’s New Jersey Generals, this display was of particular interest to me:

WHA merchandise, including the paper version of my first book, was on sale:

After a brief lunch break, players began arriving. Sadly, a few were not able to make it on account of the flooding. Featured WHA Hall of Fame inductee Al Hamilton was unable to make it from Edmonton and Gerry Pinder’s basement was flooded. Nonetheless, many did make it, including Ron Anderson, Dave Inkpen, Jamie Hislop, Mike Rogers, Rich Preston, Brian Carlin and Steve Carlyle. Morris Lukowich would join the gathering at the private dinner afterwards.

Anderson and Inkpen hold up a vintage Edmonton Oil Kings jersey. For those who are unaware, it was Anderson who scored the first goal in the history of the WHA.

Introductions began in the theater at noon. I was there shooting video and taking pictures. The still shots would turn out very well, but the video in the poorly-lit theater would not fare as well.

In addition to the players, Jimmy Stewart came in from Edmonton to display many items from his vast collection of Oilers and WHA memorabilia:

Here, Sarah works the table:

At right is a man who later asked me to help identify a Jets’ playoff ticket from 1979. He was unsure as to which game it was from and though I couldn’t be certain, I probably narrowed it down for him.

Players chatted among themselves and with fans. There were also lengthy question and answer sessions in which players shared many priceless stories from that era.

A group shot. From left to right are Dave Inkpen, Jamie Hislop, Brian Carlin, Ron Anderson, Steve Carlyle, Mike Rogers and Pat Stapleton.

Unfortunately, due to the tragic circumstances in Calgary and across southern Alberta, the turnout was light. Tim was crushed, but as I reminded him, this is part of a process of honoring and preserving the legacy of the WHA. Having a display dedicated to the WHA appearing in a major national institution is a very significant step forward in achieving that goal. Everyone involved with the WHA, be they players or fans, should be immensely proud.

After the main event was over, we gathered in their café, where a private dinner was held.

Before eating, a couple of women dropped by, one of whom was from Winnipeg. She was asking about my book and upon hearing who I was, she said that I was a bigger celebrity than Dancing Gabe. I’ll take that as a compliment.

Morris Lukowich joined us soon afterwards and I was among the first to greet him at the door to thank him personally for all the great stories he shared with me over the phone. Many of them will be in my next book, which will be a detailed history of the Jets’ NHL years.

I spent much of the time chatting with the players while Game 5 of the finals of that other major league was on the big screen. I was the only one of the group not to pay attention to it.

From left to right, Tim Gassen, Rich Preston, Pat Stapleton, Mario Siciliano.

The evening wound up after the game was over, bringing a long and eventful day to a close.

The next morning, Ruth Cowan of the CSHoF was kind enough to pick me up and take me to the airport for my flight back to Winnipeg. I stop short of saying that I would be returning home.

On the way, I got my best pictures of the trip along Stoney Trail and Deerfoot Trail that will soon be appearing on a Web site near you.

I passed through security quickly and settled in at Gate 9. I enjoyed the peace and quiet of not having CBC shoved down my throat. There was also no one toting their dog/rat.

At boarding time, it genuinely hurt to walk through that tunnel to an aircraft that would take me back to Greg Selinger’s Banana Republic. Being in Calgary for the weekend only made me want to leave the SPRM even more.

Leaving Calgary.

On this flight, I had someone seated next to me and we struck up a conversation. She is a paralegal from Calgary, originally from Portage, whose husband is an Oilers fan. She was quite interested in hearing about WHA Day and I showed her some pictures on my camera.

Having only five hours of sleep spread over the past two nights, however, I began dozing off. Unfortunately, the attendant call bells woke me up. The turbulence that we ran into as we crossed back into the SPRM made sure that I was wide awake.

Despite the turbulence, we arrived safely back in Winnipeg. It was an event-filled weekend that I’m coming to appreciate more and more with the passage of time.

I would like to thank all the players who attended and made the event so memorable. I would also like to thank Tim Gassen for making the event happen as well as Mario Siciliano and the staff at the CSHoF for being such gracious hosts.

For any of you that have any interest in the WHA, I would highly recommend a visit to the display if you happen to be passing through Calgary.

03 Dec

Misplaced Blame

As the most recent NHL lockout lingers on, the only thing that surprises me more than the intransigence of the owners is the number of people in Winnipeg who are firmly in their favor.

Without question, there’s plenty of blame to go around on all sides.
Yes, the players make gobs of money. More than the average person on the street can comprehend.
So do the owners.
Revenue is growing at unprecedented levels. The owners are making money hand over fist.
And it is the owners who decided to shut the league down in order to get even more.
In past disputes between players and owners, there were justifiable reasons on each side.
Players held out for the right to be able to have more freedom to choose where they wanted to work. This is a right that most of us take for granted. With a limited window of opportunity to enjoy the fruits of a career at the NHL level, who can blame them for wanting to be able to ply their trade with the team of their choosing at a salary dictated by a free market system?
By the same token, owners have every right to ensure that their business remains economically viable. They have invested large sums of money and are entitled to reap the rewards from that investment. The “cost certainty” that the owners fought for has enabled all of the league’s franchises to thrive on and off the ice.
This dispute has no such honorable motives.
This lockout is about nothing more than pure, unadulterated greed.
The NHL’s owners, including Mark Chipman, are playing us all for suckers. And I know that I’m not the only one who is utterly disgusted.
The day after this past season ended, I called my television service provider and proudly cancelled my NHL Center Ice subscription. I enjoyed watching the Dallas Stars, but I’m not coming back.
Yet, many fans in Winnipeg paint Chipman as an innocent victim and cry foul because the players have the audacity not to capitulate.
Chipman is not innocent. His vote counts the same as hard-liners like Jeremy Jacobs in Boston. He is no more or less responsible for the current lockout than any of the rest of them.
The players are giving in. But they’re just not giving in as much as the owners would like. Led by stronger leadership than they’ve ever had in their history, they’re not just going to fold like a house of cards.
The longer the lockout goes on, the more entrenched each side will become. It could be years before the stalemate is broken. Both sides are digging in like soldiers on the western front in the Great War.
In the meantime, as far as I’m concerned, Gary Bettman, Mark Chipman and Don Fehr can all join hands and jump in the nearest lake.
Don’t bother hollering for a life preserver.