As soon as I saw Tim Hunter was coaching the Canadian team in the World Junior hockey tournament co-hosted by Vancouver and Victoria, I immediately went into flashback mode.
My razor sharp memory (well, for some things at least) took me back to 1976 when I played against Hunter during a Midget A rep tournament at Fuller Lake Arena.
Hunter was a member of the Calgary Farr Rangers and I was the captain of the host Fuller Lake Flyers team in the tournament at the time. It was a six-team round robin event that also included: Saanich Braves, Nanaimo Clippers, Port Alice Eagles and Mission Huskies.
It seems an oddball assortment of teams, but one of the things I can’t recall is how the invites went out so we wound up with four Island teams, one from the Lower Mainland and one from Alberta.
In any event, it was a big deal at Fuller Lake and Rod O’Driscoll was the tournament chairman, with a who’s who of celebrities on the organizing committee, including Jack Rochon, who was in charge of rules, Gary Rasmussen of programs, Ross Mitchell of accommodations, Joyce Mitchell of food, Phil Drab and Russ Roe of officials, Karl Bonde of awards and timekeeper Bill Boykowich.
No one knew at the time, of course, that some of the players on the ice then would wind up playing in the National Hockey League. Besides Hunter from the Calgary team, we had Greg Adams in the lineup with the Flyers and Barry Pederson suited up with the Clippers. All became prominent NHLers.
Hunter was known for his big hook nose, still prevalent today, from all his hockey wars.
There was nothing spectacular about Hunter at the time, although he was a first-year Midget player then. There was often a big difference from first- to second-year Midget in those days.
Hunter is almost exactly a year younger than me, born on Sept. 10, 1960. I was in my second year Midget so it was my time to rack up the points.
Anyway, it’s interesting to go back in time to see who you were playing against and with during your hockey days growing up and I knew there was a reason I saved many event programs so I could look at them once every 20 years or so and occasionally glance at all the space they take up in the house.
I did have a second copy of the program that listed all the scores of the games because I loved to keep track of statistics, but the only copy I could find was a blank one.
In all honesty, that’s where my memory has remarkably failed me without the actual record of the results. I know we had an up-and-down tournament, barely beating Port Alice but surprising Calgary when we seemed to go on endless powerplays.
Other than that, we had trouble with our Island rivals Saanich and Nanaimo, and ended up losing to Mission by a couple of goals.
I remember my blueline partner Kevin Mitchell winning the top defenceman award. Him and I had our own personal battle on the Flyers team and in the overall tournament for top honours.
Adams, Mitchell and myself were our team leaders and we did our best to rack up all the points we could. Greg’s brother Rick Adams coached the team and my stepfather Pete Cavanaugh was the assistant.
Even though many details escape me, it was a tournament that generated a great deal of interest with hockey fans in the area.
One quirky thing I do remember is the ice conditions were hard to maintain at Fuller Lake Arena at the time due to the lateness of the season into early April and the arrival of warmer weather. There were patches all over the ice where the surface was down to the concrete and our last game April 4 against Nanaimo had us tip-toeing all over the place to avoid those spots.
Hunter’s presence behind the Canadian team bench shows how hockey became a lifelong sport for so many. He did a good job coaching this year’s team, even if the results weren’t there, and was very matter-of-fact speaking about the quality of competition that makes the World Juniors such a hard tournament to win now.
One lucky break with time running out gave Finland new life against Hunter and the Canadians in the quarterfinals and an eventual overtime win. Finland catapulted from there to the title, showing just how close it can be from quarterfinal elimination to the championship.
The one thing that really irks me about today’s hockey world compared to my time growing up is the misuse of social media. Canadian captain Max Comtois was subjected to ridiculous harassment after missing a penalty shot in the quarterfinal against the Finns.
I’m glad I played hockey when I did without this nonsense. We kept our bad-mouthing of opponents on the ice and the public didn’t have access like it does now to berating young people over the outcomes of hockey games.
That’s very sad. The people who did that should give their heads a shake.
(Don Bodger is the editor of the Chemainus Valley Courier).