Rogers Hometown Hockey is coming to the Cowichan Valley in January. As a lead-up to that historic visit, Group Publisher Warren Goulding put together a retrospective of some of the area’s great hockey history. The full article can be read in the current issue of Arbutus magazine.
Ron Andruff set the trend and put Chemainus on the map by making it to the National Hockey League. After Fuller Lake Arena opened, it was boom time and a succession of players made it big.
Here are some of the details you’ll find in the Arbutus magzine article about Doug Bodger, Greg Adams and Robin Bawa, who were all prolific players in the early days at Fuller Lake Arena.
Doug was one of three hockey playing brothers who were raised in Chemainus. He has fond memories of his first years on skates. It was under the tutelage of local coaching legend Jack Rochon that Bodger and the other Chemainus area kids would begin to learn the fundamentals of a game that, for some of them, would become their lives.
“I remember they’d split the ice in half at Fuller Lake Arena so we could all play. I could skate and go through the guys and score,” Bodger says, smiling at the 40-year-old memory, acknowledging that he had a knack for the game very early.
By the age of 14, Bodger attracted the attention of Major Junior scouts. Just three months past his 16th birthday, he joined the Kamloops Junior Oilers of the Western Hockey League.
When he followed his rookie season with another impressive year – 98 points for the Oilers – the NHL scouts were placing the 18-year-old Bodger high on their list heading into the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. Pittsburgh grabbed him with its second first-round pick, the ninth player drafted.
“It was great in Pittsburgh,” said Bodger. “To get in with a rebuilding team was good for me. Pittsburgh was a good city, with a small downtown area and it was a great sports town. The Pirates were big then.”
Bodger has fond and vivid memories of his first NHL game on Oct. 11, 1984. He was barely 18 years old.
Two nights later, playing the Canadiens in their home opener at the Montreal Forum against a lineup that includes the likes of Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson, the kid from Chemainus would savour the thrill of his first NHL goal. He wound up for a slapshot from just inside the blueline and beat Canadiens netminder Steve Penney.
“Doug Bodger, there’s his first NHL goal. Eighteen years of age and is he happy,” play-by-play man Dick Irvin remarked.
Bodger would play four full years for the Penguins, four seasons that would include a 14-goal year for the rapidly improving Pittsburgh team. Then it was off to wintry Buffalo for seven years before being traded to San Jose, then New Jersey, back to the West Coast for a year with the Los Angeles Kings and finally, a handful of games with the Canucks.
He’d earned a place in the British Columbia Hockey Hall of Fame as the highest scoring British Columbia-born defenceman in NHL history.
Three years before Doug Bodger suited up for the Penguins, another Cowichan Valley product made his debut in the NHL. And for Greg Adams it would be an auspicious start to a career that would last a decade.
After playing a Friday night game in Springfield with his American Hockey League Maine Mariners, the Philadelphia Flyers’ farm team, Adams was told to pack his bags, the big club had called him up.
“I said I didn’t have anything just a toothbrush,” remembers Adams of the January night that led to a two hour drive to Boston where the Flyers would be taking on the Bruins the next night.
“We got to Boston at two in the morning. I didn’t sleep. I got up and had some toast and at 10 a.m. I walked to the Boston Garden,” recalls Adams.
The 20-year-old knew most of the players from training camp but it was all pretty overwhelming.
Pat Quinn was coaching the Flyers at that time and he put the eager rookie on a line with Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach, two legends from the days of the Broad Street Bullies days.
“It was pretty cool,” Adams understates, savouring the memory of that January 17, 1981 game.
It was about to get even cooler.
At 15:59 of the second period, assisted by Leach and Behn Wilson, Adams notched his first NHL goal.
After the game, he flew back to Philadelphia with two goals to his credit and an enormous sense of accomplishment. It’s likely thoughts of his formative years as a youngster playing at Fuller Lake Arena and how he had made it to this point crept into his mind during the one-hour flight to Philly.
There were plenty of great memories.
“My first pair of skates were from Eatons, Gordie Howe skates. He’s still my hero to this day,” says Adams.
He recalls Fuller Lake Arena being a hotbed of activity every day and although practice time was 5:30 a.m., the kids would show up at the rink early so they could get in some extra skating before practice began.
A burning desire to succeed and a willingness to do whatever it took to stay in the NHL paid dividends for the often pugnacious Adams who played 545 games and scored 227 points in a 10-year career.
Bawa played just 61 NHL games in a 12-year professional hockey career but will forever be known as the first Indo-Canadian to make it to the big time. Both Duncan and Chemainus claim the charismatic Bawa as their own but his hockey roots can be traced back to Fuller Lake Arena.
“My first year of hockey was mighty mites. I cannot remember who the coach was but my second year, it was Jack Rochon who was one of favourite coaches. I remember Doug Bodger who was the top player and was on the red team in might mites and I was on the blue team,” says Bawa who returned to the Cowichan Valley after he retired in 1999.
“I was just turning eight years old and my dad purchased me my first pair of skates. I remember my first year when I could barely stand up. I even tried goalie but the pads were too heavy. I made much improvement in my second and third years. I had a lot of drive and desire and practiced every day at home. I always tried to be one of the hardest workers.”
Bawa played in Kamloops for five years and was signed by Washington as a free agent in 1989 after been overlooked in the draft. He played for four NHL teams, the Caps, Vancouver, San Jose and Anaheim. For more than a decade he played in the International Hockey League and that’s where his career ended.