Tales from the Timebox: April 21st, 2020
Image: Elk Point 1995/96 Midget Thunder
Hard to believe it’s been just barely over a month since this all started. Into the time machine we go again this week for another one of my Tales from the Timebox. Chapter four. This week I take you back to the 1995/ 96 hockey season. The Quebec Nordiques move to Colorado and become the Avalanche and go on to win the Stanley Cup in their first year in Denver over the Florida Panthers. Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and goalie Patrick Roy who was traded from Montreal are the stars in the line up. The Edmonton Oilers miss the playoffs for the forth straight year.
Almost all of the Bantam Lightning provincial champion team players moved up to play with the Midget Thunder. I was the team trainer that year. George Bendixen was head coach, Brian Tucker was our manager. Tyson Stafford and Danny Flett both helped out as assistants when they could make it during the year.
The team captain was Kristin Holthe. Other veteran players included Jeff ‘Lumpy’ Hughes who just happened to lead the team in penalties, Chris ‘Gomer’ Berlinguette, Mark Woytkiw, Clayton Cardinal, goalie Jeff Mehedyn and my favorite little buddy Rene ‘Gazoo’ DeMossiac.
Since we didn’t have enough players to ice a bantam team that year, my son Jordan and Brad Pankiw, who were both still bantam aged moved up to be with their buddies on the Thunder.
We played in the tough tier one of the North East Alberta league. The league was huge and didn’t split north and south like they do now. We traveled a lot of miles that year. Most of the time we played at home on Friday nights. Lots of young girls, siblings and parents would come out. Midget hockey is very entertaining and fun to watch. The boys always wanting to show off to the young girls in the crowd. Once the testosterone kicked in the young bulls would be butting heads with the opposition all night. During the warm up we always played Thunderstruck followed by Cotton Eyed Joe. After that the boys would be all fired up and ready to go.
The Thunder had some of best parents that any team could ever have dreamed of. We raised enough funds to ride the bus to almost every road game with the exception of a few short trips. The boys and coaching staff all had team jackets. The leather and melton style with their names and number on the sleeve and Thunder on the back. I noticed some younger hockey kids at our arena are wearing them now. The retro look is back in. The moms, Dee Pankiw, Darlene Kozicky, Gail Bendixen, Diane Hawryluk and the others were all good cooks. These ladies knew how to make perogies and cabbage rolls. They would all get together at the Elks Hall and spend the day making a huge batch. The team would sell them as a fundraiser. We also hung up Christmas lights for older people that need a hand. The plan was I was to supervise the boys doing it.Turns out most of the time I was the one up the ladder and the boys would hold the ladder and pass up the lights. At least they held the ladder and I never broke my neck!
When we arrived on a road game entering the arena as a team all dressed up with team jackets and ties it made you feel proud. The boys looked sharp and most of the time played sharp. We finished the year in first on top of 20 other teams the tier one of the North East League. The late John Henderson and his wife Sandy owned the buses at that time and we would use them. They were part of our community and also gave us a good deal. John was fun to talk to so I usually sat in the front seat right behind him. The coaches and parents would ride up front. The boys would always sit at the back and play cards and watch Don Cherry Rock em Sock em or the Slap Shot movie. The odd time we would have some other movie but most of the time the boys would watch Slap Shot over and over and never get bored of it. I could too as a matter of fact!
On the way home if we didn’t have a movie on we would listen to music. The boys did their fair share of singing on the way home. Kristin Holthe and Brad Pankiw could actually carry a tune and would lead the band of brothers. Their favorite song by far was Dust On The Bottle by David Lee Murphy. ‘There might be a little dust on the bottle, but don’t let it fool you about what’s inside’.
The boys would behave and not get stupid just sing their songs a little louder. Up front of the bus we recapped the games as well with the odd refreshment. Calvin Kozicky was usually my partner in crime in the front seat keeping bus driver John on the road and entertained.
We also had enough money in the kitty to take the boys skates in to be sharpened once a week. As the trainer that was my job. After practice on Thursdays I would ask the guys to throw them in a duffle bag and I would take them down to Don Woytkiw at Northbound 41. Don was excellent. He would put the perfect edge on them for us and have them ready by Friday afternoon when I would stop to pick them up. Just another perk of playing for the Elk Point Thunder.
One Friday night the bus was just entering Consort about two and half hours south of Elk Point and as we pulled into town. Kristin Holthe yelled from the back of the bus. ‘Hey Dougie , do you have my skates?’ A few seconds of total silent. Then a lightbulb came on in my head. I forgot to pick up the skates. You can imagine how stupid I felt and the cursing I did under my breath of course. Eight out of fifteen skaters were without their skates. Game time was in one hour. We couldn’t play a midget game with seven players.
The Consort team parents scrambled around town and found enough skates for our players. Some of them didn’t fit that well, some were dull and the boys complained like crazy the whole game about them, I felt horrible. Needless to say we didn’t win that night.
We tried to play the most competitive hockey we could. We would enter AA tournaments to keep us on top of our game. Kitscoty hosted and as far as I know still do the Gordon King Memorial Tournament. It was a really good tournament between Christmas and New Years bringing AA teams out from the city and places like North Battleford. We may not win the tournament but it made us a better team.
Another AA tournament we entered was in Lloydminster in the middle of January. It was bitter cold that weekend, very close to minus 40 . Some of the parents drove back and forth, but Dave Yake and I decided to stay over and we each got a room. Lorne ‘Cement Hands’ Kozicky and ‘Gazoo’ stayed with Jordan and I. Dave and his son James ‘the Snake’ Yake and couple of the other boys stayed with him. After supper Dave and I watched Hockey night in Canada in his room. The boys wanted to watch a movie. I called down to the front desk and set it up. The next day when I went to check out they were not one but about six movies charged to my room. The cost of the movies was more than the room. Turns out the boys had been flipping through the channels watching parts of a number of movies. You don’t need to know what kind of movies.
When the provincial round robins happened in late January we entered C provincial. Kitscoty had a strong team and had won the league but didn’t want to meet up against us in the round robin. The year before we took them out; So they decided to move up to B in order not to meet us. Of course we did go on and win the zone. After winning our zone we traveled to Taber for the provincial finals. We had the bus all weekend and still had enough money to pay for the players meals. We played very well winning two games out of three in the round robin , making it to the semi finals. In the semi finals we lost a close one to the eventual gold medal winners from Magrath. Magrath won over the Eckville Eagles in the final. One of the Eagles best players was the former Thunder player Jeff Dunlop who had lived and played hockey in Elk Point. In fact his dad Ron was the one who coached the Thunder for a long time with his older brother Grant and then Jeff.
K.A. Campbell quote of the week. “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” – Mae West