Tales from the Timebox: April 28th, 2020
Another week has passed us by and we’re still all at home, but at least the snow has melted and we can go outside work in the yard. Thank goodness I still have some hockey stories in my brain bank. Chapter five in the Tales from the Timebox. This week I want to take you back 34 years to the year 1986. The Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup over the Calgary Flames. The Flames defeated the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. Oilers defenseman Steve Smith attempting a pass up ice scored into his own net giving Calgary the victory. The oil patch crashed in March 1986. I lost my job but was very fortunate to start a new one right away.
I was hired by B&R Eckels to be manager of the new Oilfield Service division. The owner of B&R , Victor Ringuette has always been a generous supporter of the community. And even though money was very tight at the time he would always give a little bit to any of my requests. Be it minor hockey, minor ball, the Lions Club, Canada Day, the A.G. Ross Arena, the ball diamonds or the curling rink . If I supported it, he would always give something and he still does to this day.
Towards the end of my first summer at B&R I asked him for money to buy hockey sweaters for the newly formed B&R Bullets beer league hockey team. He bought one set right away and a few months later he sprung for the second set, so we could have home and away.
Orest Capjack was the man in charge of the A.G. Ross ice schedule at the time. I booked a ice slot with him, Wednesday night at 10 pm was the earliest ice time we could get. Lindbergh Last Knights had a team and played Tuesday nights, The Elk Point Broomball team had ice on Monday night. The Elks would practice on Wednesday just before us. The other rec team that became our rivals, the Broncos had Thursday night. Minor hockey at the time had teams at every level and even had two teams at the younger levels. They took a good chunk of the ice. The Skating Club was also very big at the time and had a huge group of junior and senior skaters. They rented a lot of ice too.
The first year the Bullets took our lumps and didn’t win a heck of a lot of games. We were young and were having a lot of fun. We played hard and partied even harder! Stayed out late after the games. We did lots of joking around in the dressing room. Like putting tape on the bottom of my skates so I would trip as soon as I stepped on the ice. Or throwing cold water on guys in the shower. Hiding guys pants. Putting stuff in their underwear. Harmless jokes.
Often we headed down to visit Lynall at the Empress or to the Elk Point Corral. Doyle Skolarchuk was our goalie in the beginning for the first couple of years. After he moved, Ron Croteau became our goalie. Rotten Ronnie stayed with the team for another 10 or 12 years or better. Rotten Ronnie was extremely competitive. He had played senior hockey in Hardisty and hated to practice. He didn’t like playing for fun, so if another team didn’t show up and we wanted to play shinny he would go undress. He played to win. Always. If we slacked off or got lazy on a backcheck he would let the guys know. He never held back. When we played really badly he would lift the net off the pegs and throw it up against the back boards. He never wacked his stick over the net like some goalies. Ron said ‘Costs too much to waste a stick on you guys!’ Dave and Dwight Cousins, George Hahn, Donnie Mudryk, Dave Nazarchuk, Roger Bugera, Thomas Kondla, Arne Nelson, Darrel Copeland and Larry Kalynchuk were some of the first Bullets team players.
After getting our feet wet in the first year Thomas Kondla came up with the idea we should host a hockey tournament and beerfest at the end of the year. Thomas agreed to line up the teams. I booked the Elks Hall with Nick Bochon and lined up the booze and DJ . No problem at all getting teams. Thomas found twelve teams right away and even had to turn down a few. This was still in the eighties before the new addition with the big dressing rooms at the A. G. Ross arena. All we had at the time at the were four tiny dressing rooms. And only two of them had showers. So after every second period the two teams would move from the one small room to the one next door with the showers. Somehow it worked and the teams were happy.
The beerfest was packed and we made a ton of money. Even after paying for some damage. Some of the boys tended to get a little bit rowdy. For three or four years we did our annual tournament. Made enough money to buy the team beer for the whole year. One year at our tournament, I skated too close to the Lindbergh goal crease. Our good friend, John Charlton, AKA Jed, knocked out one of my front teeth with his butt end. We still laugh about it now. After the game I visited with Don Woytkiw the caretaker at the time in the boiler room . Don had some Crown Royal and that numbed the pain. When I got home I was informed by my wife Donna, who worked at the dentist office, that I would be needing a root canal that night or I would be waking up in some incredible pain. She phoned her boss Dr. Kleeburger who performed the operation on me. Don’t think he needed to freeze it that night, but he did!
Now speaking of beer… I was in charge of getting beer for the games. Usually I would pick up a 2-4 so the boys could have a couple each. Ron would have his first one down before I could even get my cap off mine. We sat beside each other. One of those traditions. Everyone had a spot in the room. If a new guy came he would have to find a empty hole. We always had a toast after the games we won. The whole team yelling “BULLETS the best team to ever lace up a pair of skates!”. We played a lot of games in those days travelling to Myrnam, Glendon, Mallaig, Vermilion, Dewberry, St. Paul and Mannville.
One year I think we ended up with about 50 or even 60 games. One week we had already played four games and while we were having supper at home my wife Donna mention something she had to do after supper so I was going to be in charge of the kids. They were very young at the time. I said, “I have a game tonight” and she snapped. Reminded me that I haven’t been home all week to help with the kids’ bedtimes. I couldn’t repeat what was said here, but I quietly phoned Ron and said, “I won’t be coming tonight. Beers on the deck. Don’t ring the doorbell.”
In the mid nineties our team became very strong. We were as good as any beer league team in the whole Lakeland. Dave Cousins, Kerry Loughran, Shane St. Arnault and Mike ‘the Big M’ MacDonald were our defenseman. All of them had the green light and could carry the puck coast to coast. Our forwards included George Hahn, Jerry Kopeck, Dave ‘Naz’ Nazarchuk, Keith Campbell, Ron Salt, Tony Peters, Tony Bochon, Kevin Bjornstad, and yours truly, the Hound.
We went on a winning streak. Nineteen games without a loss. It was the middle of February. The Family Day weekend. We had a game in St. Paul on a Sunday night against the Hawks. Game time was early 7pm. Most of us had the day off on Monday so we all decided to bring our wives and go for some grub and drinks after the game. Great idea. Except the boys played like crap, trying to impress our wives on how good we were. Lost the game and the winning streak was over. The wives never were invited again. Of course most games they never wanted to come anyway.
The Next Gen
Towards the end of the nineties our own boys started playing with us. My son Jordan was the first one. He played his first game as a 13 year old. Played full time with us a few years later when he was about 17. Curtis Croteau, Brett Kopeck, Ryan Hahn, Jordan Cousins, Kent Bjornstad all played with the Bullets with their dads at first and then stayed with the team. Eventually all of the old boys from the early days were put out to pasture. I was the last of the original Bullets to pack it in. For a few years I refereed the Bullets and then the game got too fast so I retired. Except for a little shinny now and then with the kids and once a year when I play in the Jim Vinge Memorial Tournament. Of course not the past March as we all know. But here’s hoping I can still lace them up next year and skate with my son and grandson once again.
K.A. Campbell quote of the week. “My mama always said, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump