The Fight That Shook The County
“A 519 Feature Story By Dwight Wakabayashi
And…..here we go off the face-off down in the Jr. Kings corner oh wait what have we here, we have two guys and squaring off… now they are taking off their helmets and are gonna go, look out, it’s Hanson for the Jr. Kings and oh boy we have the youngster Barnard getting ready for the Hawks and they square off…. they are both looking to oh and HERE THEY GO!!!
The citizens of Kent-County like their hockey tough. The people enjoy a good tough hockey fight as much as anyone, but it has to be a fight with a purpose. As long as no one gets badly hurt, what’s the harm in a score settled straight up? Who can get the emotional, upper hand for the team? Who can create just that little bit of extra time and space for their skilled stars?
When you think of relevant battles between skilled, tough players, legendary battles between Bob Probert and Wendel Clark quickly come to mind. In the mid 80’s, the bruise brothers Bob Probert and Joe Kocur arrived in Detroit around the same time a tornado of aggression from Saskatchewan named Wendel Clark arrived in Toronto. This added a new life and spark to the rivalry that engulfed the area.
If you are a good hockey player and play the game with toughness to go with it, you are remembered fondly in and around Chatham-Kent.
Enter Kevin Barnard vs. Jake Hanson and;
The Fight That Shook The County
It was the spring of 1990, the start of the Great Lakes Junior C playoffs and a buzz was entirely swirling in the air in the city of Chatham. High schools, offices and the local legion all spoke and chatted about one particular series. The favoured league giant, Walpole Island Jr. Hawks were set to host the Dresden Jr. Kings in the first round of the playoffs the upcoming weekend and the rumour mill was churning out a possible Hanson vs. Barnard tilt.
they start off exchanging rights toe to toe… they are furiously firing right hands with both landing direct hits… Hanson the bigger man and firing down, Barnard , shorter and desperately trying to land up.. the crowd is in a frenzy, yet they are stunned by the exchange. Oooo Barnard staggers Hanson with a solid right but Hanson is only wobbled for a second and is just mad now. He storms back. Are you serious !!they both switch hands and start ripping lefts at each other….
Walpole was a new league powerhouse coached by local legend Ron Caron. They had a loud and awful horn that went off every time they scored. I heard that horn in my nightmares when I played in that league. The Hawks were stacked up with players like Derek Caron, Shane O’Donahue, Scotty Erickson, Kevin Sabourin, Ed Fiala, Dave Maine and Jamie Browning. Most of them stars from the surrounding town of Dresden.
They also had Kevin Barnard, a 16 year-old, tough-as-nails rookie defenseman out of Chatham.
The Jr. Kings were a veteran line-up led by guys like Derek Fox, Jimmy Walker, Jeff Vandermeersh, Ron Staniforth, Jay Edwards, Scott Hughson, Hector Bondy and Paul Robertson. Dresden had some skill and craziness on their team.
They also had the undisputed champion tough guy of the league in hometown born, 19 year-old winger Jake Hanson.
The Tough Young Rookie
Kevin Barnard was not the tallest guy, but he was built like a tank and was as strong as any ’73 born guy around. He had a burning passion for the weight room, and he was still able to stay fairly fast on his feet on the ice. Barney was a scoring, skilled forward for most of minor hockey, but was switched to defence as a 14 year-old when his rep team was facing injuries on the back end. Another one of those incredible, multi-sport athletes in the city, Barnard excelled at lacrosse, track and baseball growing up. A Blue Jays fan, Barnard’s licence plate on his first set of wheels was “JAYS11”, an homage to his favorite slugger George Bell.
Barnard had a large resume of highlight reel goals, plays and hits throughout his minor hockey days, but what he didn’t have were a lot of hockey fights under his belt heading into his first season of junior.
With his versatility being a major asset and very unique, it is no coincidence who he patterned his game after;
“I tried to pattern my game after Wendel Clark with just his aggression and toughness on the ice. He wasn’t afraid of anyone and I tried to play like that too. He also had a great shot. I tried to fight like him too. All offense. Toe-to-toe, that’s how I liked to fight.
Then when I moved to defence I liked Scott Stevens. I tried to track and hit like he did. I just liked the way he took care of his end and he was the best and hardest hitter in the NHL at the time.” he said
The Probert of The League
Jake Hanson was three years older and had already taken on all comers in his junior hockey career, with his most notable battles coming against the crazed and feared McCabe brothers from Mooretown. He was tried and tested tough, but he also had a nice set of hands and could play on the first line and power play. He was the Bob Probert of that junior league.
Hanson was also a tough guy with integrity, meaning he wasn’t a bully out there on the ice. If he was going to go after you, you had to be close to his weight class and he had to have a good reason. He wasn’t the most imposing or intimidating figure, but at the end of the day, he could just fight better than anyone around. The reason? He learned from the best.
“I watched all of Bob Probert’s fights on video. I studied them and kind of tried to fight like he did in those days. If you really watch his fights, he was all about starting a bit slow, maybe taking a few, letting the guy wear himself out a bit and then coming on strong and finishing the fight at the end.” Hanson said over the phone.
That’s how I fought. Guys would be getting tired and I would just be getting started,” he laughed.
Due to the fact that it was 1990, no video footage of the Barnard-Hanson fight is available. The story is that the game was being video taped at the time but for some reason, probably in the excitement of the moment, the cameraman let the camera drop and point to the ground during the fight. I spoke with many people for this story including the two combatants themselves and one thing was unanimous in the retelling of each person’s memory of the fight.
The fight was judged by all as a complete, undisputed DRAW
Now they are landing lefts and Barnard goes down now as Hanson is starting to come on now…. Barnard gets back up quickly and oh ohh they are still throwing but starting to fatigue now… this has to be one of the best hockey fights I have ever witnessed in my lifetime!
Chatham native Jeff Fancy was the Dresden goalie in that game and had the closest seat in the house to all the action as the fight broke out in the corner beside his net. He also had the unique perspective of being a current teammate rooting for Hanson, and a life long friend also rooting for Barnard.
“It was a draw – honestly, the way they both hit each other and buckled each other, the back and forth, I can’t really say there was a winner. I love a good hockey fight as much as anyone but I hated every second of that fight. The sound was horrible. I was close enough to hear it and it was tough to hear. Jake was my teammate and Barney was my friend so it was weird in that way.” Fancy recalled.
The fight was designed to set the tone for the series and the rumour was that it was incented by one of the coaches.
“There was such a rivalry because a lot of the Walpole players were Dresden guys that Ron Caron took out there. There was always that natural rivalry. They had a stronger team than we did.”
“Jake and I had no problem at the time. We would see each other when we were out and there was never any problem. There was an incentive to fight him yes. At the time things like that were no big deal, but let’s just say I made good money on that fight.” he laughed
“I have had a lot of fights over the years but that is one of the reasons why I remember that one with Barney is because I had heard the coach set it up, which I didn’t hear that often and I was also surprised by it”
Different time and different era folks, and things like that happened more often than not during junior hockey in those days. Nothing to see here. In today’s game, you wouldn’t catch a coach openly putting a bounty out to fight an opposing player. During that day and age it was not uncommon for guys to battle and beer after the game, and coaches motivated in very different ways. It was all designed to get an edge in the series and probably an attempt to nullify Hanson’s presence in the series. If he stomps Barnard, it could give the lift that the Kings could work with early in the series. Those tactics would be less prevalent in 2017.
Walpole Island won the series 4 games to 1.
In my opinion, Walpole would have won that series regardless of the fight, they were that much better than Dresden in terms of skilled players and game prepararion. That said, it couldn’t have hurt the Hawks to see their young rookie stand up to the league Probert in the first game of the series.
While not necessarily unanimous, many people I spoke with call that fight the best hockey fight they have ever seen. The punch count was pegged at over one-hundred combined and each man had the upper hand at a point and time. They also switched from right to left in the middle of the fight, another impressive skill for two guys in the heat of the battle.
As a person who has analysed fights for years and professionally both writing for hockeyfights.com and also covering the Ultimate Fighting Championships the key in this fight was the fact that Barnard was able to use his strength early in the fight to pull Jake in and hold him close enough so that Jake couldn’t extend on his punches. They were throwing toe-to-toe but Jake was not able to get the full power on his punches. If Hanson would have been able to stretch Barnard out at his full arms length, Kevin’s punches would have fallen short, while Hanson’s would have hit the mark.
Jake was also the bigger, taller man and that surprisingly worked to Kevin’s advantage because all of Jake’s punches hit down on the top of Kevin’s head and not directly on the nose, eyes, cheeks or chin.
“The top of my head, under my hair was a huge lump and black and blue for weeks.” Barnard remembers
“Kevin was tough. He was a young kid at the time though and I had taken on a lot bigger and tougher guys to that point. There was no damage to my hands or face or anything like that.”
Hanson is married to wife Tracy and has two daughters. He currently lives and works in Oakville as a Production Manager at the Ford Oakville Assembly Plant.
“People still remember and talk about that fight. I was at my daughter’s game in London over the break and I was standing beside this guy on the boards. He overheard that I was from Dresden and that I played there and he says to me ‘Hey, I watched you play hockey back then’ and he starts to mention that fight.” he chuckled in surprise.
Barnard Beats Cancer
Kevin’s fights on the ice pale in comparison to a fight that was picked with him in the years following his hockey career. Many of you have already read the story about our friend Perry Pappas and his battle with cancer. Incredibly, Kevin is the second Chatham ’73 boy to face that very fight around the very same time. In September of 2006, cancer came knocking on Kevin’s door looking for a dance partner.
“I had gone to the doctor a few times over the course of a week but when I walked in there, he always saw this healthy guy so we didn’t really find out or pinpoint what was wrong.”
To his close friends, Kevin is famous for his love and capacity for all things culinary. When we played minor hockey together, sometimes the bus would stop at Swiss Chalet after our road games for a quick bite to eat. While most of the boys nibbled normally through a plate of quarter chicken and fries, Kevin would be in heated discussions with his Dad trying to order another half chicken dinner, because he had just licked the bones clean on the first one he had ordered and was seriously eyeing everyone else’s food. It was unreal. Kevin had two younger brothers who were also big, strong boys, and common theory was that Kevin gained his early toughness from battles at the Barnard dinner table.
When he got older, Kevin also loved his beer.
“My brother had gotten tickets to a football game for us so we went down on the weekend to enjoy the game and I couldn’t even have a beer or eat anything it tasted so horrible. Even the taste of beer was awful and made me feel sick. Well, I knew something was up for sure then.”
Kevin went to see the doctor again and was put on some antibiotics. Being a young teacher preparing to start a new year, he tried to push himself through whatever was feeling off.
“On the first day of school in 2006 everyone was telling me I looked like I had the mumps because my lymph nodes were so swollen around my neck and throat. They pretty much sent me home. I went back to the doctor again and they did some blood tests then I found out it was a pretty urgent situation.”
Barnard was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a form of cancer that is most common in young children and the elderly, but rarely found in middle aged men. He was sent to London immediately for treatment.
The decision was made to put Kevin through an extremely aggressive 30-day chemotherapy treatment that is too taxing for many to survive. Barney approached it like he had approached his fights on the ice. Head on, toe-to-toe, bring it on.
“They say that many of the people diagnosed are just not strong or healthy enough to continue this treatment through to the end but my body was holding up ok so they kept on with it and I was able to get through it. You want to talk about a fight, this was it. It was the fight of my life and I had way too much to live for. My wife, my kids. I just had to do what I had to do.”
Family, Friends and Faith
Kevin’s family sprung into action as his mom Sylvia, a long-time and highly respected principal in the Chatham-Kent School System retired from her job to free herself to help take care of Kevin. His wife Shelley (Smith) Barnard has been his sweetheart since high-school and her family provided tremendous support as well;
“Shelley and her mom Colleen were huge as well. Shelley’s mom retired from her job and she took turns driving me to London and back for treatments. I have my faith and I prayed for the strength to battle”
A shunt was inserted into his brain to drain the cerebral fluid and it is still in place to this day. Barnard was given a 1 in 3 chance of survival and underwent a three-year chemotherapy program. It was an intense battle, starting with 3 treatments a week progressing to 2 a week and then down to once a week in the final months and stages. The first year of treatments took place in London and it was on one of these early trips that Kevin’s attitude had a watershed moment;
“I was on one of the trips to London with Shelley’s mom, and in London we drove by this guy who looked down and out, he was collecting cigarette butts along the street and out of ashtrays and stuff and I got frustrated and said to her ‘why can’t that guy get cancer? Why does it have to be me? I have a wife and kids and what does he have?’ Well she set me straight pretty quickly. She got really upset at me for saying that and she was right. She said that God picked me for a reason and you can’t wish it on others. You just have to accept it and overcome it. It was a pretty key and cool moment. She was awesome setting me straight like that”
During the chemo treatment in London, the nurses regularly gave Kevin heck because he kept walking around the ward and exercising at times when they thought he should just get some rest.
“I had to do it for my mental sanity. I couldn’t just sit around in a hospital bed all day for months at a time. I had to move around. I had to walk and do things to keep from going mad.
I had people visiting and calling all the time. My friends would come visit me and take me out. Everyone was great during that time. My brothers and dad were great too but I’m the big brother, I had to lead by example and be strong. The biggest thing with them was that they were really mad that none of them were a stem cell match. They wanted to help that way too.”
Like many a foe on the ice before, the nurses lost the battle to Barney and eventually let him exercise at will. They even let him go out for a steak dinner with friends one time while he was in the hospital. Try to keep Kevin Barnard from his food and exercise at your own peril folks.
Kevin is in good health today and lives in Chatham with Shelley and his three kids Darby, Ben and Libby. He is a teacher at Harwich Raleigh Public School and has been involved in coaching various sports over the last few years. He has also been heavily involved in public speaking and raising awareness about his illness.
Healthy living and facing it head on are key components to winning the ultimate fight;
“There is no doubt that the fact that I was strong and healthy was a key factor in my ability to survive the treatments and disease. The doctors said that as well. Most people can’t get through the treatments because their body can’t take it. The point is that you should keep good care of yourself.
If you get cancer, it’s not the end. If you fight hard you can beat it.”
Even though they fought to a draw, Barney and Hanson both know how to win a fight on and off the ice and the strength it takes to win one, should not be lost on the other. If you are a fighter, you carry that mentality to all aspects of your life.
Both of these players probably had close to fifty or more combined fights in their respective playing days and some were more memorable than the others. Neither of them or any of us will ever forget this one, and there will never be a;
Hanson vs. Barnard II
Unfortunately, no video footage of this fight was available to include in this article but one thing is for sure, it remains;
The Fight That Shook The County
*All quotes for this story were obtained first hand and pictures were provided by Kevin Barnard and family and Mike Bennett of the Blenheim News Tribune. All videos from hockeyfights.com and BeakIncV2.