“Are you sure you know where his house is?” my wife Christina asked as we came rolling up to Talbot Trail.
“Of course. I’ve been there many times,” I answered surely. Even if I didn’t know where I was going, the electric, kinetic, bonding energy would surely pull me there. We were on our way to the 30 year reunion for the 1987 Chatham Moose Lodge Major Peewee team that won the All Ontario championship. In minor hockey in those days;
All Ontario = Stanley Cup
Our team won a heckuva a lot in the minor hockey years between 1981 and 1989, and I would honestly peg our teams overall winning percentage at around .700 at the worst, but more on that much later.
It wasn’t long before I first spotted the line up of cars stretched out in the long driveway that led up to the Vandernaalt property. As the car pulled up I spotted the bundle of balloons on a pole with the sign “’87 Reunion” tied to the bottom. The perfect venue for the perfect occasion, and the kids were scattered around and the party was just getting into the swing of things.
Images courtesy of Julie Vandernaalt
Many introductions were made and people flipped their cooler tops for the first of many beverages that would be had throughout the day and night. Many guys had not seen each other in years, even almost the thirty years since and the attention turned quickly to memories of the season, the playoffs and the dramatic final game. The host and my line mate for much of that magical season, (along with Brice Legue) Jason Vandernaalt had a photo album out with the article recapping our playoff run and the All Ontario tournament. An article that I don’t think I had ever seen in the 30 years passed.
Memories Fade But Never Totally Die
For the longest time I remembered almost everything about that playoff run and that final game, and then it faded. Reading the article after 30 years refreshed my memory and all kinds of sidebar memories also came flooding back.
The championship gave the city of Chatham it’s first Ontario title in nine years. It’s amazing what you don’t know as a 13 year-old and then hear at a reunion and I was shocked shortly in to the early evening in a conversation with our coach Gerry Leschyshyn.
“I remember Cor Koole and I got put through the grinders by CMHA on that one. On the tournament. They were really sour that they had to pay for us to go. They thought that we should have had a lot of money left over from the Christmas tournament, but we had already bought the jackets.”
Hall Of Fame Rant Disclaimer:
Now here is where this article is going to get interesting and a bit controversial. Gerry went on to mention that the members of the committee were quite sour about having to pay the way because they were already happily paying for the Major Bantams to go to their tournament in Elliott Lake.
Chatham Minor Hockey had already sprung a bunch of money for that team to go to Sweden earlier in the year, yet they had already happily payed for them. We earned the tourney to represent the city we were proud of, and the CMHA wanted our parents to pay for it out of their own pockets.
Thirty years later, that same Major Bantam team that also went on to win the All Ontario championship in 1987, has already been inducted in to the Chatham Kent Sports Hall Of Fame years ago. Our team was nominated for six straight years in the early 2000’s but we didn’t get voted in. My question to the Hall is, what is the actual criteria for getting in as an honoured team? Is politics and favoritism at play?
With all due respect to the Major Bantams, and they do deserve respect and consideration as one of the best Chatham Minor Hockey teams of all time. They had stars such as Wade Harrogate, Kevin Sabourin, Dave Craivich, Dave Maine, Dan Crow, Kevin Jackson, Christian Vesnaver, Paul Norris. They were stacked, but I will argue that they didn’t accomplish any more than we did that year, and in fact, we were the first team crowned, and then they followed about an hour after.
“Many guys are over it and really don’t care but the thing is, if the bantams are in then we think we should be too. With all due respect, there are many other teams in there in many sports that certainly don’t deserve to be before us.”
This is the general consensus of the boys, but really it makes the hall look bad and lack legitimacy, but politics will never die.
The Fab Five
That peewee team was pretty equally divided between big time public school athletes and Catholic School superstars as well. A real highlight for me, was seeing my former elementary school Fab Five. The guys that I was closest with in the earliest years of my life. We won in hockey together in ’87 but we also won basketball and volleyball titles for our school Our Lady Of Fatima in that very same year. They were the school’s first titles ever in any sport, as it had only been open for 9 years.
The Reunion MVP’s
It was an unbelievable time seeing the boys and all of their families. They all have a huge number of kids, and they were all a huge part of the show. All but 2 of the players were able to make it to the reunion. Only Jamie Suitor and Warren Clarke could not attend. The real MVP of the day was the fish fry that fed all the people and the two men that ran the fish fryer. I swear these guys should have their own reality show as they are both comedic geniuses.
Stinking Drunk Compliments
At around 4:30 am after every body else had gone to sleep and it was only Paul Tewkesbury, Kevin Barnard and I still stinking drunk and up beside the fire pit. We talked local hockey and all the great players that we had the pleasure to play hockey with throughout the years in minor and in junior. There were so many names tossed around as great local players such as; Kevin Sabourin, Shane McGivern, Shane O’Donahue, Eddie Fiala, Todd Warriner, Scott Bacik, Brandon Boyko, Brady Blain, Kris Barnard, Korey Barnard, Dave Williams, Ryan Coristine, Shadd Smith, Rob Reeve, Mark Lindsay, Jim Ritchie, Dave Maine, Jamie Lucier.
A most memorable moment of the night actually happened in that conversation and it went something like this;
Barney: Waky was definitely the niftiest player that I ever played with or against.
Tewks: Everyone always talks about Herb and Mel and the uncles but we played with the best one. The things you could do that most guys couldn’t.
Barney: Yup. You were damn good.
That’s the nicest or the drunkest thing you guys have ever said to me.
‘Til next time boys.