The Greatest Game Never Played – The Golden Era Of Chatham Minor Hockey
A COMPREHENSIVE LOOK AT THE TEAMS DURING THE GOLDEN ERA OF CHATHAM MINOR HOCKEY
When I was a kid in Chatham, not too many days went by without a trip to the rink. The earliest years were filled with morning practices at Memorial Arena, tryouts at what was then named North Side (now Erickson) arena, and even the odd practice or sub-zero scrimmage at the old outdoor pad at McKeough Park.
I ALSO PRACTICED MY EDGES AND QUICK STARTS AT THE ICE PAD INSIDE THE INFAMOUS, OLD WHEELS MOTOR INN.
A rink rat before I even hit school, not only was I at the rink for my practices and games, I was also at the rink to watch family members and friends from the teams a few years ahead of my team and the years behind.
IN MY OPINION, THE SPAN OF FIFTEEN YEARS BETWEEN 1977 AND 1992 REPRESENTED THE GOLDEN ERA OF CHATHAM MINOR HOCKEY. (CMHA PLAYERS BORN BETWEEN THE YEARS 1968-1978)
IT WAS THE ERA OF KNITTED PIN HATS AND PIN EXCHANGE SESSIONS AT TOURNAMENTS.
“THE DAY OF CHAMPIONS” WAS THE CELEBRATION OF ALL HOUSE LEAGUE FINALS
PREGAME CHANTS AND CHEERS AND PARENT SECTIONS SCREAMING WITH COWBELLS
AND IT WAS THE ERA WHEN CHATHAM TEAMS SAW THEIR MOST NORTH AMERICAN SUCCESS.
This article is based on my own personal knowledge and research. It is not meant as a slight to any era of Chatham Minor Hockey, it is meant to highlight a truly great era from 1978 to 1998 after the unrecorded ’50’s and ’60’s and before the amalgamation of Chatham-Kent in 1998 or the creation of the “AAA” Alliance.
When measuring team success and accomplishment during that era, there are a few key elements in comparing apples to apples:
- Success in the OMHA zone playoffs and then the All-Ontario tournament against other champions
- Qualifying for and success in the International Silver Stick
- Chatham Friendship tournament success ( A Christmas holiday tournament played in Chatham each year and hosted by the Major Peewee team)
- Other local and regional tournament success
1978 THAMES VALLEY BRICK MIDGETS
- OMHA CHAMPIONS IN ’78
I was born in 1973 and started hanging around all the rinks around five or six years later. In 1977 or 78 I started my house league hockey season on a team that had purple and gold sweaters and were called Thames Valley Brick. Local sponsorship is paramount for successful minor hockey teams and you always remember the name on your first jersey.
In 1978, due to the OMHA (Ontario Minor Hockey Association) system of level ranking by city/town population, Chatham was designated an “AA” center. The CMHA remained a “AA” center until the amalgamation of Chatham-Kent in 1998.
In the CMHA travel ranks, 1978 saw Chatham a buzz with a championship playoff run by the Thames Valley Brick sponsored Chatham Midget team. The team, coached by Charlie McIntosh and captained by Jay Brodie went on an incredible run in the spring of ’78.
They breezed through the local Western Counties League playoffs by easily defeating Riverside 6 points to 2. In the quarterfinals they swept London Oakridge 4 points to 0 before they met up with Stratford in a tough semi-final that saw three games go to overtime.
The Midgets then defeated Newmarket in a hard fought best-of-seven series 4 games to 2. The ’78 Midgets captured the first OMHA championship for Chatham in 12 years.
The ’78 Thames Valley Brick Midget team was inducted into the Chatham Sports Hall Of Fame in 2018
THE ’73 BOYS – SUCCESS EARLY AND OFTEN
- OMHA CHAMPIONS IN ’82
- OMHA and ALL ONTARIO CHAMPIONS IN ’87
- INTERNATIONAL SILVER STICK QUALIFIERS IN ’87 (LOST IN OT IN SEMIS)
- CHATHAM FRIENDSHIP TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONS IN ’87
Of course, the first CMHA team that came on my radar was the team of guys born in my birth year of 1973. This was the group of guys that I was going to grow up playing with. I went to school with a few of the guys before we started travel hockey.
THE ’73 BOYS
KEVIN BARNARD, PAUL TEWKESBURY, PERRY PAPPAS, JEFF FANCY, DWIGHT WAKABAYASHI, JASON VANDERNAALT, RYAN REID, BRICE LEGUE, MARK SZYMANSKI, SHANE McGIVERN, SIMON PROTOPAPAS, WARREN CLARKE, ED NOVACCO, DARREN KOOLE, DAVE VELLINGA, JAMIE SUITOR, RYAN SWAYZE, JIM WILLIAMS, DEREK JAPP, JOSH GREENBERG, TODD WEES
In 1981-82, the ’73 boys showed early on that they were a group destined for success. Coached by Cor Koole, the group displayed team play beyond their years on their way to defeating London in the OMHA zone finals. The CMHA had not won a title since ’78.
The ’73 boys would stay largely intact in the following years and enjoy much success in league and tournament play and in the 1986-87 Major Pee Wee season things would all come together again. The team had a monumental season, winning their second OMHA title in five years by defeating Pickering in the finals. They also captured Chatham’s first All-Ontario title by defeating the three other regional champions and winning the All-Ontario Challenge held in Mississauga.
Earlier in the season , they won the Regional Silver Stick qualifier in Watford but later lost in overtime of the semi-finals of the very prestigious International Silver Stick tournament in Port Huron, Michigan. The International Silver Stick is the only feather that the ’73 boys failed to get in their cap throughout their CMHA years.
The ’73 boys also became the first Chatham team to win the Chatham Friendship Tournament by defeating “AAA” team Windsor Club 240.
The ’73 boys almost accomplished it all in their CMHA years and were nominated to be inducted into the Chatham Kent Sports Hall Of Fame in the years between 2007-2013 but did not get voted in.
THE ’70 BOYS – A TOUGH MYSTERY
Shortly after I started playing travel hockey the 1970 born team of players was the first team I followed closely. My older brother Dave was a goalie on the team so it made it easy for me to go watch the games and follow the team.
THE ’70 BOYS
SCOTT DUNLOP, TIM COX, RYAN BRADY, TODD BOUGHNER, COLIN McGREGOR, FRANK SUITOR, DARREN TEEUWEN, JAMIE LUCIER, PAUL SLOAN, PAUL ROBERTSON, TERRY MARCHAND, SCOTT BRYANT, DARREN DEHAAW, SCOTT LOVEDAY
This group of players was a very talented bunch with a good mix of size, toughness and skill. In the earliest years they were built from the net out as Terry Marchand was exceptional between the pipes. The D core had skill with Scott Dunlop leading the way and tremendous size with Tim Cox and Todd Boughner.
Up front, they were led early by Jamie Lucier, Paul Sloan, Ryan Brady, Colin McGregor, Paul Robertson and Darren Teeuwen.
The ’70 boys won a lot of games in and around Kent County but when it came to big games in tournaments or playoffs all around Ontario, they almost always fell short. It was a mystery to me how this team of seemingly excellent players just could not break through.
This was the team I looked up to in the earliest years at the rink. I learned so much about hockey and the CMHA from these guys and their parents. I wanted them to win so bad but as time went on, I grew frustrated with watching them lose big games for one reason or another.
As they grew older, the main players were multi-sport stars that veered towards high school sports.
THE ’71 BOYS
DAVE MAINE, DARRYL BOSSENCE, DAN CROW, BRIAN WISEMAN, JULIAN BELANGER, JEREMY WANT, DAVE CRAIEVICH, TODD KEMSLEY, WADE HARROGATE, CHRISTIAN VESNAVER, KEVIN SABOURIN, KEVIN JACKSON, JASON McGOWAN, ROB CUDMORE, JAMIE GILBERT
I started following these players closely and watched as they won game after game and tournament after tournament in and around Chatham. Their forwards were extremely good and deep and their defence was big and mean. In Minor Bantam (’85-’86), the ’71 boys made their first run to an Ontario final but lost in the finals to Whitby.
The following season in ’86-’87 as Major Bantam’s, they put together the most impressive season in CMHA history.
THE ’71 BOYS WON THREE TOURNAMENTS, INCLUDING THE PRESTIGIOUS NORTH AMERICAN SILVER STICK. THEY WON THE OMHA PLAYOFFS AND ALL-ONTARIO CHALLENGE IN ELLIOT LAKE.
OVER THE CHRISTMAS BREAK, THEY ALSO REPRESENTED CANADA ON A VERY SUCCESSFUL PLAYING TOUR OF SWEDEN.
The ’71 boys were and are the gold standard of CMHA teams. In my opinion, the best CMHA team of all time.
In 2008, the ’86-’87 Branch 28 Major Bantam team was inducted into the Chatham Sports Hall Of Fame
THE ’74 BOYS – BRIGHT LIGHT DOMINANCE
- OMHA CHAMPIONS IN ’88
- INTERNATIONAL SILVER STICK CHAMPIONS IN ’88
- CHATHAM FRIENDSHIP TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONS IN ’88
If the boys from 1971 are the gold standard of the CMHA, the group from 1974 can arguably boast silver. This group of players was a force to be reckoned with year after year in the OMHA. It was the 1987-88 season that stamped this team as the second best in CMHA history.
THE ’74 BOYS
RYAN CORISTINE, SHADD SMITH, MIKE BAKER, BRAD BUTZER, BRAD BOSSENCE, JEREMY GABRIEL, DUANE SNELGROVE, BRANDON BOYKO, BRADY BLAIN, KELLY GERMAN, MARK EATON, ROB REEVE, BRAD TWIGG, DAVE HAMILTON, TODD PERRIN, CHRIS KENDAL, DAN MARTIN
In the 1987-88 season, the Major Pee Wees won four tournaments including one in Hamilton and one in Fraser, Michigan. They also won the Chatham Friendship Tournament, making it two years in row that a Chatham team won the tournament after years of drought.
The highlight of the tournament run was winning the prestigious North American Silver Stick Tournament in Port Huron. At the North American AA Tournament, they lost their first game to Port Huron 4-2 but won their second game against New Jersey. In the playoffs they beat Sarnia 5-1 in the quarter-finals and Belleville 3-1in the semi-finals. In the finals they beat Madison, Wisconsin 5-2 to win the international tournament.
Three Chatham players goaltender David Hamilton, forward Brandon Boyko and defenceman Shadd Smith were named to the all-star team.
THE ’74 BOYS ARE ONE OF ONLY TWO CHATHAM TEAMS TO WIN THE PRESTIGIOUS NORTH AMERICAN SILVER STICK TOURNAMENT
In league playoff play, the Pee Wees put together a run of 18 wins and 1 loss on their way to becoming the OMHA Major Pee Wee AA Champions. The only disappointment of the season was a bitter one as they lost in the finals of the All-Ontario Challenge Tournament.
In 2018, the ’87-’88 Moose Lodge Major Pee Wee team was inducted into the Chatham Sports Hall Of Fame
THE ’75 BOYS – THE KOMEBACK KIDS
- BACK TO BACK OMHA CHAMPIONS IN ’88 and ’89
- ALL ONTARIO CHAMPIONS IN ’89
A couple of the CMHA teams already mentioned were very close to the incredible accomplishment of winning back-to-back Ontario titles.The ’71 boys lost in the finals to Whitby in 1986 before winning it all the following year and the ’73 boys went all the way to game seven of the OMHA finals in 1988, the year after they won it in ’87.
THERE WERE TWO TEAMS DURING THIS ERA THAT WON BACK TO BACK OMHA TITLES. THE ’75 BOYS WERE THE FIRST CHATHAM TEAM TO EVER DO IT WHEN THEY WON BACK TO BACK PEEWEE TITLES IN ’88 AND ’89.
THE ’75 BOYS
BRAD GRAHAM, SEAN ABE, KRIS BARNARD, BLAIR BABCOCK, RUSS KORPAN, DAVE WILLIAMS, SCOTT NORRIS, JEFF WHITE, IAN CARR, ALAN FRENCH, BRANDON TEEUWEN, KELSEY KENNEDY, PAUL JONES, JAMIE EAGAN, ROB KERR, MIKE COLLINS, IAN COLLINS.
The ’75 Boys title in Major Pee Wee in ’89 marked the third year in a row that a Chatham team won the OMHA Major Pee Wee title. They also added to the second OMHA crown by also winning the All Ontario championship as well.
During the first title run in the spring of ’88 the ’75 boys came roaring back from one game and two game deficits in consecutive series’ and were quickly dubbed “The Komeback Kids”
THE ’76 BOYS – BACK TO BACK BANTAMS
- BACK TO BACK OMHA CHAMPIONS IN ’91 and ’92
The ’76 Boys had a really special place in my heart growing up as they had three guys on the team who had some ties to me personally. Two of my good buddies had little brothers that played on the team. My pal Ryan Swayze’s (RIP) little brother Marc and pal Kevin Barnard’s little brother Korey were both on this team. My neighbour Kevin McCord was also on the team and all three of these guys anchored this team to success.
ONE OF TWO TEAMS IN THIS GOLDEN ERA TO WIN BACK TO BACK OMHA TITLES, THE MOST IMPRESSIVE THING IS THAT THE ’76 BOYS DID IT IN MINOR AND MAJOR BANTAM OTHERS IN THIS ARTICLE DID IT IN PEEWEE.
THE ’76 BOYS
MARC SWAYZE, KOREY BARNARD, BEN TIGHT, SEAN ROELOFSEN, KEVIN MCCORD, STU BOTTRILL, SHAWN ST. PIERRE, RYAN EBERE, JEFF GIBSON, JAMIE CARR
Back to back Ontario titles is a huge accomplishment and one that separates any championship team from another. Similar to the other back to back champions, the ’75 boys, the boys from ’76 did not win the International Silver Stick or the Chatham Friendship Tournament.
It was fun to try and rank these teams but an almost impossible task to do. They all accomplished so much on the ice and are all a great bunch of gems off of the ice and that is a measure of success. It truly was a great era.
Imagine the parties! But that is an article for another time.
Aside from these very successful CMHA teams of the 1980’s, there were a couple other teams that I followed during this golden era of minor hockey.
The ’72 boys were the group of guys in the year older than I was. Guys like Paul Norris, Ross Babcock and Tim Martin were early stars and able to move up and play with the older group. Paul Meredith, Sandy McGregor, Jordan Boyle, Colin Pittuck, Chris Maarhius and later Kyle Mooney and my cousin Chris Wakabayashi were all on this team. They were also a very good team that ran into tough competition from cities all around the region.
The group of players born in 1968 were probably the toughest and most intimidating CMHA team of all time with Trevor Brady, Pete Tewkesbury and Mike Hakr. They had a memorable playoff run around ’82 or ’83 where the games were hyped up so much, Memorial Arena was packed to the rafters for each game they played. There was an infamous brawl in the Memorial Arena stands between Chatham and Riverside fans that I can still recall.
GREATEST CMHA TEAMS OF ALL TIME
- 1987 Branch 28 Major Bantam (’71 born)
- 1988 Moose Lodge Major Pee Wee (’74 born)
- 1989 Moose Lodge Major Pee Wee (’75 born)
- 1992 Branch 28 Major Bantams (’76 born)
- 1987 Moose Lodge Major Pee Wee (’73 born)
- 1978 Thames Valley Brick Midgets (’63 born)
THE GREATEST GAME NEVER PLAYED
’73 vs ’74
The idea for this article came to me a few years back after the 1986-87 Major Pee Wee (’73 boys) 30 year reunion. Through the many years after playing minor hockey in Chatham due to junior and university hockey, many of the ’73 boys and ’74 boys have become and remained good friends.
At the reunion, one of the ’73 boys said that his buddy, a ’74 boy keeps bugging him and mentioning how his team was better than ours and would kick our asses in a game.
I have heard this mentioned a few times, by a few guys in these two age brackets and I have always been very intrigued by the notion of settling a score with them. Whenever I heard talk of this “Who is better” argument I always responded the same way;
SMITH, CORISTINE, REEVE, BOYKO AND THE BOYS ARE YOUNGER THAN US. IF THEY ARE REALLY SERIOUS ABOUT THIS AND FINDING OUT WHO WOULD WIN A GAME BETWEEN US, THEY HAVE TO CHALLENGE US.
I HAVE YET TO HEAR OF A CHALLENGE FROM THE BOYS FROM ’74
The older group can’t lay down the challenge, they have everything to lose. The younger group has to be the ones to lay it out there, and hope that the older boys accept.
The ’74 boys are in the CSHOF and the ’73 boys are not so you can always measure it that way. By that standard, the ’74 boys can be assumed to be better.
If we are talking about who would win back then when we were kids, the ’73 boys win 9 out of 10 games. If we are talking all of us around 27-years old and all in our primes? There is no way to tell who would win and we are all well way past that.
We are all so old and out of shape now, and very few of us ’73 boys still play anything resembling good hockey.
I SAY WE GENERATE SOME FUN AND EXCITEMENT BEFORE NONE OF US CAN SKATE ANYMORE. WE SHOULD PLAN AND ORGANIZE THIS GAME AGAINST EACH OTHER. WE CAN CALL IT;
“THE GREATEST GAME NEVER PLAYED ’73 vs ’74”
WE CAN ADVERTISE AND SELL TICKETS WITH THE MONEY GOING TO THE WINNING TEAMS CHOICE OF LOCAL CHARITY
*NOTE – All information researched and sourced by the writer and all opinions are strictly my own.
*Photo Credits – Chatham Sports Hall Of Fame website, Perry Pappas, Brad Graham and Marc Swayze