OUR TOP TEN HOCKEY PIONEERS
by Gary Howard
It has been said that a nation that ignores its past has no blueprint for tomorrow. Our city has heeded this advice to the fullest to ensure that our present and future as Hockey Town Canada has been built on the rich and full hockey history of our past.
During the Silver Stick tournament we have an occasion to ensure that visitors are aware of our deep and rich hockey heritage and of those individuals who have pioneered the game in Hockey Town.
After more than a hundred years of pursuing Canada's favourite winter pastime, it's generally agreed that our city has achieved its lofty status through the efforts of a great many individuals. Nonetheless, there have been some hockey men throughout the years who have stood about the length of a hockey stick above their colleagues. These are individuals who have excelled or made some significant contribution or unique achievement that has distinguished them from the rest of the hockey herd.
After much consideration and based on over a half-century of observing the local hockey scene, I offer you my list of the top ten individuals who have been prominent pioneers in our puck history.
10. Bill "K" Kutschke.
A prerequisite for recording the history of hockey in any community is to have capable journalists and broadcasters to relate the exploits of local teams and the game. Not only was Bill K the voice of hockey for many years but he was the sports voice of CHOV radio, reporting on everything from minor hockey to the pros. And in so doing, he gave the same importance and recognition to youngsters starting out in peewee hockey as he did to the senior and junior teams. The naming of the broadcast booth at the Pembroke Memorial Centre in his honour is ample proof of the standing he achieved in our hockey community.
9. Brother Paul.
Members of various religious orders have always taken a prominent role in local hockey and one of the most successful was this hard-nosed and knowledgeable Christian Brother who made his mark in minor hockey as well as coaching junior hockey in the 1950s and early 60s. He was a motivator and inspirational leader who gained great respect from all quarters for the way he taught and coached the game. He had one of the most successful junior teams in local history in 1958-59, taking the team far into the Memorial Cup playoffs before being eliminated.
8. Bill Inglis.
The only product of the Pembroke Minor Hockey Association of the 1950s to reach the NHL, first with Los Angeles and then with Buffalo. He also coached the Sabres in 1978-79, replacing Punch Imlach in mid-season. Inglis played through the local system from peewee to junior before graduating to the Montreal Jr. Canadiens. He had a storied minor pro career, playing in Houston, Omaha, Springfield and Hershey as well as coaching in Rochester and Kalamazoo, Michigan. His last sighting was with Fort Worth Brahmas of the Central Hockey League in 2003-04 when he was replaced as coach before the end of the season.
7. Dave Behan.
A true pioneer of local hockey, Behan was prominent in our hockey history from the early 1900s. He carved his niche as a player, coach, executive and all-around hockey booster. His 1935-36 Little Lumber Kings, who were Eastern Canada Memorial Cup finalists, have been used as a benchmark for all junior teams that have since followed.
6. Bill Higginson.
Rink rat, stick boy, trainer, goaltender, referee, sports writer, player and coach. No one understands our hockey history more intimately or has more first hand knowledge of the golden age of senior hockey than Bill Higginson. He has preserved the memory of senior and junior hockey and how the game was played, through his alter ego, The Old Lamplighter, as Higginson and hockey continue to remain synonymous in our town.
5. Terry O'Neill & Russ Holmberg.
The Pembroke Minor Hockey Association has always been a respected and productive organization due in large part to its thousands of volunteers over the years. If you don't have dedicated, tireless workers at the grassroots level, chances for higher success are seriously impaired. Both Holmberg and O'Neill have distinguished themselves as leaders and innovators in our hockey community, possessing strong planning and organizational skills. Mr. O'Neill gained the ultimate recognition from his peers when the prestigious Silver Stick Tournament was named in his honour. Russ Holmberg continues to be a visionary and driving force in local hockey circles both at the men's and women's level. It is fitting to recognize both in the same vein as their accomplishments and success are a testimony to the dedication of all local hockey volunteers.
4. Jim Farelli.
A career hockey man who saved junior hockey from extinction in this town and in so doing elevated the Lumber Kings to a pinnacle never before or since achieved. As owner, manager and coach Farelli compiled a string of Central Junior Hockey League championships for the better part of a decade and became the winningest coach in Kings history (since passed by Sheldon Keefe). A former minor pro in the American Hockey League, he was brought to Pembroke in the 1950s to add some muscle to the senior Lumber Kings. Several decades later he was brought back to win championships for the junior Lumber Kings. He was an unqualified success in both assignments.
3. Frank Nighbor.
The image of Pembroke as a hockey town will always be perpetuated every time someone stands in the Hockey Hall of Fame and gazes up at the Pembroke Peach. A member of the original Ottawa Senators, Nighbor was a bonafide star who is still referred to as the master of the poke check. Although Pembroke natives Hugh Lehman and Harry Cameron share a spot with him in the hallowed Hall, it is Nighbor's name that surfaces most often when hockey modernists analyze and debate the skill level of the NHL greats of the past. Nighbor was the first recipient of the Hart Trophy as the NHL's Most Valuable Player in 1924 and was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy twice as the most sportsmanlike player.
2. Art Bogart.
Owner of the Mackay Street Arena and manager of the PMC, Mr. Bogart's involvement transcends the decades from natural to artificial ice. A shrewd hockey operator and entrepreneur, Bogart was a key player in elevating Pembroke to a respected level in the hockey world. As the mechanics of arena management and hockey management became more demanding and competitive, he was instrumental in ensuring Pembroke kept pace with the evolution of the game. The Central Canada Hockey League's championship trophy is named today in his honour.
1. The Giesebrecht Family.
The First Family of Hockey in Pembroke via Petawawa, this family's contribution to our hockey history will probably never be surpassed. From Roy who made it to the NHL with Detroit down to Dick who was prominent in local leagues, the Giesebrecht name seldom left the sports pages. Add the well known hockey skills of Bruce, Bert, Jack and Fred along with brothers-in-law Cully and Thain Simon and this area was well represented across North American hockey circles. The Giesebrect lineage continued through Roy's son Donnie who had a minor pro career and grandson Matt who played Major Junior A. In total, this family's contribution to our hockey history is of dynastic proportions.
It occurred to me while writing this piece that no woman surfaced as a hockey pioneer. But of course, every mother, wife, daughter, sister and girlfriend who ever catered to the whims and quirks of a hockey player deserves honourable mention and pioneer status. As women's hockey continues to grow, we will soon see many pioneers of the women's game emerge as influences on the hockey community for years to come.