By Winston Smith – Apple Hill, Ont.
It was just after the first covered rink was built in Wakaw in central Saskatchewan that I played on the (almost) championship bantam hockey team. I can’t remember the exact year but it would have been about 1955.
I played defence or goalie, depending on who turned up at any given game. I wasn’t a very good player and there was a few of us of the same calibre, but we did have some good players.
Our coach was Father Leslie. He was not only our coach, but was the community scout leader as well. Ed Moore was one of the assistants and driver. He had coached my two older brothers who played hockey for him 13 years earlier.
Father Leslie was determined that we’d enter the provincial playdowns. These were a series of home-and-home, most-goals-wins, play-offs that started locally and worked upward through the entries.
We travelled to the out-of-town games in cars driven by parents and friends who made up our fanbase at the distant rinks. We really believed the provincial championship would be ours.
Then came the series with Elrose.
Those players were big! We believed many of them just had to be overage! I’m sure all was in order. Anyway, we had the first game at home. Our better players reached deep and we were able to hold our own with those guys.
I don’t recall the score but the championship was in sight as we moved to Elrose for the second game. Their team came up tough and it was a very hard-fought game.
We lost in sudden death overtime and when that goal was scored, a single curse word was uttered from the man dressed in black on our bench. This was the only ‘slip’ I heard from him in the years he worked with us kids.
Elrose went on to win the provincial championship.
Some of the members of that (almost) championship team 56 years ago were Peter Zadrey; Jim Scopic; Dick Hildebrandt; Ed Parenteau; Chick Balon; Tom Courchene; Ron Kostyniuk(?); Raymond Johnson(?); and Boris Mamchur(?).
The Wakaw of my time produced a number of very good hockey players. Many played for the Prince Albert Mintos – a champion junior team of the era. Some went on to the American Hockey League and the NHL.
The Balon brothers were the most notable. There were Rudy, Dave, Chick, and Nick. I think they all played for the Mintos at various times.
Reputation for a blistering shot
Dave had a successful 14-year career in the NHL between 1959-1973 playing for the New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota North Stars, and Vancouver Canucks.
His brothers played with various AHL teams with varying success.
And there was the Parenteau brothers. I remember Ed and David. I know they played at the Junior level, at least.
A painful memory I have of Dave Balon’s strength as a player occurred one day when I volunteered to be a goal judge for a game in the old open-air rink. As the winter went on, snow from the ice surface was thrown over the boards.
It must have been a high-snowfall year as the snow was piled high above the boards behind the goal – so high, I couldn’t stand behind the goal boards, but rather on the ice behind the net.
Dave had a break-away. He also had an earned reputation for a blistering shot. I was no fool, at the risk of missing the call but in fear for my life, I bent down behind the safety of the net.
However, my posterior stuck out just enough for the puck, travelling at least a million miles an hour, to strike a cheek, flat side on. A memorable experience!
Steel and minus temps
Another memorable experience is one had by many a prairie youth. The goal ‘nets’ in the old rink were made of steel pipe frames with chicken-wire netting.
Don’t ask me how, but I got my tongue stuck to the minus 20°F steel. Thankfully Ed Moore, the perennial rink manager, always had a tea kettle on the wood-burning bunk stove.
When he quit laughing and repeating “I told you so” several times, he freed my tongue with warm water.