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Western Hockey Founders Meet After 50 Years

by David Soles, HBA’64

1963 64 Hockey Team

In the fall of 1962, several interfaculty hockey players and coaches discussed the idea of putting an all-star team together to determine if there was sufficient talent on campus to compete at the intercollegiate level.  With a new outdoor artificial rink on campus in 1961, and, a new arena for the city of London scheduled for completion in 1963, a team now had a place to practise and play home games. Three exhibition games were played that season versus Assumption University and the U. of Waterloo, with the All-Stars outscoring the opponents 25-4. Despite this success, the Athletic Directorate defeated a motion to enter a hockey team in the OQAA.

During the summer of 1963, John Corbett (Phys Ed 64) and some colleagues spent their time thinking of how a major injustice could be corrected at Western – getting intercollegiate hockey back into one of Canada’s major universities - formed the UWO Mustang Hockey “Club” whose purpose would be the introduction of intercollegiate hockey. As Sports Editor of The Gazette and a retired interfaculty hockey coach, I was approached to provide the group with some guidance in the publicity and promotion areas.  The late Bill L’Heureux, head of the Phys Ed Department and Dr. Don Thain, a senior professor in the Business School were invited to become coaches and faculty advisors and they accepted.

Our first missions were to find teams to play against and raise the funds necessary to buy uniforms and equipment. We decided a raffle featuring a “Night for 2 at the Ceeps” and other such prizes would get us the money needed. It provided the funds for a set of sweaters and socks for each player. Players were to provide their own equipment including “Maple Leaf” pants. Games were arranged with the London Nationals (predecessors to the Knights) and a number of southern Ontario universities including Windsor, Waterloo, Guelph (then OAC) and OQAA Champion Toronto.

One major hurdle that had to be crossed was the opposition of senior university administration including UWO President Dr. G. Edward Hall. The university Athletic Directorate was composed of Administration, Faculty, Student, Alumni and Athletic Department reps. By coincidence, Dr. Thain was the Business School’s Faculty rep on this board and I was named Business School student rep. It took us about 1 meeting to realize that the main purpose of this group was to review and approve John Metras’ plans for intercollegiate sport. There was definitely no interest in expanding into hockey as President was opposed to intercollegiate hockey as he was concerned about Maple Leaf owner Conn Smythe’s stated desire that Canadian universities be a primary source of NHL talent much as the NCAA was for the NFL.

As we sold raffle tickets and game tickets for our first game against the London Nationals, interest started to build on campus. Surprisingly, The Gazette was running feature stories on this rag-tag group of students and was getting support from London media such as The London Free Press’ Bob Gage and CFPL’s Pete James. Other intercollegiate teams were complaining that they did not seem to get their fair share of space in The Gazette. Sports editorials were written about how the university could divert money from gardens and beautification projects to hockey and the basketball team should curtail its exhibition tours of the US.

Dr. Hall had seen and heard enough and he showed up at a meeting of the Athletic Directorate (of which he was the ex-officio Chairman) to say that he was against a hockey team and all discussion on the topic should stop. He waved a raffle ticket that someone had sold him. He had previously called John Corbett into his office and told him that we were breaking the law and university bylaws and that we could all be suspended from the University. I advised Dr. Hall that it was my intention to continue my call for a hockey team. Dr. Hall decided that the Directorate should form a committee under John Metras to immediately study this situation and determine what future steps should be taken. While I was excluded from this committee due to my known bias, Bill L’Heureux and Don Thain were asked to join the committee. The committee met that November 1963 afternoon and decided that if the Mustang Hockey Club were to continue, they would have to follow 6 rules that included the following:

The Hockey Club immediately agreed to the rules and a furious Dr. Hall summoned Thain and L’Heureux into his office and advised them that they were responsible for the performance and behaviour of the club and its members and would be held accountable for any missteps. Fortunately, everyone themselves and Thain and L’Heureux maintained their good standing at the university.

Bottom Line – we demonstrated an interest for intercollegiate hockey at Western and John Metras included it in his 1964-65 plans and budget.

During the summer of 2013, John Corbett decided that another oversight had to be corrected and the 1963-64 Hockey Club members deserved some recognition. Working with past Mustangs Hockey coach Ron Watson, he approached Athletic Director Therese Quigley who immediately agreed and asked the group to be part of the 2014 Annual Winter Athletic Alumni Weekend, Jan 31 – Feb 2. John agreed, and working with alumni authorities he began tracking down the 24 men who were players, coaches or administrators with the team 50 years earlier.

Surprisingly, 17 of the 24 were still available, from the self-described “baby”, 68 year old Bob Blackburn to 85 year old Don Thain. Six people, including Bill L’Heureux, have passed on and John was unsuccessful in tracking down a 7th player. Illness prevented 2 others from joining us. Corbett, Blackburn and Larry Chircoski worked on the social logistics of the weekend testing out the food and beverage site, beverage and accommodation sites.

When all was said and done, 14 of the 17 came to London for the reunion, most bringing their wives. People cancelled or moved vacations or shortened post-operation recovery periods to be there. Most of us had not seen more than 1 or 2 of the others over the past 40 – 45 years. While many participants came from the Southwestern Ontario area, we had members come from North Bay, Toronto, Hamilton and Red Deer, AB. Unfortunately, illness and family commitments kept the remaining 3 survivors from attending.

In addition to Corbett, Thain, Chircoski, Blackburn and myself, attendees to the weekend activities included players Dave Hosie, Bob Lewis, Brian Bennett, Al Hinnegan, Doug Houghton, Ross McDivitt, Barry McPherson, Reg Higgs and Dave Leeson.

1963 64 Hockey Reunion picture
1963-64 Hockey Reunion picture

We began the reunion Saturday afternoon with a get together at our major raffle sponsor and favorite watering hole of 50 years ago– the Ceeps. We were honored by the presence of Athletic Director Terese Quigley, past Mustangs Coach Ron Watson, current Mustangs Coach Clarke Singer and Metras Museum Curator Ted Hessel who brought along pictures and other hockey memorabilia. The Athletic Department presented each of us with scarves, pins and the “W” Club gave each of us copy of Bob Gage’s “Mustang Tales” which has a feature story on the 63-64 Hockey Club. John Corbett and others brought pictures and newspaper articles and shared them with the group. Stories were told and memories revisited as we all renewed long lost acquaintances.

Next we attended the Mustangs-Guelph Saturday hockey game at the Thompson Arena which most of the out-of-towners had never been to. (In our day, the team practiced on an outdoor rink on one of the university’s parking lots while our home games were played in the Treasure Island Gardens at Wellington St & 401.) We were invited into the Mustangs dressing room before the game and introduced to the players by current coach Clarke Singer who advised his team that “this group of men is responsible for you being here tonight.” One moment of levity came when one of our group advised the current team that “this is what you are going to look like in 50 years.” Current team members presented each alumnus with a hat embossed with “1963-64 Hockey Club.” The group then walked onto the ice and we were introduced individually to the crowd. It was great to have Don Thain join us.

Our next event was a team dinner at Bertolli’s.  Once again the stories and reminiscences flowed as easily as the beer, liquor and wine.

We wrapped up the weekend with a group breakfast on Sunday at the Station Park Hotel where most of the out-of-towners stayed.

I believe I can speak for everyone who attended that a great time was had by all. John Corbett once again had the idea, which was enabled by the Western Athletics Department and assisted by team members. We all agreed to keep in touch and meet again in 2039 for the 75 year reunion. As Dave Hosie said in post-reunion e-mail “It is nice to get recognized for anything but for something as big as we did back in 1963-64 was really special. Most of us are in our early 70’s so the old clock on the wall only has so many more clicks. The guys looked great and everyone seems to have married well and been very successful in life. Anyway let’s not wait another 50 years to do something as a group.”

David Soles, Business 1964, is Publicity Director for the 1963-64 UWO Mustangs Hockey Club





This article appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of Alumni Gazette
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