They played on a championship hockey club and, many years later, they were still telling me it was the finest team they were ever on.
They were the 1952-53 Pictou Maripacs.
Yes, it was seven decades ago, but thoughts of that season returned to mind when my column on the old APC Senior Hockey League earlier this month prompted a query from a reader who called himself “a lifetime Pictou hockey fan.”
“You mentioned the Maripacs in your column,” he explained. “But how many times did the Maripacs win that league?”
Simple answer – one.
With that, my attention quickly shifted to those Maripacs and their APC championship. It may have been 70 years ago but, I can assure you, they were a very talented group of players that represented the Shiretown that winter.
But before shaking the cobwebs off old memories, I admit I took advantage of a Pictou habit of changing team names at the senior level more often than in most communities.
In senior hockey alone, history confirms the town had the Maripacs, Pictou Amateur Hockey Club, Pictou Scallywags, Pictou Generals, Pictou Shipyards, Pictou Refitters, Pictou Royals – and perhaps a name or two I can’t locate in the archives.
Not to confuse the gentleman who wrote, Pictou had two other APC champions – the Shipyards in 1942-43 and the Royals in 1945-46. The Maripacs became the franchise label in 1947-48.
And all this time later, the email writer has my memories flowing about the ‘52-53 winner. I remember that club well, having seen almost every game they played.
Ah, the chemistry.
They were a collection of very fine people (put together by manager Ernie Jordan) and, not surprisingly, they remained good friends for the rest of their lives.
Yes, it’s 70 years since the great Tic Williams added the coaching duties to his ongoing reputation as one of the finest scoring machines in the Maritimes. His senior career had started 16 years earlier. He was so good in 13 seasons in Pictou that he won six scoring championships, often by wide margins over his nearest challengers.
The Maripacs were one of five APC franchises in ‘52-53 – along with the Stellarton Royals, Trenton Scotias, Truro Bearcats and Antigonish Bulldogs.
Pictou and Truro had a season-long battle for first place, the Bearcats finally winning by three points on the final night. The Maripacs were concentrating on the playoffs.
There were a lot of familiar athletes wearing the Pictou uniform that winter. Along with Williams, there were such players as Mel Gadd, Mark Babineau, Laurie Burbidge, Allie Morrison, Chick Charlton, Joe Brown, Norm Walters, Syl Bernard, Sander MacDonald, Tommy Mahar and goalie Frankie Prozenor.
Keep in mind that, in the early 1950s, the APC circuit – and senior hockey in general – was at a very high level.
The Maripacs won anyway.
They did it in a very unusual fashion, playing only three games in Pictou because it wasn’t a good winter for natural ice. Instead, the Maripacs were more like a second Stellarton club, using Memorial Rink as a “home” base.
They saved their best for the playoffs.
In the semi-finals, they beat Antigonish in four straight outings. Then, in the finals, they took the crown by spanking Truro four games to two.
They did it despite few fans believing they could succeed.
I noticed in a column I wrote years later that I said, “Not many observers of the day gave them more than a snowball’s chance in hell in the provincial playdowns.”
No, they didn’t win the Maritime title, but they gave a powerful Lunenburg Falcons club all they could handle, taking them to a full five games.
Those Maripacs still impress me for what they accomplished.
There were several older players, guys like Williams, Babineau, Burbidge and Morrison, all of whom I interviewed in years well beyond the title season. They, too, maintained fond recollections of that season.
Brown, just 20 years old as a member of that club, told me this: “Everybody looked up to Tic. That year, playing with him, was one of the great times in my life. I would have to think that was the best team I was ever on. It was a lot of fun.”
When I began writing this weekly column for the Advocate 18 years ago, the first person I interviewed in the Shiretown was Babineau, one of the finest personalities I ever met in my career.
On that occasion (certainly not surprising) the conversation turned to the title Maripacs.
Mark’s words: “I’d have to say the Maripacs team that won the APC league championship in 1952-53 was our very best team. I guess you’d have to say determination is what made that team so good. We wanted to win so badly, which we did. It was a real good club and you have to remember the league was very strong at that time.”
The Babineau name has always come up when the Maripacs were discussed. He was a star throughout, a linemate and close friend of Williams and, on one occasion, a 50-goal scorer.
Only months later, I spent an afternoon at Morrison’s home. He was like the others, with many good thoughts of the team.
“That was our best team in Pictou. Every one of them, they were all good fellows. They were great fellows off the ice, too. We all got along good together and that gave us a feeling we could win that year. That final series with Lunenburg was the highlight of my senior career.”
Positive words like that could have come from any of the players. To a man, they agreed it was their greatest hockey experience.
I guess, even though I was just 14 that year, there are many good reasons why I’ve never forgotten those fine Maripacs.
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