Pictou Advocate sports

When I was stickhandling through my files in preparation for last week’s column on the late Tic Williams, I was reminded over and over how much I enjoyed the final few seasons of the long-standing APC Senior Hockey League.

Then, the following Sunday morning, Rev. Dale Skinner, our minister at Woodlawn United Church in Dartmouth, was preaching on what was the church’s 137th anniversary. His subject: The Good Old Days.

Before he got through his opening remarks, my mind was flashing back to the first years of the 1950s. My teenage years. My “good old days.”

Of course Rev. Dale’s theme was based on narratives much earlier in history than mine.

When it came to the 1951-56 period (my junior and senior high school years), I was reminiscing about senior hockey in my native Pictou County. Nothing to do with Sunday morning worship.

So I’ll focus on the hockey.

I’ve forever recalled those dying years of the APC league as “the good old days” when I was beginning this long journey in the newspaper business.

Forgive me, Rev. Dale, but I did pay attention to your words from the pulpit.

As for senior hockey and the half-decade I experienced, the county teams in the APC loop were basically the New Glasgow Rangers, Pictou Maripacs and Stellarton Royals. All three, interestingly, took turns winning league championships.

The county teams got my support; at first, cheering from the stands; later, writing stories as my career began placing me in press boxes at New Glasgow Stadium, Stellarton Memorial Rink and Pictou Arena.

As my hockey interests grew in my youth, the APC league certainly wasn’t new. The old circuit—providing much excitement in its lifetime—had begun operations in the 1920s, a decade and a half before I was born.

My dad and an uncle began taking me to APC games at the old arena in downtown New Glasgow, later to the other rinks. When there were games, two men and a kid were frequent spectators.

My fondest memories of the APC’s “good old days” really started in 1951 with the opening of the stadium.

So let’s briefly look back at that five-season period.

In 1951-52, New Glasgow changed its name from Bombers to Rangers and won first place. They beat Pictou in the semi-finals that went the full seven games, then eliminated the Truro Bearcats in a league final that also went the distance. In provincial semi-finals, the APC champs bested the Windsor Maple Leafs before losing the Nova Scotia title to St. Francis Xavier X-Men.

Some key Rangers under coach Bobby Beaton were goalie Jackie Gibson, defencemen Tiger Mackie, Arnie Baudoux, Tommy Higgins and Dougie MacLeod, and forwards Leo Fahey, Nelson Wilson, Alex Robertson, Jim MacDonald, Kent Storey, Naish Batten, Al Legere, Stan MacDougall, Hymie Hunter and Bernie Peck.

The 1952-53 Maripacs were the best Pictou team I ever saw. Some of their veterans agreed with that assessment, despite Pictou being second behind Truro. The playoffs were a different story; the Maripacs beating the Antigonish Bulldogs in the semi-finals in four straight, then taking the APC crown in six games against Truro. To win Nova Scotia, they had to beat the powerful Lunenburg Falcons. The underdog Maripacs nonetheless went a full five games before bowing out.

Williams coached and played that season. He had Frankie Prozenor in goal, a defence featuring Syl Bernard, Tom Mahar and Sander MacDonald, and forwards Mark Babineau, Mel Gadd, Chickie Charlton, Joe Brown, Normie Walters and Laurie Burbidge.

In 1953-54, even tragedy—and a huge playoff brawl at Memorial Rink—failed to stop Stellarton’s gutsy season. At mid-term, goalie Gummie Gilfoy, driving from his Antigonish home to a game in Stellarton, was killed in a highway crash. With Greg Floyd as a replacement, the Royals posted an amazing 14-3 playoff run to win APC and provincial championships, spanking the Trenton Scotias, Truro, St. F.X. and Windsor.

Coach Leo Fahey was one of the stars on a roster that included Wilson, Geno Scattolon, Danny Dorrington, Bill Stewart, Jack MacKenzie, MacDonald, Baudoux, Ken McOnie, Bill Dixon and Porgy MacDougall.

In 1954-55, what I felt was the league’s best year in my lifetime, New Glasgow ran away with first place with a 30-9 record. They were coached by goalie Paul Leclerc, fresh from the professional Quebec league. In the playoffs, the Rangers edged X and whipped Pictou to take the title. They won the Maritime semi-final against the Kentville Wildcats before losing the final to a powerful Moncton Hawks club.

Besides Leclerc in nets, the Rangers defence was directed by Baudoux, Jack MacLeod and Bernie Lamonde. A “kid line” was comprised of Bert Dalling, Ducky MacLean and Ralph Cameron, while other forwards included Fahey, Wilson, MacDonald, Storey, Doug MacLeod, Stu McClure and Gilles Matteau.

Then, in 1955-56, came the most unusual season of all. Pictou County began without a team, then wound up with two. The Bearcats couldn’t survive mid-season problems and moved to New Glasgow to be the Rangers. Another group of players formed an independent franchise called the Pictou County Pontiacs, playing out of Stellarton.

As fate would have it, the Rangers and Pontiacs both qualified for the Nova Scotia championship. New Glasgow had such personnel as Prozenor, Mackie, Jimmy MacNeil, Baudoux, Wilson, Billy Billick, Cameron, Gadd and Kenny Flynn. The Pontiacs included Jack (Satan) Ryan, Lugs Rae, Shorty Aikens, Ron Cheek, MacLean, Al Legere, Babineau, Storey and Dorrington.

All hell broke loose away from the ice. The Nova Scotia Hockey Association ruled the series would begin in Stellarton. The Rangers, because they won a league, demanded the opening game. I remember being among 3,000 people jammed into Memorial Rink. Not everyone showed up. The Rangers, as they threatened, weren’t there. The all-county series, with so many reasons to be a huge showdown, was never played. Not a single game.

And just like that, the APC league’s good old days were over.

Columnist

His newspaper career started in Pictou County in his high school days and his first story was published in 1954. He has been writing for more than six decades; two books and 10,000 newspaper columns since 1972, he hasn't stopped writing yet!