It’s Hockey Night In Sackville — Part Three: The Later Years 1975–1990

While Mount Allison varsity and various town teams were garnering headlines, it cannot be overlooked that minor hockey was thriving on the Tantramar. For a number of years, service clubs, local firms and community organizations sponsored teams. As time went on, a Minor Hockey Association was formed.

The program received a boost in the mid 1970s when an exchange was initiated between Clinton, Massachusetts and Sackville. By coincidence, Bill Estabrooks, a Sackville minor hockey supporter, had once lived in New England where one of his neighbours, Pat Latterio was a hockey coach. This contact led to parents and players from Clinton coming to Sackville for a weekend visit. Coaching and game clinics were held along with friendly hockey games. Because of superior skating skills and experience, the Sackville teams usually won; however, this was not the point of the exchange.

One Sackville player, Wade Wheaton, still retains vivid memories of his first trip to the USA in 1976, as part of a return visit by local teams. On the way, a severe snowstorm with almost white out conditions was encountered near Portland. This did not deter the hockey enthusiasts. They soon reached Clinton, and the much anticipated Massachussetts hospitality. Wade, now part of the Sackville minor hockey coaching staff, looks back on this trip as a highlight that Ill never forget.

1977 was also a vintage year for minor hockey; but for a different reason. In that year, the Sackville Minor Hockey Association (now Sackville Minor Hockey Club) adopted a formal constitution. The objectives they agreed upon bear repeating … To play fairly under all circumstances; to give opponents a chance and not to take advantage; to win modestly and receive defeat with a smile; to give credit to the team that wins and not to dispute referees decisions. While it would be naive to suggest that the code was always followed; the true ideal of sport was being instilled among hundreds of young people.

The importance of minor hockey became a recurring theme during the course of my interviews and conversations with former coaches, players and parents. When asked to name his most enduring memory of more than twenty years as a minor hockey coach, Ross Barclay did not hesitate.

For me, he responded, its the dozens of former minor hockey players who stayed with the game and who are todays coaches. One need only look to the 200001 season to realize that most of the present coaching staff followed the same path. David Wheaton, current President of the Sackville Minor Hockey Club, recalled that he began playing hockey on a Pee Wee team coached by Ross Barclay.

Significantly, Ross did not single out league championships as a first priority. However, it has to be recognized that such teams are important in any sport; for excellence knows no boundaries and must be maintained and encouraged

The Tantramar Regional High School Titans occupy an important niche in local hockey history; having won provincial championships in 1976-7, 1977-8, 1978-9, 1985-6, 1992-3 and 1996-7. Pressed to select one vintage year long time coach, Don MacIntyre hesitated, justifiably, since … they were all outstanding. However, upon reflection, he conceded that the first Titan team to bring a provincial hockey championship to TRHS in 1976–77 really stood out.

The final game of their first provincial win was played at Allison Gardens on Apr. 6, 1977. Some 1,300 fans were on hand to see the Titans trip Minto High by a score of 9–6 and claim the provincial trophy. Scoring were some well known minor hockey veterans: Les Brownell, Greg Tweed and Wade Ward accounted for two goals each; while Doug Murray, Colin Wheaton and Steve Bowes flipped singles. During this series, Ted Doncaster played his usual strong game in goal for the Titans.

1978-9 was another significant season for minor hockey. From Mar. 30 to Apr.1, 1979, Allison Gardens was the setting for the New Brunswick Pee Wee tournament. Ross Barclay and Willie Hicks coached the local team with George Archibald as manager. After first getting by Shediac; then eliminating Caraquet and Grand Falls, the Sackville team was pitted against St. Stephen. With a convincing4-2 win, the Pee Wee provincial trophy came to the Tantramar. On the Saturday evening of the same weekend in 1979, Allison Gardens saw the TRHS Titans clinch a third provincial AA title over their perpetual rivals, Minto High. Not a bad April Fools weekend for local players and fans.

The hockey seasons of 1980–81 and 1981–82 deserve recognition, both for the brand of varsity hockey played at Allison Gardens, and the capture by the Mounties of two Division titles. Again, during this period it was standing room only for home games at the Gardens. With records in games played, of 13–4 and 17–9, the Mounties, under coach Jack Drover, were in top form, in the then McAdam Division. The other divisional teams were: UPEI, UNB, St. Thomas and Memorial. Although Mt. A was eliminated both seasons in the AUAA play-offs, many local fans still recall these inter-collegiate games.

When asked to comment on the teams, Coach Drover reached into a filing cabinet and pulled out the stats for games played. Immediately, he began to reel off names: In 80–81,Ross Yates, Kevin Foran, Jamie Watling, Rob Daigle, Russ Bryden and goalie Bob Daley. In the following year, Kevin Foran, Rob Daigle, Malcolm Anthony, Steve George, Andy Nesbitt with Eric Setchell in goal. He concluded: With players like these, we were bound to do well! For certain, both teams occupy a place of honour among varsity hockey teams at Mount Allison.

Jack disclosed some further information concerning Foran and Yates. Foran, a left winger from Dalhousie NB, started his varsity career in 1978–79 by being named rookie of the year. Four years later in 1982–83, Kevin had accumulated 117 goals and 150 assists in league play, and was crowned the all time leading scorer in the CIAU. In 2001 Foran’s record still stands!

Ross Yates, from Beaconsfield Quebec, played centre, and along with Foran, was acclaimed an AUAA All Star. Following Yates career at Mt. A (with 75 league goals and 164 assists), he had a successful career in professional hockey; playing for the AHL Binghampton Whalers and the NHL Hartford Whalers. Later, Ross coached teams in Germany and Switzerland.

During this discussion, the coach remembered another Mountie hockey player, Dan Fergus, who established a record of a different kind. Heres how Jack told the story: On the Saturday morning of homecoming weekend in 1978, Dan Fergus, goalkeeper for the mens soccer team, led the Mounties in a 2–0 victory over UPEI. That afternoon, Dan replaced an injured Mountie football player and actually set a record with an 81 yard punt. Since there was an exhibition hockey game in the evening, Dan asked if he could be in the line up I reluctantly agreed, but told him not to expect too much ice time. As it turned out, he played close to 45 minutes and established a record that will probably never be broken participating in three CIAU sports in one day.

As time rolled on, it became more and more obvious that Allison Gardens was wearing out. Some major repairs and modifications were made over the years. As early as 1965 the first of several renovations took place when ridge ventilators were installed along with new roofing. Further changes in the building took place in 1971–72, along with the addition of automatic ice making equipment.

An examination of photos taken in the 1970s reveals that the famous graffiti began to appear on the roof of Allison Gardens around 1972. Despite several attempts to clean up the art work it always mysteriously reappeared. In 1979 a major change took place when all property, real and personal owned by Allison Gardens Limited was transferred to Mount Allison University.

Over the years, a number of individuals have toiled long hours to keep Allison Gardens in operation. This Flashback would not be complete without a tip of the hat to the staff who made certain that all was ready for Hockey Night In Sackville. Their efforts have been applauded by, among many others, David Wheaton, Sackville Minor Hockey Club President. In Davids words: Theyre the glue that has kept the rink in operation. Names such as: Roland Berry, Sid Brownell, Austin Ibbitson, Bev Sears, Bob Berry, Mark Adams and Peter Hastie are among those who have been mentioned in this context.

Another conclusion arises from over a half century of hockey history. It calls for a second tip of the hat to the hundreds of people who have given their time and talents to make minor hockey the success story it has been, and still is, today. Whether it meant serving on the executive or one of its several committees, acting as referees or coaches, sponsoring teams, fund raising, providing billets and meals for visiting teams or transporting players to and from games all was done in the true spirit of volunteerism.

To quote David Wheaton again: If it werent for the volunteers, minor hockey just wouldnt be happening. For this reason, a final tip of the hat must go to a worthy representative of these individuals, Jack Drover. Not only has Jack fulfilled many responsibilities within local hockey organizations; his contributions have been recognized beyond the Tantramar, through the award by the New Brunswick Amateur Hockey Association of the Charles Daigle plaque: in recognition of his commitment and contribution to minor hockey.

Where do we go from here? At the time of writing, the future of the proposed Tantramar Regional Civic Centre is uncertain. Heres part of a letter that accompanied a donation for the new complex. It is quoted wth the permission of the writers. Now living in Calgary, the couple grew up in Sackville. Not only do they retain fond memories of Allison Gardens; they recalled a specific event from far away 1950.

We both distinctly remember Barbara Ann Scott coming on the ice, skating on one foot and going completely around the arena everyone was amazed! We spent a good deal of our courting days, skating at the rink in winter and roller skating during the summer not forgetting the many memorable hockey games. The names behind this reminiscense will be recognized by many readers Gillian Jill Harris and Bill Godfrey Jr. As a further footnote, Bills father, Dr. William S. Godfrey (18901983) Mt. A 14, was years earlier, a star player on the Mount Allison varsity hockey team. In 1931 the same Dr. William S. Godfrey coached the Mt.A. team to a Maritime Inter-collegiate Hockey Championship.

Can the Tantramar region be visualized without a rink?… without hockey? Allison Gardens R.I.P.

Many hockey players, coaches, volunteers, sports writers and fans made important contributions to this series. Some loaned scrapbooks, programs and photographs. Although only a few are mentioned by name, my thanks goes out to each one. I am much indebted to Wallie Sears, who after more than four decades, may still be found on the sports pages of the Tribune Post. His induction to Sackvilles Sports Wall Of Fame in 1993, was a fitting tribute to many years as a sports builder. Further, Wallie Sears has the unique ability to catch a readers attention in the fewest possible words. His reports, spanning so many memorable Hockey Nights In Sackville, made my task much easier.