It’s Hockey Night in Sackville — Part Two: The Early Years 1948–1975

Over the years, Allison Gardens fulfilled an important role as a multi-purpose facility. While recognizing that it cannot be complete; here are a few examples of non-hockey events. There were appearances by groups as diverse as the Harlem Globe Trotters and Don Messers Islanders. The encounter between the Globe Trotters and the Mount Allison varsity basketball team is still remembered by local fans. The latter were coached by Lloyd Bud White; while the unenviable task of referee fell to Dr. Bill Crawford, later to be President of Mt. A.

Roller skating was a popular summer pastime for many years. Not so well known is that during the 1970s, Allison Gardens hosted an indoor lacrosse league. The rink was also home to important activities such as speed and figure skating. Then there were trade shows, along with wrestling, boxing and tug of war matches.

Some distinctive features of the last three mentioned sports were, according to one informant, in evidence when the Maritime Conference of the United Church used the rink for group discussions. Other important events, anticipated annually, were the Universitys Winter Carnival Icerama and the Firemens Carnival

All these activities and more were important in the life of the community. But it was the hundreds of hockey games that will be remembered for generations to come. The full saga of this sport at Allison Gardens covering a span of 53 years cannot be easily summarized. Instead, a review of a few vintage years will be used to illustrate Sackvilles hockey heritage. Because of space limitations, less attention is paid to the more recent events of the 1990s. Information collected for these years has been filed away for a future Flashback.

During the autumn of 1947 it became clear that the new rink would not be ready for the next hockey season. At this stage, the main section of the roof was still open to the sky. As a stop-gap measure, a temporary open air college rink was created. An unusually cold winter meant that public skating and special events such as the local schools ice sports day were possible.

Several open air hockey games were played during 194748. A photograph of one inter-collegiate game (Mt.A. against UNB) was taken by Louise MacKinnon. Played in the afternoon, and with a light snow falling, the figure of President Ross Flemington can be detected among the spectators.

From the 1948–49 hockey season onward, the advantage of the new artifical ice rink became obvious. First evidence was provided by the Sackville Legion Junior team which reached the provincial finals. In their championship encounter they were pitted against the renowned Saint John Maroons. Sackville won the first game at Allison Gardens 5–2.

On Mar. 4, 1949 Saint John overcame the deficit in a home game by an 8–3 margin; thereby capturing the New Brunswick title on total goals. No less than 453 Sackville fans travelled to Saint John by special excursion train to witness this game. Billed as the largest exodus in the history of the town, it confirmed the extent of local support for hockey. Several of the 48–49 Legion Junior players were to dominate later Sackville teams.

1952-3 was a stellar hockey season for both Mount Allison Mounties and the Sackville Eagles. Records reveal that Mount Allisons previous NB-PEI inter-collegiate hockey title was earned in 1938. After eliminating UNB and St. Thomas (then in Chatham) the Mounties went on to defeat St. Dunstans (now part of UPEI) and reclaim the championship. Scores in the two games against SDU were: 6–1 and 7–6.

With the NB-PEI crown in hand, Mt. A. then faced St. Francis Xavier (Nova Scotia champions) in the Maritime finals. The first game was played on Mar. 7, 1953 in Allison Gardens, with a 6-1 win for the home squad. The second contest, in Antigonish, was marred by an unfortunate accident. Part of the spectator stand in the St. F.X. rink collapsed, injuring several people.

Understandably, the game was called off by the referees. Later the MIAU ruled that there would be no Maritime intercollegiate hockey championship in 1953. Sports columnist Ken Bagnell selected the Mt. A. stars of the series ranging from the brilliant netminding of Don MacGowan to the team play of Bill Clarke, John Neilson, Dick Goad, Doug Johnson, Bud Robertson and Doug MacLeod.

Meanwhile, the Sackville Eagles were not idle. On Jan. 27, 1953 the Eagles squared off against the Mounties in an exhibition match. Excitment of local fans was at a fever pitch, since the last tangle between town and gown [in 1950], had ended in a bench clearing donnybrook. This time the Eagles emerged the winners by a 6–5 score, in a close, clean and fast game.

A month later, a memorable play off series saw the arch rivals Sackville Eagles and Memramcook Rovers meet. At stake was the Central Hockey League (CHL) championship won by Sackville. Not only was the brand of hockey exceptional; a record breaking Allison Gardens crowd of 1,726 fans jammed the rink for the first home game. The Eagles won 3–1 in double overtime. Total attendance for the entire series exceeded 6,000. Where did they put them all?

Winning the CHL crown was also noteworthy because of the achievement of an outstanding Eagles player, centre Billy Harris, a native of Dorchester. He was awarded the league scoring championship trophy. An exceptional all round athlete Harris was later to attain fame in baseball, as a player for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was inducted a member of the Sackville Sports Wall of Fame on May 27, 1989.

Another fascinating hockey story unfolded in 1959 when a provincial championship came to Sackville. To put the win in perspective, its necessary to go back to 1905 to find a previous provincial hockey title for a local team. On their way, the Sackville Combines had to eliminate, yet again, the Memramcook Rovers in the quarter finals.

Heres an account of the final game as written by sports columnist Wallie Sears, then at the beginning of his long career with this newspaper: Hard rock John MacKinnon showed the way scoring wise, with a three goal performance and was closely followed by Ken Marchant with a brace. Jim Gouchie, Frank Gouthreau, Muir MacKinnon and Larry Ward added singletons. The score was 9–3 for the Combines. Over a thousand fans almost raised the roof of Allison Gardens.

Next, the Combines had to face the Saint John Beavers. The concluding game of that series, was played in Allison Gardens, and lasted until well past midnight. It must rank among the most outstanding of all local hockey encounters. The cliff hanger conclusion was summarized by Sears as follows: Speed merchant Doug Polley, a bustling right winger, rammed home a goal after nine minutes and nine seconds of a second twenty minute, sudden death overtime period, breaking a 99 minute hockey marathon, to win the game 6-5 for the Combines. The triumph posted before 1,200 screaming fans, gave Sackville the best of three games and the right to tackle Campbellton Tigers for the provincial trophy.

In the next series, following a win by each team, the third and deciding contest was forfeited by Campbellton. Unfortunately, the Combines were later eliminated by the Summerside Aces in their quest for the Maritime championship. However, after such a long drought, a provincial title was still a well deserved provincial title.

Better luck was in store for Sackville in winning a Maritime Intermediate C Championship in 1971. Allison Gardens was the place to be on the night of Apr. 18, and again the following afternoon, to witness a two game total goal series between the Combines and their Nova Scotia rivals, the Dartmouth Olands. The underdog Sackville team, coached by Ed Reiger with Don MacIntyre as captain, had already taken the New Brunswick crown and were ready to do battle.

The first game, won by the Combines 10–3, was described as a romp for the winners. Once more, Wallie Sears caught the drama of the game: … leading the way was Davis Richardson who snapped home four goals and two assists. Brothers Rod and Ralph Smith each chipped in a pair; while Pete Pineau and Alan Phinney added singles. Bliss Richard was outstanding in goal.

The next encounter was a different story, as the Combines lost the battle 7–6; but won the war, on total points 16-9. Mike Hicks scored twice for the Combines; with Gerry Bartlett, Pete Pineau, Alan Phinney and Rod Smith potting singles.

For years afterward the question debated by fans and players alike was: How good were the 71 Combines? From the vantage point of time, all that need be recalled is that the aptly named Combines, reached their objective. As Wallie Sears expressed it: David had overturned Goliath; the underdogs were winners of a Maritime title! Appropriately, twenty years later, on May 19, 1991 the 1971 Sackville Combines were inducted into the Sackville Sports Wall of Fame.

In 1973-4 the Sackville Legionnaires coached by Gerry Bartlett, breezed through a 4-0 tournament in Woodstock to earn the New Brunswick Bantam B title. The statistics tell the story; as their victory was very much a team effort. Leading the way in the series total goals and assists was Wade Ward with 12 points, followed closely by Colin Wheaton at 10; Greg Tweed 7; Les Brownell 6; while Doug Murray and Steve Bowes earned 5 points each. Goalie Ted Doncaster was his usual tower of strength in the nets.

Its important to note that this championship, was not a flash in the pan. In 1975 during the course of a single weekend, Mar. 28-29, three minor hockey titles came to Sackville. These were won in the Atom, Bantam and Midget Divisions; while the Pee Wees missed a title by one goal. The final column in this series, to be published Apr. 25 will feature hockey highlights from the late 1970s through to 1990.