Junior Hockey Commentary: Local vs Non-Local Players

Junior hockey commentary: Should there be controversy about the use of non-local hockey players? This article was written in 1998 in response to a letter to the editor in the Owen Sound Sun Times claiming that the fans should support teams that use only local players rather than a team like the Platers (now known as the Attack) who use not only non-local players, but international players.


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The Great Lakes Raconteur

Recently there has been much said and written about the plight of junior hockey in this community. Some of it has been positive, but some has been rather vitriolic and unfortunately, negative. One of the central items of the debate is that the current junior teams are by and large made up of players who are not local boys. Why this is now so important I am not sure!  Because a quick scan of Owen Sound hockey rosters reveals that teams from this city have almost always had a large contingent of players who were born somewhere other than Grey and Bruce Counties!

In the late 1880s when hockey was just in its infancy in Owen Sound Melba Croft writes in her book Fourth Entrance to Huronia, “that a player was hired from outside the town”. Down through the decades players whose birthplace was not Owen Sound played instrumental roles in leading local teams to victory.

In 1924 the Owen Sound Greys won this city’s first national junior hockey title. The goaltender for that team, Hedley Smith, was born in Toronto. The leading scorer on that same team, Ralph “Cooney” Weiland, hailed from the Seaforth area. The Greys’ captain, “Dutch” Cain, was from Newmarket.

When the Greys repeated as national champions in 1927 Smith was the back-up goalie to Benny Grant, a local boy. But perhaps the driving force behind the Greys was yet another “foreigner,” Father Jack Spratt, who coached the team. The leading scorer on that Greys team was John Markle who was born in Thessalon.

In 1941 the Owen Sound Wreckers Senior “B” team went to the OHA finals before losing. One of the key players on that team was Orillia’s Bernard “Bun” White. He went on to a Hall of Fame lacrosse career in this city and also played for the Allan Cup champion, Owen Sound Mercurys. 

Another important member of the 1941 Wreckers was Freddy Smith who arrived here just before the 1938-39 season. He was a key member of Owen Sound Orphans when they won the OHA Intermediate “B” championship in 1942 and again in 1945 when they captured the Intermediate “A” title. He continued his career in this community playing for the Allan Cup champion Mercurys.

In the 1960s two young defensemen came to Owen Sound to play for the Greys. Jim Schoenfeld and Jack Lynch anchored two strong Junior “B” clubs and became fan favourites before moving on to careers in the NHL. In a recent interview, Lynch credited his time with the Greys as being instrumental in his development as a hockey player and an important factor in his being able to make it the NHL!

jack-lynchJack Lynch 1972-72 OPC Rookie Card
Jim Schoenfeld Rookie CardJim Schoenfeld 1972-73 OPC Rookie Card

In the 1950s the Owen Sound Mercurys dominated Senior hockey in Ontario. According to fans and players from that era the arena was packed with fans cheering for Winnipeg’s Bill Allum, Orangeville’s Doug Gillespie, Inglehart’s “Red” Leckie, Torontonian Tommy Burlington, and other imports such as Bill McComb and goaltender Bob Gilson along with the players who hailed from this area.

While the fans flocked to Mercurys’ games the junior Greys did not suffer. According former Greys captain and Owen Sound Hall of Famer Ray McCallum they played before large crowds every night despite the fact that the Mercurys were such a dominant hockey team.

If Owen Sound hockey teams had ignored out of town players, hockey in this community would have suffered.  After all we would have missed seeing all of the talented players listed here and the many more that I have not mentioned. But perhaps the greatest shame of all would have been that as a youngster I, and many more from this community would have missed watching perhaps the greatest Canadian player of his era never to play in the National Hockey League, Tommy Burlington!

For 110 years Owen Sound has been a hotbed of hockey. We have many local players such as Harry Lumley and "Butch" Keeling who have gone on to prominence in the NHL and we have many adopted “sons” who have helped to promote this community by way of their successes both on and off the ice. In the years to come we may see the day that current Plater, and Detroit Red Wing draft pick, Colin Beardsmore lines up with former Plater Kirk Maltby with the Wings and perhaps they will be facing a team whose goalie is a former Plater and a local boy, Curtis Sanford.       

On that occasion many in this community and surrounding area will proudly proclaim all three as native sons. But how many will be able to lay claim to have seen them play for the Platers!!

A version of this story first appeared in my Sports History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times. For more information about Owen Sound's hockey history, check out my latest hockey book, Journey Through Owen Sound's Hockey History.

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About Owen Sound Hockey History

The 1920s Owen Sound Hockey Stars made there mark in amateur ranks and then many of them went on to careers in the NHL and other professional hockey leagues.

The 1927 Owen Sound Greys with a priest serving as coach named Jack Spratt and not one experienced defenseman were an unlikely Canadian National Hockey Championship team.

Benny Grant: Memorial Cup Champ grew up in Owen Sound and enjoyed a hockey career, which included a surprising turn of events that led to a stint in the NHL.

"Buck" Jones, like most Canadian boys, dreamed of playing in the NHL. Little did he realize that one day he would wear the sweater of an NHL club and would be the idol of youngsters like himself!

The Chin Brothers dominated in their hockey league which drew attention from the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Ralph "Cooney" Weiland skated from a Memorial Cup championship in Owen Sound, to a Stanley Cup in Boston to fame as a U.S. college hockey coach.

The Crescent Club has a long history of sponsoring sports teams and leagues in Owen Sound providing consistent management and financial assistance to athletics.

"Cyclone" Taylor was hockey's first superstar. Born in Tara Ontario, he was involved in a controversy in Ottawa which still has not been resolved.

Doug Brindley: From Maple Draft Choice to a role in Slap Shot: a Memorial Cup champ; coached by Don Cherry; and he played in the WHA; what more could a Walkerton Ontario native ask for in a hockey career?

The Durham Yellowjackets hockey team was a force to be reckoned with in Ontario Intermediate hockey in the 1930s.

Goalie "Red" Henry: An All-Star Netminder: Another great Owen Sound goalie who played for the love of the game.

"Hap" Day was a Hall of Fame hockey player, coach and general manager as well as a life-long Toronto Maple Leaf.

Norm Locking Chicago Black Hawks & Former Owen Sound Grey was known for his hard and deadly shot in Al Capone's Chicago.

Harry Lumley spent his Hall of Fame hockey career tending the nets for four NHL clubs and he spent one period of a hockey game goaltending for a fifth NHL team.

Henry Kelso: Owen Sound Sports Legend not only contributed to the sporting life of his students, he also had a significant influence on the rest of their lives.

Junior Hockey Commentary: Should there be controversy about the use of non-local hockey players? This article was written in 1998 in response to a letter to the editor in the Owen Sound Sun Times.

Meaford Knights Hockey: The 1953-54 Championship Knights' line-up had of several pairs of brothers. Many felt that the brothers made a winning difference.

Newspaper Sports: Owen Sound Hockey History was detailed in the pages of the Owen Sound Sun Times in detail in the days before the radio and television eras.

Owen Sound Hockey's early history some references suggest started in the 1880s. However there are records of organized hockey teams beginning in the early 1900s.

Owen Sound was a Hockey Hotbed in 1950-51: Their fans were hockey crazy during this OHA Senior A Championship season as their star-studded team marched to an Allan Cup victory.

The 1959-60 Owen Sound Greys: A Tough Act to Follow: Tragedy struck this hockey team of young men, yet they persevered.

The 1960s Owen Sound Greys Stars who went on to NHL action including Brian Perry, Doug Brindley, Jim Schoenfeld, and Jack Lynch brought Owen Sound a reputation as a hockey hotbed!

Owen Sound Attack: The arrival of this new OHL team is the latest chapter in the Owen Sound region's rich hockey history.

Owen Sound Goalies: Why does Owen Sound produce so many fine goaltenders? There must be something in the water! 

Some Great Owen Sound Greys. The history of this hockey team is a story of players who were not only local boys, but came from many locations to hone their skills.

Owen Sound Hockey Heritage stretches from rural farmhouses on Saturday night to backyard rinks to cheering for local hockey successes and hockey heroes.

Owen Sound Junior Hockey History began almost one hundred and twenty years ago and is rich with championship teams, great players, and dedicated fans. 

Owen Sound's New Arena in 1938 opened a new era in Grey and Bruce counties with the first artificial ice making machine in western Ontario north of Kitchener.

Owen Sound Platers: Ray McKelvie the quiet and knowledgeable leader behind the success of the 1999 hockey team.

Pat McReavy enjoyed a long hockey career which brought him three championships, the Stanley Cup, the Allan Cup and a World Hockey Title.

Paul MacDermid, born in Chesley Ontario, through hard work and determination enjoyed a 12 year NHL career, before keeping junior hockey alive in Owen Sound by working with a group citizens to purchase the Attack OHL franchise.

"Red" Armstrong, a fiery spirited hockey player, known more for his fierce checking than his scoring prowess surprised even himself on his first NHL shift.

Red Leckie was more than a good hockey player. He played for the team, not for himself. Outside hockey, he responded when he saw a need in his community.

Southampton hockey history in the early years featured a distinct line of defense in the local arena, and stories of interesting "road" trips.

Tommy Burlington: the Greatest North American Never to Play in the NHL captured scoring titles in every league that he played, bringing comparisons to NHL greats.

Owen Sound Hockey History is rich with stories of championship teams, star hockey players, and community support.

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