The evening was one for plenty of smiles, a few misty eyes, and a stockpile of some of the greatest athletes to ever call Fort Frances home.
About 200 people packed the upstairs ballroom at La Place Rendez-Vous on Saturday night to witness the first-annual induction ceremony for the newly-created Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame.
The first group added to the local Hall were those with Fort Frances backgrounds who already are members of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in Thunder Bay.
Those included the 1952 Fort Frances Canadians, as well as individual hockey achievers in Johnny Coward, Ed Kryzanowski, R.H. “Bob” Peters, Mike Allison, Art Berglund, Keith “Huffer” Christiansen, Dave Allison, Bill Selman, and John “Gino” Gasparini.
Peters, who had a phenomenal 35-year career as head coach of the Bemidji State Beavers university men’s hockey team from 1966-2001, spoke on behalf of those from the above group able to attend Saturday’s event.
He recited a list of impressive statistics regarding those who emerged from Fort Frances to make a significant impact on the sports world.
“There’s no place anywhere that can match Fort Frances for its size and the success it has had,” Peters lauded.
“In Texas, they have a saying . . . ‘He’s got a big hat but no cattle,’” he noted.
“Well, in Fort Frances, we’ve got a big hat and a lot of cattle.
“Every one of these people is proud to say they are from Fort Frances,” Peters added.
Jon Gustafson, who starred as the Muskies’ starting goalie on their first OFSAA championship team in 1986, went in as a builder due to his work with the San Jose Sharks as vice-president of Sharks Sports and Entertainment.
The former netminder took a good-natured poke at his former head coach, Terry Ogden, who sat on the organizing committee for this year’s inaugural induction dinner along with Dave Egan and Larry Patrick.
“When you’re a really good goalie, you can make an average coach look pretty good,” Gustafson joked to roars of laughter from the audience and a mile-wide grin from Ogden, whom Gustafson later referred to as “one of the greatest coaches I’ve had.”
Gustafson also tipped his hat to former Memorial Arena manager “Svet” Wowchuk for all his hard work over a 35-year period of caring for the facility.
“Never has a civic building been cleaner and it was always on time,” lauded the Sharks’ executive, who also sits on the Board of Governors for the AHL and the Board of Directors for USA Hockey.
“Nobody ever, ever messed with the rink.”
There was no containing his emotions when Gustafson paid tribute to former teammates with either the Muskies or in minor hockey who since have passed away.
“Larry Fowler, Brad Johnstone, Bobby Mainville, and Scott Clendenning . . . they all died too early but they were great, great people,” Gustafson stressed while choking back tears.
Brock Madill, who became a Canadian and world champion in bodybuilding in the early 2000s, was inducted in the athletes category.
Madill thanked his older brother, Greg, whose own muscle-adding achievements inspired his younger sibling to take up the sport.
“I remember when he was finished his workout, he would come into the house, rip off his shirt, and do the Hulk [Hogan] pose,” recounted Madill, who then struck the famous professional wrestler’s trademark upper-body flex while his brother enjoyed the chuckle-inducing demonstration.
Clendenning then received his second nod of the evening—this time from Madill.
“Scott’s favourite saying is there’s no ‘I’ in team,” noted Madill. “I think that applies to everyone in our lives.”
Joining Madill in the athletes induction group was Frank “Ike” Eisenzoph, a member of the 1952 Allan Cup-winning Fort Frances Canadians and the 1960 Canadians’ squad that won the Western Canadian Intermediate Championship.
His widow, Jean, and brother-in-law, Jack Langtry, accepted the award on behalf of Eisenzoph, who passed away in 2000.
Those 1960 Canadians also were one of two teams inducted into the local Hall.
Former player Bill Borlase closed the night by delivering an acceptance speech on behalf of his assembled teammates—13 of whom are still alive and 12 who were in attendance.
“Andy Warhol once said everyone will be famous for 15 minutes—so, guys, enjoy it,” laughed Borlase, who then made no bones about how important the 1952 Canadians were to him and his friends growing up.
“Our heroes were the Canadians,” he stressed. “We modelled ourselves after those guys.”
Earlier, the 1989 Muskie football team received its Hall accolades for capturing Fort High’s only NWOSSAA title in that sport.
Head coach Dave Montgomery remembered how a
wake-up call from the Kenora Broncos midway through the season proved to be the turning point for his squad.
“In 1989, the guys took winning for granted and Kenora beat us,” Montgomery recalled as some of his former players sat behind him on the stage.
“Kenora believed they were champions by divine right; that losing to us in ’88 was a fluke,” he added.
“But on Nov. 2, in the divisional playoff, I saw the look in our guys’ eyes,” Montgomery noted.
“We went and beat them 61-20 [still a record for most points scored by a Muskie team].
“No high school football team here has ever manhandled a Kenora team like that or since,” he said.
Ogden, meanwhile, said the committee was “overwhelmed” with how well the evening was supported.
“From the crowd joining in on ‘O Canada’ at the start right through the very end, it was great,” he enthused.
“Now we’ve got an awareness in the community about the event,” Ogden added.
“Hopefully, we can build on it and keep moving forward.”
Ogden said nomination forms for next year’s induction class will be available at still-to-be determined locations (and likely online, as well) starting in late October.
Nominations will be accepted from Nov. 1-Dec. 31, with the announcement of inductees expected early in the new year.
Ogden also hoped to at least double the number of committee members to six to help share the load of organizing the Hall of Fame dinner.
Anyone interested in joining the committee can call Ogden (274-5195) or Egan (274-6321).