Hockey alumni reunite

Lucas Punkari

It’s not often that six members of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame are under one roof, but that was the case during a get-together here on Friday afternoon.
In an event that was hosted by 2012 Hall of Fame inductee Bill Selman at his cabin on Rainy Lake, a who’s who of local hockey alumni were on hand, including fellow Hall of Fame members Alex Kurceba, Gord Calder, Bill Peters, Art Berglund, and Keith “Huffer” Christiansen.
“When I was inducted last year, a lot of these people were kind enough to attend the ceremony in Thunder Bay,” Selman said.
“When I found out that Art was going to be in town, especially since he doesn’t get back here that often, I felt it would be a good chance for all of us, along with our friends and family, to get together and celebrate.
“It was especially great to see Gord and Alex here as well, as they and the rest of the Fort Frances Canadians were the inspiration for us young kids here when it came to hockey,” he added.
For Calder and Kurceba, a lot of the day was spent telling old stories about their careers in hockey, along with passing around old newspaper clippings and memorabilia from the 1952 Allan Cup winning side for others to look at.
“It was quite an honour to be a part of that team,” Calder recalled.
“I was a rink rat there for eight years before I finally had a chance to practice with the older guys, and it was quite a thrill to actually play with them,” he added.
Another memorable experience that Kurceba recalled came in January of 1958, when he coached a Canadians squad that took on a U.S. National team that came up to Fort Frances.
“Cal Marvin from Warroad coached that team, and we were able to sneak by them by a score of 5-4,” Kurceba recalled.
“The memories are not vivid, but I have a picture of myself where I am talking with Cal either before or after the game, as he was the manager of the new U.S. National team, which was something that he was always for.
“Now that team is a big thing, and I’m not sure how much recognition he gets for that, but Cal’s heart and soul was in hockey and he was a great person.
“Those are some of the important things that you can look back on in your lifetime as a real plus, as far I am concerned,” he said.
Those who were influenced by the Allan Cup side would later go on to successful careers of their own, such as Berglund, who was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2008 and still works with USA Hockey as a international department consultant.
“I remember being 12 years old and watching them win the Allan Cup here in Fort Frances after they lost the year before to Owen Sound, and they influenced me to forge forward with my own goals in life and in hockey,” he said.
“They made you proud to be from Fort Frances, as these were young men who worked, lived, and played in the community.
“It wasn’t a bunch of guys that you didn’t know where they were from, this was a team from Fort Frances and that is something that we have been proud of for so many years,” Berglund added.
That influence from the Canadians team was also felt in the coaching and playing ranks, as Christiansen started at Minnesota-Duluth before winning a silver medal at the 1972 Olympics for the United States, while Peters earned 744 career wins behind the bench at North Dakota and Bemidji State during his 36 seasons as a college hockey head coach.
“It was just delightful to see everyone here again, and it was also good to hear all of those great stories,” Peters said.
“Even though you have heard them all in the past, it’s great to hear them for the second, third, or hundredth time,” he smiled.
“It’s been nice to see everybody, especially the older guys who are still very sharp,” Christiansen added.
“I guess I’m probably one of the younger guys here at 68 years old, especially when you are talking with the old Canadians like Alex Kurceba,” he joked.
“But this was a great idea by Bill Selman to have everybody out here, as it’s been a great day,” he stressed.