Jaycees hockey team was a Cinderella story in the making

Jamie Mountain

They were a Cinderlla story in the making and made their dreams a reality.
Made up of a group of mostly “ragtag” boys, the 1953-54 Fort Frances Jaycees Juvenile hockey team became the champions of the Thunder Bay Amateur Hockey Association by defeating the Fort William East End Athletic Association, Kenora Broncos, and the local Greens team.
The squad then defeated the Winnipeg Monarchs in a pair of close games to become the champions of both northwestern Ontario and Manitoba.
Managed by Gord McTaggart and coached by Bill Lloyd, the rest of the squad was comprised of Julian Brunetta, Gary McFayden, Fred Beck, Jerald Shperuk, Bill Abbott, Art Rousseau, Don McMillan, Tony Munch, Joe Armbruster, Ron Silver, Bob Peters, Dick Gustafson, Ross Pearson, Gerald Melnychuk, Ron King, and Don Zeleny.
The Jaycees will be one of two teams inducted as part of this year’s Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame class, joining the 1996 Police Curling squad.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s great,” Brunetta–who was the Jaycees’ captain–said of the honour of being inducted into this year’s class.
“Everyone on the team that I’ve talked to are all very surprised and sort of can’t believe it.”
The Jaycees’ impressive run in 1953-54 culminated with them defeating the Monarchs by scores of 3-1 and 3-2 to claim the total-points series by a 6-3 margin and become Manitoba champs.
The squad, wearing the sweaters of the fallen Canadians, added their eighth and ninth consecutive playoff victories to finish with an unblemished spring record–also closing the door on the Fort Frances hockey season.
The Jaycees got the first two goals of both of their games against the Monarchs and never looked back. The Monarchs tried to throw their weight around but found their hosts knew how to take care of themselves, also.
Beck was the only two-goal scorer for the Jaycees in the series.
“I think it was a team that beat out Thunder Bay and the Winnipeg team, we were a group of kids that had played together for about three or four years and, yeah, we just played well together,” Brunetta recalled of his Jaycees team.
“Ours was sort of a ragtag team because there was another team in that same league that . . . like the guys that had played together for two years and the whole team moved up into the next bracket.
“And then there was us who hadn’t ever played together and it was just sort of whatever was leftover,” he noted.
“The players on our team weren’t chosen by the better team, okay? So we were just a ragtag bunch and we had a very good coach in Bill Lloyd, who was quite a hockey player in his time in Fort Frances.
“He just taught us the simple strategies of the game and it was like keep it simple and play a defensive style,” Brunetta continued.
Brunetta said they bought into that simple style of play and that’s what led the Jaycees to success during their championship run.
“We were able to be this Cinderella team that was coming up and then we went on to take on Thunder Bay and take on Winnipeg,” he noted.
“So we were just a good group that played well together. We were eager to learn and we were quite coachable, so it made it easier for the coaches and it gave us a good background of defensive play.”
Seven members from that Jaycees team went on to continue their hockey careers playing for various college teams in the United States, including Brunetta, who was one of four Fort Frances natives who were part of the 1958-59 University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey team that captured the NCAA crown and was inducted into UND’s Hall of Fame in 2002.
Looking ahead to this Saturday’s Fort Frances Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which will take place at La Place Rendez-Vous, Brunetta noted that he was looking forward to catching up with some of his former teammates and reminiscing.
“I think there’s about 10 guys from the team that are still around and that’s about what’s signed up [to attend] now,” he revealed.
“Just getting together with some of these guys we haven’t seen for, well, 70 years.”