BOB’S BLOG: Allan Cup has a century of great hockey memories
Hockey fans looking forward to an alternative to the Stanley Cup playoffs – one with significant Canadian content – should check out the upcoming Allan Cup tournament, the Canadian Senior Men’s Hockey Championship for amateur players. It is coming up in Dundas from April 14-19.
I attended the last time the Cup was hosted by the Dundas Real McCoys. That was in 2003 when Manitoba’s Ile de Chenes North Stars defeated Alberta’s Stony Plain Eagles in double overtime.
Nineteen teams from across the country have been playing through this long winter to qualify. Six remain and will be playing off in the west Hamilton suburb that is the self-proclaimed Cactus Capital of Canada.
The Allan Cup is more than a century old. When professionals came into hockey in eastern Canada early last century, amateur players were pretty much without a championship. Then in 1908 Sir H. Montagu Allan, banker, ship owner and avid sportsman, stepped up to fill the void, donating a cup to be presented to the amateur champions of Canada.
The first winner in 1909 was the Ottawa Cliffsides. Except for 1945, the Allan Cup has been awarded every year since. It has been won by teams representing every province and one territory (Yukon.) That makes it a true national event. I’ll make that case notwithstanding seven championships taken by American teams.
Back in Dundas in 2003, I enjoyed the relatively nonstop action of the game and the high level of competition. For my reasonably priced ticket ($8, as I recall) I was able to take a seat in the second row right behind the benches. From that kind of vantage point, it is hard to argue that live hockey is not the best game around. And it is good hockey – the Dundas Real McCoys this year have four former NHLers on their roster.
I’ll confess I’m not a big hockey fan but I’m always interested in tradition. And this tournament has a rich history and lots of great stories.
Here are some of my favourites.
The Toronto Dentals won in 1917. At least five of the players on this squad made it to the NHL. Future NHLers included the goalie, Charles “Doc” Stewart, and North Bay-born defenseman Stanley Brown. Rod Smylie retired from pro hockey to become a Doctor. Stewart and Brown went on to careers in dentistry – certainly a good fit with hockey.
Until 1963, the Allan Cup winner represented Canada at the world championships. Trail Smoke Eaters won in ’38. John McReedy, one of their players, was part of the team’s senior victory that year and nex season was off to Kirkland Lake to help the Blue Devils win the Allan Cup of 1940. Remarkably, McReedy was part of the Maple Leaf Stanley Cup victories in 1942 and 45. McReedy’s incredible record of being part of champion teams had begun as a high scoring forward with the 1937 Memorial Cup-winning Winnipeg Monarchs. The Monarchs captured the country’s junior championship that year by beating the Cooper Cliff Redmen.
Steve Saprunoff was the Trail Smoke Eater mascot and stick boy during the 1930s. He headed overseas in the Air Force early in World War II. Saprunoff was wearing a Smoke Eater jersey under his flight jacket when shot down over Berlin. While confined to a POW camp a guard recognized that jersey. The guard, a hockey fan, gave Saprunoff special preferential treatment until VE Day when Steve was liberated. On May 8, 1945, he was still wearing the sweater.
The Belleville McFarlands won the ‘58 Allan Cup. They were named for their owner, H.J. McFarland, a wealthy industrialist and big hockey fan and long-serving mayor of nearby Picton.
Apparently, the McFarlands played a physical style that drew plenty of complaints from Europeans. But, in the world championship held in Czechoslovakia, they prevailed over the Soviets. That made them the last Allan Cup Champs to win the world championship. It was a huge moment in Belleville history. See this clip.
The McFarlands, however, weren’t the last amateur Canadian team to win the worlds. That would be those Smoke Eaters again. The Smokies did not win the Allan Cup in 1961. That honour went to the Chatham Maroons and their superb Trail-born goalie Cesare Maniago. The Maroons couldn’t afford to get to the worlds so Trail replaced them. It would be another 33 years until Canada again won a world championship – this time with a team of professionals.
There are many other great Allan Cup stories. You can find more HERE. FYI readers will have their own favourites too – we would love to hear them, make a comment below.
Bob Wood is a housing and poverty advocate and former two-term Burlington City Councillor who has built a bed-and-breakfast with his wife on Lake Erie.