That championship feeling will be back in Glacier Gardens arena on Nov. 30 when the Laver’s Flyers reunite to celebrate a hockey milestone.
It will be the 40th anniversary of the year the team won the 1973 B.C. juvenile championship – believed to be the first provincial minor hockey title claimed by a Comox Valley team.
The reunion will be held the same weekend as the annual Walk of Achievement festivities, and that is not a coincidence. John Carswell, a member of the 1970-73 Flyers, says it was Walk of Achievement organizers who provided the impetus for the reunion.
The highlight of the reunion will be the unveiling of a plaque in the Glacier Gardens lobby at 2 p.m. on the Saturday. “We encourage anybody who had anything to do with the team at all to come and join us. That would be awesome,” Carswell said. The unveiling will be followed by a social, with details TBA.
Carswell said all but two players (Ted Cronmiller who is in Mexico and Mike Hawkins who the reunion committee has been unable to contact) have said they will attend, and the hope is coach Jack Kroeplin (who is battling cancer) will be able to come out from Ottawa.
“We’ve invited players from the two previous year’s teams who were part of our three straight Island championships,” said Carswell. Also part of the fun will be the Flyerettes, the team’s cheerleading squad which in the B.C. championship season included Jackie Kroeplin, Marcy Petersen, Eleanor Clark, Marj Burt, Lydia Nelson, Sue Dewar and Sylvia Potts.
Carswell, now retired from teaching at G.P. Vanier Secondary School, has great memories of the Flyers. He says Glacier Gardens was “the action spot” of the day.
“People were literally hanging off the rafters. Every game we played for three years was sold out. The support we had was incredible.”
An estimated 1,000 fans watched the Flyers defeat the Trail Smoke Eaters to win the Monarch Life Assurance Trophy in March of 1973.
“We played in a really tough league even though there was only four teams (Comox, Port Alberni, Powell River and Nanaimo),” said Carswell, noting future NHLers such as Danny Lucas, Gary Lupul, Al Hill and Rick Lapointe are all North Vancouver Island Juvenile League alumni.
“We were a small, really fast, skilled team. We weren’t big and goonie even though we played in an arena that favoured that kind of hockey. When we played Powell River it was a battle every time.”
Indeed, Powell River almost prevented the Flyers from going to the B.C. final. “They had us on the ropes. We somehow tied the score late in the game. There ended up being a big brawl and we took a bunch of penalties, and actually Marty Petersen and I each scored a short-handed goal for us to beat them 8-6,” Carswell recalled.
“Then we played New Westminster. They were supposed to be this juggernaut. They were big and strong but we basically never let them have the puck.”
The Smoke Eaters then came to Comox for the best-of-three provincial championship. “The goalie (Reg Martin) was the son of Seth Martin (who helped Trail win the 1961 World Ice Hockey Championship as the last amateur team from Canada to do so), and we thought, ‘Oh my goodness,'” Carswell said.
Game one went Friday, March 23. “They went up 2-0 at the end of the first period. We were all sitting in the room and it was dead quiet. Nobody said anything. We were just waiting for Jack and (assistant coach) Gerry Murrary to come in and give us … because we were horrible,” Carswell said.
“And he didn’t come in. He just let us sit in there. A few of the older guys had words, and we went out and beat them 8-2. The next night we beat them 7-1 to win the title.”
Carswell said most of the players moved away after winning the B.C. crown, although Don Grant, Jim Slater, Brent Aitken, Steve James and Petersen along with himself still live in the Comox Valley while Paul Enquist, Sheldon Nelson and Frank Mottl live in Campbell River.
Carswell notes most of the players are now in their late 50s, with a few in their early 60s. “We talked about renting ice, but Slater pointed out they probably don’t have enough ambulances in the Valley to rescue us all,” Carswell laughed.
ICE CHIPS The Flyers’ championship banner hangs in the Comox Valley Sports Centre Arena #1 … Laver’s department store stood where the Zocalo Cafe is now located … Carswell said actress Kim Cattrall was a one-time Flyerette … he added Enquist was probably the team’s best player: “He went the farthest. I think he led the WHL in scoring when he played for Patty Ginnell’s Victoria Cougars.” …