I know people are excited about the Olympic hockey tournament ongoing in Vancouver, and rightfully so. The very best players in the world are there, representing their countries with pride.
Now, whether millionaire professionals should be in the same overall Olympic “competition” as bobsledders is a debate for another day but I can’t help but admit that, hockey-wise, in many ways I miss the “old days” of the Olympics. That is, the days when Canada sent real “amateurs” to compete in Europe at the Olympics.
For me, these memories go back to the 1960s, most notably 1964 and 1968. These were the days of Fr. David Bauer’s “national” team, comprised of non-professionals—true amateurs, if you will. They were mostly university players, actual student-athletes. That was Bauer’s vision and he was inspired to build a cross-country, truly national program with players who were dedicated to academics while playing hockey at a high level and still maintaining their amateur status.
This approach was a bit of a departure, if I’m not mistaken. Since “pros” weren’t eligible, Canada had traditionally sent club teams—usually the Senior A champs in Canada from the year before—over to the Olympics and the annual spring World Championships. I wrote recently about one-time Maple Leafs who represented Canada at the Olympics and also about 1964 Olympian Seth Martin and the Trail Smoke Eaters who won the ‘worlds’ in 1961. Many people fondly remember the 1958 World Champions from Whitby, Ontario- the Whitby Dunlops. Long-time Boston Bruin coach and executive Harry Sinden was a key part of that squad.
The names of the players from those teams remain entrenched in the memories of hockey fans from those golden days of international hockey.
Without looking at a 1964 or 1964 Canadian “team list”, off the top of my head certain names stand out. O’Malley would be one (Terry?). Gerry Pinder is another. Morris Mott is a name that also springs to mind. He seemed to be around forever, playing for the national team, and later played three years in the NHL with the California Seals. Ken Broderick was a goalie, though I couldn’t tell you without looking it up if he played for Canada in ’64 or ’68. I think goalie Wayne Stephenson, who later played well with the Philadelphia in the NHL, played at the Olympics in ’68, too.
But the name that stands out for some reason is that of Fran Huck.
Researching his early background (and seeing just now that he was 5 foot, 7—small, for sure), he was a western Canadian kid who played junior there, then moved into Fr. Bauer’s program. He only played about a hundred games in the NHL, though he had a nice career in the WHA afterwards, including a season playing alongside former Leaf captain Dave Keon in Minnesota.
When I was a young Canadian hockey fan, Huck and Mott just seemed to epitomize the Canadian Olympic hockey spirit. They didn’t win any gold medals, but they played their guts out against the best players (professionals, in many cases, though not technically paid) from other hockey-playing countries.
We’ll likely never go back to those days, but if the NHL Players Association and the NHL can’t get together on an agreement to play in the 2014 Olympics, maybe we’ll see a return to a different type of “national” team.
I may be the only one, but I would love to see it.