In the late 1950s and early '60s where I was raised, in Essex County in southwestern Ontario, just across from the city of Detroit in the United States, NHL hockey loyalties were generally divided 3 ways: you were either a Montreal fan, a Detroit fan or a Leaf fan.
Oh, the occasional kid at school cheered for the Bruins, but that was very rare. (And that was well before Bobby Orr, so maybe they just loved an underdog…)
Personally, as a young Leaf fan, I never had such a thing as a “second favorite” NHL team. There were only six teams to begin with and besides, I loved the Leafs and simply didn’t like any other team. I just disliked some (like Montreal) more than others.
But living where I did, there was also a great and very personal hockey tradition. And for many people, the local senior hockey team, the Windsor Bulldogs, was the next most popular team to cheer for after their NHL “affiliation”. In fact, I would venture to say that for some people, the Bulldogs were “number one”. (I plan to write another time about the night a touring Russian team came to town in 1962 or thereabouts and my Dad brought me to the game in the great old—and very cramped because it was a full house—Windsor Arena…)
It’s important to keep in mind that senior hockey was a big deal 50 years ago. Long before NHL players were allowed to compete in international hockey competitions, and even before Fr. David Bauer developed Canada’s first national amateur teams in the 1960s, it was generally top Senior “A” hockey teams that represented Canada at major international events such as the Olympics and World Championships. I believe the Barrie Flyers, for example, represented Canada on one occasion, but I’m not a hundred per cent certain.
The Canadian team I do have fond memories of, for some reason, is the Trail Smoke Eaters. They represented Canada in the 1961 World Championships. I’ve written about them here in the past. I remember playing a game of what I’ll call “hockey marbles” by myself on our family’s living room old hardwood floor (this was before my parents went and selfishly replaced the old area rug that left room for me to play, with wall-to-wall carpeting.) I loved being Seth Martin, the Smoke Eaters goalie during these fantasy games. (Interestingly, expansion later opened the doors for Seth Martin, as he played briefly with the St. Louis Blues.) For some reason- probably because I read about the Smoke Eaters in the local newspaper- I just liked that team.
Along with some other solid players, those Bulldogs hosted and captured the Allan Cup in 1963, defeating Winnipeg in the finals after earlier downing teams from Quebec and the Maritimes.
The player I perhaps remember the most (other than the captain, Lou Bendo, who I believe went on to become a successful real estate agent in Windsor for many years) was goalie Wayne Rutledge. (See the great old game-photo of Rutledge in action with the Bulldogs in the early '60s, above.) I didn’t realize at the time that he was younger than most of his teammates. He joined the team as a 20 year old, played a few seasons before going on to play in higher-level pro leagues and eventually in the NHL with the LA Kings in the early expansion years. (I’m trying to recall if he was a teammate of former Red Wing and Leaf great Terry Sawchuk, who played one season in LA after being picked up in the expansion draft by the Kings. Sawchuk finished his career a bit later with the Rangers.)
That was senior hockey in those days—an excellent caliber of hockey, with a few former solid pros, some very good local players and the occasional player on his way up to the NHL.
And while they haven’t been around for almost fifty years, I’ll always have a fond spot for my long-defunct "local" pro team- the Windsor Bulldogs.