Hockey Day shows off PEI's history


Like many Canadians, Islanders typically aren't much for bragging and showing off.

That changed on Saturday, when P.E.I. showed off its passion for hockey and the sport's storied history on the Island as part of CBC's annual Hockey Day in Canada.

Let's face it. Most of Canada views P.E.I. as a tiny, insignificant backwater, and that extends to its hockey players.

Saskatchewan prides itself as a hockey hotbed, and there's no question that claim is on the money, but here's a wake-up call for you.

There are 27 rinks in P.E.I., which has a population about three-quarters that of the city of Regina. That's the highest number of rinks per capita in Canada.

That tiny province, depending on which resource you trust, has produced about 30 NHL players. Considering how much it cost to play rep hockey in an era when the ferry was still the only way off the Island, that's no small feat.

Sure, everyone knows about Brad Richards and Adam McQuaid, Steve Ott and Darryl Boyce, but that's just the tip of the skate blade.

Rick Vaive was a three-time 50-goal scorer who amassed 441 goals in a 12-year career spent largely with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was a product of the Charlottetown minor hockey system. His son Justin is trying to follow in Dad's footsteps with the Anaheim Ducks.

Bobby MacMillan broke out for 108 points with the Atlanta Flames in 1979-80 and posted nearly 600 points in a 10-year NHL career. Then he returned home, opened the Sports Page Club, a bar with an entire wall dedicated to local greats, and became a Progressive Conservative MLA.

His brother, Billy, was P.E.I.'s first Olympic medallist in hockey, playing on the Canadian team that earned bronze at Grenoble in 1968. He went on to play seven NHL seasons with Toronto, Atlanta, and the New York Islanders.

Morell's Al MacAdam played at UPEI before embarking on an 11-year career that saw him rack up 240 goals and 591 points. MacAdam posted five 60-plus point seasons, including the 1979-80 campaign when he potted 42 goals and 93 points for the Minnesota North Stars. He later coached in the NHL and AHL.

Joel Ward and Dave Cameron were two other players produced by the UPEI Panthers' hockey program.
Summerside's Errol Thompson, one of the game's great characters, was the left winger on the Leafs' famous line with Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald in the late 1970s.

Thompson, who still lives in Summerside and last I checked was a beer rep for Labatt, scored 208 goals and 393 points in an injury-plagued nine-year NHL career. In 1975-76, the year Sittler set the NHL record for points in one game, Thompson had 43 goals and 80 points.

Summerside's Gerard "Turk" Gallant (pronounced Gull-ANT) was a fixture on the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1980s, recording 211 goals and 480 points in a career that spanned 615 games. Turk boasts seasons of 93 and 80 points.

He later went into coaching, including a stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and opened Turk's Sports Shop in Summerside.

And of course there was Forbie Kennedy, a New Brunswick-born, Charlottetown-bred throwback who was tougher than nails.

In his final game in 1969, with Toronto, Forbie set NHL records for most penalty minutes in a game (38), most penalties in a game (eight), most penalties in a period (six) and most penalty minutes in a period (34). Three of those records are still standing today.

This was the same game in which Toronto's Pat Quinn knocked out Boston's Bobby Orr, which sparked the granddaddy of all uproars.

Kennedy returned to the Island to enter the coaching ranks and is one of P.E.I.'s all-time hockey legends. Charlottetown-born, Halifax-based Sloan frontman Chris Murphy recently wrote a song about him.

We haven't even touched on the legends who played in the famed Maritime Big Four League in the 1940s and '50s. The best player in that league was Charlottetown's Roy "Buck" Whitlock, who scored well over 700 goals and 1500 points in his senior career.

It was said that Buck had neither the money nor the inclination to jump to the NHL, and that was true of many other players in his time. Whitlock was offered a tryout with the Montreal Canadiens in 1953, at the age of 29, but turned it down.

The most incredible part of The Old Lamplighter's story is that during the Second World War, his ship, the HMCS Valleyfield, was torpedoed. He survived, but spent 14 hours in icy waters, which inflicted permanent damage to his legs.

The next time you scoff at what the East Coast has contributed to the hockey world, remember this. We may not have much of a population base, nor the resources to draw from, but we are every bit as passionate about our game.

Josh Lewis can be reached by phone at 634-2654, by e-mail at sports@estevanmercury.ca, on Twitter at twitter.com/joshlewis306 or on his Bruins blog at estevanmercury.ca/bruinsbanter. Kudos to the Leafs for honouring Mats Sundin with a classy ceremony that didn't ramble on for an hour. Boo-urns to the players for turning in a truly embarrassing effort to mark the occasion.

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