While workers cleaned up the rubble from the arena that held so many memories for them, the 1953-54 juvenile team was touring the rinks in the new Woolwich Memorial Centre where they’re helping another generation of hockey players hit the ice.
The team, which claimed the Juvenile B championship back in 1954, reunited last year to buy eight seats in the new arena. On Thursday morning, they got a chance to tour the new facility and sit in the seats bearing their names.
“Bob Gibbons should be in the penalty box; he was there half the time anyway,” joked Ab Martin.
The idea for the reunion was born last year when Jim Wilken heard Peter deBoer, then coach of the Kitchener Rangers, promoting the new arena and seat program on the radio. He called up Martin and suggested they get together one of their old teams to support the venture by buying seats.
They had a few teams to choose from; a group of boys from Elmira had played on five championship-winning teams over the years. They settled on the Juvenile team because that victory was the most exciting one and the one they remembered most clearly.
The Juveniles defeated Parry Sound to claim the championship, handing the squad its first two losses all season: 6-5 and 10-4. Before the final game, the team got a morale boost from manager Bill Otto, who had a clothing store in town; he bought all the players powder-blue Stetsons and the coaches paraded the team around Parry Sound wearing the hats.
“The Juvenile team was probably the closest team I ever played on,” Wilken commented. “We won lots of games we probably shouldn’t have won,” through grit and refusal to give up.
They can remember playing in the old arena when it was still new in the 1950s, and before that playing in an arena located where the Beer Store is now on Wyatt Street. When the roof of that building collapsed one Friday night – no one was in the building at the time – Elmira was without an arena for several years.
Getting together also brought back memories of players whose names are on the seats but who weren’t among the group touring the arena; several of the players are now deceased, including coach Merv Duke.
The surviving players agreed they were glad the Fit for the Future campaign had been a catalyst to reunite the team.
“I’m glad somebody arranged it,” said Wil Lichty. “It was about time somebody did.”