* Kingfisher’s Roster:
Goal: Terry Matthews
Defence: Bernie Bishop, Dave Cunningham, John Dean, Howie Fish, Dennis Gates
Forwards: Don Bauld, David Boyd, Ray Kaizer, Willie Moore, Keith Blenkhorn, Ron Hanna, Joey MacNeil, John Roach, Richard Redden, Win Wright
Coach: John (Pud)Roach, Sr.; Manager: Al Hollingsworth
Added players for Memorial Cup playoffs against Ottawa:
Lyle Carter (Goal), Lloyd Gallant (D), George Croucher (F), Alfie Flannagan (F), Oscar Gaudet (F)
Halifax Kingfishers Hockey Team (1961-62)
The Maritimes, and Nova Scotia in particular, had a vibrant Junior A program with several leagues and independent teams from the 1930s through the war years until the later 1950s to the very beginning of the 1960s when both enthusiasm and resources/finances became scarce… and competition declined.
This was true virtually everywhere in this province, as competitive leagues had formerly flourished in Cape Breton, in the Annapolis Valley, and in Halifax, along with other mainland teams in the Truro-Pictou-Antigonish corridor, but by the late fifties into 1961-62 this had began to crumble. By 1960-61, when the Dartmouth Marine Union Junior team defeated the Halifax team (both independents), hockey was down to three teams on the mainland, with only an independent team representing Cape Breton in the provincial playoffs, and three in New Brunswick. By the end of the 50s and at the cusp of the 60s, Junior Hockey in the region was “on the ropes” in this Nova Scotia … and more generally throughout the Maritimes after having as many as 20-25 teams in the three provinces in the early to mid-1950s.
It was perhaps at its lowest point in 1961- 62 with only three independent teams in Nova Scotia and only a three in New Brunswick. However, the performance of the Halifax Kingfisher’s independent Junior A team, which put together a very strong cadre of players from the metropolitan region and beyond, including quality players from Windsor, Truro, NB, and PEI to compete for both the Maritime Junior title and Eastern Canadian Memorial Cup. Their performance in the Memorial Cup against the Ottawa Montagnards (a series in which they lost 3 games to 1, but involved three one goal games, two in double overtime) changed the hockey scene in Nova Scotia and the Maritimes dramatically for years after, a situation sustained today.
Despite having little appropriate competition, the Kingfishers managed to play exhibition games against junior-juvenile, intermediate, senior and varsity teams wherever they could, including trips to NB and Newfoundland. They played the Trenton Scotias, another NS independent team, for the NS mainland title which was a two-game total goal series, won 8-5 by the Kingfishers. After losing game one 3-2 with superb goaltending by Trenton’s Lyle Carter, they stormed back to win the second 6-2; then handily defeated Glace Bay Miners (14-1; also a two game total goal series) before defeating the Fredericton Capitals 14-5, wining both games of a total goal series for the Maritime Championship, for a 5-1 game record, while winning all three total goal series within the Maritimes for the regional title, that earned them the right to meet the Ottawa-Quebec regional winner. All four games in that series were played at the Halifax Forum and they were classics, drawing full houses for all games, with over 20,000 in total attendance in that medium-sized arena; it was standing room only and little of that as people were literally up in the “rafters” to get a good view. The first two were evenly split as the Halifax Kingfishers and Ottawa Montagnards each won games by single goal margins in double overtime at the Forum. The Saturday game was widely televised by CBC (Halifax), with Don Goodwin doing the play-by-play – the first such event from the Nova Scotia capital. As a result, not only were the local crowds ignited and excited to witness that quality of hockey, but also many tens of thousands beyond metropolitan Halifax who watched the televised game and read the Chronicle-Herald and newswire accounts of those games, which in my view (and many others) changed the face of junior hockey in the region going forward. The final two games, one won by Ottawa by a single goal in overtime, were exciting contests as well. Perhaps with a strong competitive league in Nova Scotia, the Kingfishers would have even been stronger as they played their first-ever four game series in five days.
Immediately following, in 1962-63, there was the formation of the four-team Twin City Junior League in the Halifax metro region, as well as the resurgence of the Cape Breton Junior League, and teams from Kentville-Windsor, Truro, Pictou County and the Antigonish Bulldogs in Nova Scotia, plus teams from Moncton, Fredericton, the Mirimichi area and Northern New Brunswick, plus Charlottetown, PEI – a total of 24 teams were operational only one year later after those numbers had previously declined to just five! The Maritimes had nearly returned to the hockey heydays of the 40s and 50s, when both junior and senior teams and leagues flourished … and continued to evolve to where they are today, with 19 Major Junior and Junior A teams, plus complete Maritime/provincial Junior B and C leagues as well.
While there is always an ebb and flow of teams and fortunes in any sport, this event was perhaps the most dramatic recovery in a truly Canadian sport within this region, which had been in dramatic decline for some half dozen years prior to the Kingfisher’s season. That, many contend, is the great legacy of this team.
The team had great players*, good coaching and despite the initial lack of local competition they practiced hard, traveled much, maintained great discipline and tenacity to keep improving despite those odds. They had strength throughout the team, from goal-tending to a solid defence … and a great cadre of upfront skaters; unfortunately more real-time games and a more demanding schedule against other similar teams, and not just exhibition games, may have given them more experience on special teams, as one could see those teams improving as well during the games against Ottawa. Remember, just one more power-play goal scored or one more penalty killed in three games could have given them the Eastern Canadian series win.
And if one were to examine the roster* of that 1961-62 team, one would see a large number of individuals, some of whom went on to play hockey in professional leagues; or in the Maritime Senior A league (really semi-pro hockey); to play on top rated Maritime Varsity teams, which became competitive nationally; while others went on to coach and referee in higher level hockey leagues, including high school, varsity, minor, junior and senior hockey leagues, thus giving back to the sport they loved and to the society that allowed them to play this great game during a time of minimal dollars and dwindling sponsorships.
After 1962 we had the Twin City League locally in HRM, followed by the Junior Canadians, the Halifax Voyageur (American Hockey League professionals), and later the Twin City League became the Metro-Valley League, which has morphed into other leagues as well as with other names, and is the basis today for the Maritime Junior A League (MJAHL) with twelve current teams (including six from Nova Scotia) … then add to that a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (the Q league) that features seven Atlantic teams. Although the latter league draws players, not only from North America, but indeed world-wide in some cases, that brings the region to a current total of 19 high-level junior teams today, from that low of perhaps 5 to 7 between 1960-62, and is on par or better with a number of Maritime Junior A hockey teams of the 1940s-50s again. And there are thriving Junior B and C leagues/teams as well, so perhaps today is yet another Golden Age of hockey in the region akin to that of 60+ years ago; certainly the Halifax Moosehead’s followers would agree with that, but so would the coaches, fans and parents from Pee Wee to Junior regionally.
Although the route was not direct or easy, there is little doubt that the successes of the Kingfishers of 1961-62 and the young players and older fans who were inspired by them, was the beginning of the road back to where we are today, still riding a hockey high more than a half century later.