The sport of ringette was invented in northern Ontario.
And through the early years, the Sudbury region could easily lay claim to being on par (and more often than not, superior), in terms of the level of ringette being played, to anywhere else in the province or country.
Not only would local teams stand on the podium with great regularity almost from the very moment that provincial championships were launched in 1975, but national banners would make their way to the nickel city twice in the opening four years of the Canadian Ringette Championships (1979-1982).
Still not convinced?
How about acknowledging the feats of the Sudbury juniors in 1981-1982, as the squad led by coach Brian Fletcher participated in countless tournaments, as well as regional and provincial playdowns en route to claiming a national title without losing a single game during the entire year.
“We had a lot of talent that year,” understated Jackie Glogger, then Jackie McCullagh recently. “It was a really strong team, right from our goaltending up. Everything just sort of clicked.”
Mind you, by the time they would hit the junior age bracket (ages 13/14), Glogger and her cohorts had grown well-accustomed to success. “In my first four years of playing (competitive) ringette, we were always in that final game at provincials,” she said. “Sudbury dominated.”
Ironically, the grassroots underpinning the creation of these juggernauts could be found outdoors, at so many of the community playgrounds, just like the venue where Glogger first learned the game: Lo-Ellen Park. “Back in the day, there used to be someone who would go around to the playgrounds and they would approach you and ask you if you were interested in playing on what was then called the travelling team,” she recalled.
Though there were some early bumps on the road, the ascension to the top of the heap was somewhat meteoric for the core group that would enjoy bragging rights, from one coast to the other, just two to three years into the rep ringette scene.
“The very first tournament that I ever went to was in Ottawa and we were blown off the ice,” suggested Glogger. “We ended up winning provincials that year (1980). In fact, all five divisions had a Sudbury team in the finals. Nowadays, you hear about ringette in so many small communities across Ontario.”
“But when I played, it was the bigger centres that dominated: Sudbury, Ottawa-Gloucester, Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Etobicoke, Whitby. Those were the big teams.”
While the head start that could be traced to 1963, when Sam Jacks (North Bay) and Red McCarthy (Espanola) combined to create an equivalent but different off-shoot to hockey for young female athletes, certainly helped, the fact remained that the entire Sudbury ringette community had chiseled out some definite keys to success some two decades later.
“We could score,” Glogger exclaimed. “We had really, really good goaltending, and we could put the ring in the net. Obviously, that’s what it takes to win. But it was such a different game than it is today. It’s much faster today, with the shot clock and first three men in (rule).”
Still, the excitement of nationals never grows old.
“It was such an experience,” noted Glogger, now 52 years old and having remained involved with the sport that she loves pretty much every year since the age of nine. “The minute you win that game (Ontario final), you get off the ice and they come into the dressing room and sized you up for the Ontario uniform, for the Ontario jacket, everything.”
The memories are equivally as vivid for Sault Ste Marie resident Paula (Giacomin) Theriault, a member of the 1980 junior Sudbury squad that captured gold at nationals in Waterloo. Yet some of her favourite images were captured in the days that preceded the time when more was riding on the games, when the best of the best would go toe to toe.
“I was five or six years old, played petites, I think, at Ridgecrest playground,” said Theriault. “I remember those years a lot - they were the best. We would put our skates on at home and walk across the street, with our skates on.”
“My sisters (Christina and Janis) both played. I used to watch them and then, when I was old enough, I played. The fathers would shovel the ice and then they would all stand around the boards, on the snowbanks, in the freezing cold. After the game, we would all have hot chocolate in the little shack.”
“It was great.”
Much in the manner that Lisa Brown would help lead the Sudbury juniors offense two years later, Paula Giacomin was a critical element to the attack of the Ontario hopefuls. And once again, she need not sway far from home to help develop the skills necessary to excel in that role.
“My sister could lift the ring - and a lot of people couldn’t lift the ring, do a wrist shot back then,” she explained. “I used to watch her do it and kept thinking that this was something that I definitely wanted to be able to do. If you wanted to keep the ring, you had to be pretty quick, and strong to hold on to it.”
“I don’t know how I learned to score, I just did it. We did a lot of practicing and our coaches were good, but it’s not like we went to ringette camps like they do for hockey now.” (it should be noted that Giacomin speaks with a certain level of hockey knowledge, her son Lucas a current member of the OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs)
Yet as good as those early Sudbury teams were, the rest of the country was catching up. “As the years passed, even by 1983, there were a lot better teams,” said Theriault. “When it first started, we were pretty dominant.”
>Beyond the memories of her own group, Theriault recalled some of the names of the era whose footsteps she would follow: Kerry/Tracy Bertin, Sue Fournier, Patty Fitzgerald and a host of others.
“A lot of us are still friends to this day,” she said. “That’s how close the sport has brought us.”
(names listed below are based on a best effort basis to recover the names of all of the players who were part of the Canadian Championship gold medal winning teams from Sudbury in both 1980 and 1982)
1982 Sudbury Juniors: Sue Guyan, Lisa Brown, Joanne Grenier, Jane Leonard, Paula Fletcher, Angie Geddes, Jackie Diotte, Jackie McCullagh, Kathy Hall, Joanne Pelletier, Lorraine McMahon, Louise Paradis, Charoline Paradis, Brian Fletcher (coach) - Tom Hall (coach) - Shirley Fletcher (trainer/manager)
1980 Sudbury Juniors: Susan Knight, Sharon MacDonald, Darquise Gervais, Sandra Daigle, Paula Giacomin, Mary Jan Walker, Patty Leonard, Heather Bonas, Cara Brown, Laura Harbin, Cindy Annala, Manager Norma Knight, Maureen Pagan, Joanne Fortin, Dale Peltola, Carleen Michael, Coach Eddie Stewart, Ass't Coach John Leonard