Like most small towns in northern Ontario, tales of hockey abound in the local community of Capreol.
And while there is no easily traced clear-cut answer to the question of where exactly the moniker of the Hawks came from – some would suggest via the local ties with NHLer Doug Mohns and others, while another faction argues that it was nothing more than a genuine appreciation for the look and tradition of the logo itself – there does appear to be a consensus that the Hawks’ jerseys first adorned the junior and intermediate teams in the rail town, eventually passed along to the minor hockey association, largely through the work of Marshall Edwards.
When it comes to the Junior Hawks, however, the history of the team which existed only slightly more than a decade or so is broken into two distinct segments: a stretch that runs from the early 1970s, which sees the Hawks as part of the Northern Ontario Junior B Hockey League, and a second era that kicks in around 1978, an eight year window of involvement with the Northern Ontario Tier II Junior Hockey League.
The common ground, in both instances, was the attraction of suiting up for the hometown team for kids who could easily walk to the indoor double pad rink.
“We always looked up to the Hawks’ emblem,” suggested 60 year old sniper Doug Currie (Jr), who racked up 285 points in just 109 games with the Hawks in the early 1980s, a time when Capreol was up near the top of the league standings, alongside the likes of the Onaping Falls Huskies and Nickel Centre Native Sons.
“My dad was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks.”
Still, his love of the Hawks and the game that they played ran so much deeper than that.
“The hockey was unbelievable – and it was everywhere, with the two rinks in Capreol. Every night, it was full. With the juniors, you wouldn’t think that we would have that much attendance – but everybody came. It was exciting to play in our hometown when the rink was full.”
Both exciting and memorable, it would seem, based on his vivid recollections of the crowds on hand. “My dad would always have to stand in one corner and there would be Jimmy Currie and Norm and Joey Currie standing in the opposite corner.”
“Every time I would come by the boards, they would be banging. They would look forward to those Friday night games.”
Currie was part of a Capreol cohort of players that included the likes of Todd Grenon, Dean Gelinas, Ray Kennedy, Fred Boimstruck and Rob Mazzuca, though the last two would go on to play major junior hockey. “Dean (Gelinas) was my centreman throughout that whole time,” said Currie. “All I had to do was to get him the puck and it was in the net.”
The crew were coached by none other than long-time OHL scout Doug Bonhomme, a few years removed from his time as a player at Clarkson University. “Everybody loved Doug,” said Currie. “He had a good sense of humour, he was always smiling – but boy, was he ever a skilled hockey player.”
The Hawks would draw skill and speed not only from the town itself, but often venturing into Valley East, welcoming the likes of Mark McColeman, and Rick and Alcide Jutras, as well as Bobby Seguin and smooth-skating forward Kevin Fredette.
Ironically, while most of the above made their way through the VEMHA system and on to the Hawks, Fredette, a native of Blezard Valley, migrated quite a bit earlier – somewhat by necessity.
“I started in Capreol in peewee and played all the way through to juvenile,” said the 56 year old who chalked up 95 points in 89 games before closing out his career with the Sudbury Cubs. “In the Valley, they had their teams made (and he wasn't part of it) – so I liked playing against them.”
And even though he resided not on Meehan or Coulson, nor Hanna or Sellwood, Fredette still felt the lure of the local franchise in his youth. “That was a Capreol Hawks’ thing, to get to the junior team when you got old enough,” he said. “We always heard a lot about them, growing up; that was a big thing in Capreol.”
It was a “thing” that goaltender Gerry Lafontaine never expected to experience.
Where most of the players who eventually donned the jersey were very familiar faces to those who followed competitive minor hockey in the day, goaltender Gerry Lafontaine was not. “I didn’t start playing any type of organized hockey until I was about eight years old,” he said.
“I started out as a defenceman, but I was the youngest kid in my neighbourhood, so I was always put in as a goalie for ball hockey. I was pretty good at it – but that’s street hockey.”
Eventually, an illness to a teammate wearing the pads would find Lafontaine testing his luck out as a goalie on skates at the age of 13. A couple of years later, with some house league hockey under his belt, the Kirkland Lake resident since 1989, who just turned 53, would make his way to the midget Hawks.
“That was my first introduction to travel hockey and the Capreol community,” he said. “When I was in midget, I had the opportunity to walk across (the double pad rink) and see these guys (Junior Hawks) practicing. I thought it would be pretty cool to play there.”
Much to his surprise, for a stretch of about a season and a half, Lafontaine would trot himself out on the ice for the team. More of a lightly used back-up to starter Greg Telenko when he first signed, an injury to the #1 netminder would press him into action, into a whole new world.
“I was young, 16 years old at the time and had never really played in front of a crowd – aside from family members and what not,” he said with a laugh. “You were kind of treated like rock stars there. You could mingle with the fans after the games.”
If some looked back and yearn of what might have been, Lafontaine is more than content with the memory of simply having made it. “When you get to be a little older, a little more mature, you think back and realize that was quite the trick I pulled off, just playing there,” he said.
Unfortunately, though he did not see it coming, the end was near, speaking in terms of the franchise. Fredette was part of the final group of Junior Hawks, closing off the 1985-1986 season as a member of the Cubs.
“We thought that it would continue until the end of the season, but they just showed up one day and said “pack it up, it’s over”,” recalled Fredette. “It was a money thing.”
Yet in the memories of most, for the better part of a 10 to 15 year stretch, it was more of a “Hawks” thing – and those who lived it can associate with that feeling all too well.
(for the record, Marshall Edwards noted in a story some years back that he folded the franchise when he was dealing with some health issues)