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Catching up with local sports media legend Joe Spence
2022-01-08
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The recent passing of Sudbury media personality Bill Catalano stirred the memories of a fellow local legend, one who predates the northern arrival of the London native by almost two full decades.

By the time that Catalano was behind the microphone as the Sudbury Wolves made their entry into what was then the Ontario Hockey Association Major "A" league for the 1972-1973 season, Joe Spence had long since departed for Ottawa.

The latter, a Toronto native who had moved to Sudbury to pursue a teaching career at Lansdowne Public School, changed gears just a few years later when he was hired by CKSO Radio in 1952.

After a short stint in Regina working in sports alongside Canadian Sports Hall of Fame broadcaster Johnny Esaw, Spence would return to Sudbury in time to travel with the Wolves to British Columbia, handling the radio call as Sudbury battled the Penticton Vees in the 1954 Allan Cup final.

"We knew we were heading west, but would it be Winnipeg or Penticton?", recalled Spence, the 91 year-old still more than capable of carrying on a wonderful email conversation, having lost his voice to esophagael cancer in 2007.

"They had not finished the western final. I took a train ride to Winnipeg and then flew on to Penticton. What a lovely memory. Just having left a major snowfall in Sudbury, I woke to apple blossoms - it was spring in the Okanagan Valley.

Without a doubt, the future Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame inductee (2013) would make the most of his trip. "I had stopped in Regina to be with my future wife, Christina Walker, as she delivered the commencement address at the Grey Nuns Hospital," Spence recalled.

"When the series with the Vees dragged on, she hopped on a flight and joined me in the press box for the final two games."

The 1932 Memorial Cup winning team stands tall among the lore of the Sudbury Wolves, but the 1954 Allan Cup finalists should not be far behind.

"The Wolves lost game seven to the Vees and the Warwick brothers (Dick and Bill), who led them to victory and then to Europe the next year where they won the World Championship," stated Spence.

In fact, a 5-0 victory by Penticton in March of 1955, blanking the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) helped offset the memories of a 7-2 humbling that the Toronto Lyndhursts suffered at the hands of their international rivals just twelve months earlier.

Some, it would seem, were more than a little thankful that the Vees outlasted the Wolves in game seven in 1954. "There was a great deal of controversy as to whether Sudbury would have gone (to the Worlds) if they won the Allan Cup," explained Spence.

"Wolves owner and coach Max Silverman had fallen into disrepute with the CAHA (Canadian Amateur Hockey Association) and the word was they would not let Max go the worlds, regardless."

To this day, Spence recalls a local ratings battle as future NHL broadcaster Dan Kelly, still very early in his career, was called in to go toe to toe with the established voice of the Wolves, CHNO and CKSO fighting it out for their share of listenership as Sudbury and Rouyn Noranda duked it out on the ice.

Spence would make the move to Ottawa in 1964, later joined by Kelly, who was returning to his home town, with both men eventually becoming household names in the nation's capital. It's an area that Joe Spence still calls home, even if his thoughts, from time to time, drift back to Sudbury.

"Sixty eight years later, my memory of the hockey has faded but the trip to the Okanagan remains."

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