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Doug Bonhomme emptied the tank - as a scout might say

Doug Bonhomme, the scout, would never have vaulted Doug Bonhomme, the prospect, to the top of the OHL Central Scouting board.

Not a chance.

What Bonhomme, the scout, would have done is provide a fair and extremely valid assessment of the young forward who cracked the Sudbury Wolves roster in their pre-OHL days in the late sixties - just as he has done for countless young northern Ontario hockey players for the past 38 years.

The 2021-2022 season marked the final tour of service in this role for the retired WSIB worker who has toiled in a whole variety of different areas in a sport that he loves. Truth be told, while he was good but not great at several sports, there were many of them that he enjoyed, right from his earliest days as the eldest of seven children in the family that first took roots in Carol Richard Park.

“It was a young park back then, with a lot of young families,” said Bonhomme. “They had a ball team in the summer and then hockey in the winter.” But by the age of ten, the young lad had made the move across town to New Sudbury, just down the street from Rosemarie Playground and a hop, skip and jump from Ecole St Dominique.

“We would run home at lunch,” stated Bonhomme. “It was funny because later in life, I could really run. I ran the mile in 4:41 - even if my kids (Britt and Tessa) don’t believe me. I think that was from running full blast for a quarter mile for so many years.”

His passion for hockey first developed from the local rink at a time when these venues thrived, some 37 or so of them sprinkled right across the city, each with its own slate of times from squirts to midgets and all of whom hosted the majority of their home games on the winter paradise that is the outdoor rink.

“If you got to the final, you got to play at Sudbury Arena on Sunday morning at 7:00 a.m.,” said Bonhomme with a laugh, even as the thrill of moving indoors was offset with an early morning roll call. “The midgets would play on Monday nights at the Arena and that’s when the scouts would come in.”

This was not the folks from Central Scouting - that concept did not yet exist. Not when Bonhomme captained the Lasalle Lancers high-school team, as a grade 11 talent, no less, into a city final loss to the vaunted St Charles College Cardinals.

Not when Bonhomme and a rag-tag group of Sudbury Police Midgets battled hard in the provincial final against future NHLer Rick Middleton and the Weston Dodgers, dropping a pair of close encounters to the southern Ontario juggernauts.

“We all had different helmets, old gloves - and you could tell what school we were from: I had the black colours from Lasalle, the Tech guys had blue, Lockerby had green,” said Bonhomme. “We had zero tactics, zero systems.”

A stint with the Wolves would give rise to some of the early indicators of his future pathway in the sport. “Our big line was Al Hammill, Tubby Blanchard and John Sykes,” said Bonhomme. Blanchard was signed by the Kitchener Rangers the following year, netting no less than fifty goals while playing with Bill Barber.

“Tubby could really shoot,” Bonhomme reminisced. “He had that right hand shot; I remember him scoring seven goals against one goalie - all in the same spot.” (sounds like a scouting report to me)

Though he would make his way to Clarkson University alongside Levack hockey legend Dave Taylor (“he wasn’t a great skater, but was such a competitor - and so smart”), Bonhomme would play only sparingly. Still, he persevered to finish his degree, finding his way back home and a career with WSIB that lasted for decades.

Oh - and of course, there was always the hockey.

Starting in coaching with the minor hockey ranks, he was quickly summoned to tackle the Capreol Hawks juniors, while still only just a few years older than the players he was mentoring. The likes of Doug Currie, Dean Gelinas, Ray Kennedy, Bob Saarinen and Robin Chuipka dotted that roster.

And though he never gave any real serious consideration to coaching as a job or career, at the OHL level and such, his foot into that door would come in 1984, introduced to super scout Jack Ferguson and making that initial and fateful trek to Espanola to provide his assessment at a very first game.

“I just really liked watching hockey,” summarized Bonhomme, perhaps somewhat more succinctly than anticipated, discussing the lure of hundreds, maybe thousands of days and evenings spent in cold arenas with really bad coffee - long before Tim Horton’s cups were omni-present.

“And it’s not just the hockey; it’s the people that you work with, the people you get to know.”

“They all made me feel like I belonged,” Bonhomme added, all while acknowledging that friendly banter and quick shots were constantly part and parcel of the meeting of the scouts, those times when all of their accumulated knowledge was assembled into a single room.

Bonhomme certainly felt at home scouting, but he was equally adept behind the bench, leading the Cambrian College Golden Shield to four OCAA banners and one national title (1996-1997) during a 15 year run that he enjoyed with Peter Michelutti Sr.

With both SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) and NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) funded by the Alberta Heritage Fund during the 1990s, the local crew had to come up with a more creative plan if they wished to compete at that level.

“It was impossible for us to skate with them, so we put together big, tough teams; talented, but big, strong and strappy,” said Bonhomme. “We recruited from right to left on their stats sheets, working from penalty minutes and working our way back to the points.”

That strategy, however, was not at all necessary when Bonhomme joined forces with Bob Johnston and Rod Schutt to assemble the first local girls team which could actually compete with the elite in Ontario, boasting a line-up that included NCAA recruits Tessa Bonhomme, Katie Johnston, Sarah Johnston, Megan Schutt, Allison Ralph and Francesca Malvaso, among others.

“The girls were so very, very coachable,” said Bonhomme. “They played our systems to a T.”

And while the now nearing seventy year old may not ever get his fill of hockey, it was time to move on.

“I emptied the tank,” said Bonhomme, clearly spending far too much time in close proximity of hockey players who are cliché-quoting machines. “But I was so lucky.”

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