I am nothing if not nostalgic.
Always blessed with a keen appreciation for the wonderful perspective that historical sports statistics can play in providing a healthy framing of current accomplishments, I look forward to my regular visits to the Sudbury Public Library, scanning through the micro-filmed sports sections of a completely different era.
My anticipation is fueled, I suspect, by an equal part of amusement towards just how much things have changed, offset with the realization that in many areas, the names and stories and venues simply carry forward from one generation to the next.
And so it was as I weaved through the Sudbury Star archives, finding my way back to October of 1951. Though the new downtown arena had only recently been constructed, the need for public consultation was every bit as evident then as it is today. A “Name the Arena Contest” had been launched, with readers of the daily paper invited to share their thoughts on an appropriate moniker for the state of the art facility.
“The Star went along with the (Community Arena) commission on its novel plan to get a new names for the arena because we felt that the present name (Sudbury Civic Arena and Community Centre) was too unwieldy…and because we liked the idea of the public being asked for a better one,” penned sports columnist of the time, Don Makintosh.
Still, almost three weeks passed from the close of entries until a name was selected. In the end, “The Arena”, a straight to the point brainchild of 15 year old high school student Pat O’Gorman, would beat out a classical collection of headings that included Three Stacks Arena, Sudbury Coliseum, Beaton Stadium, Nickleon, the Cosmopolitan Arena, Northern Lights Arena and Sudburyna.
Name aside for a moment, the venue was home not only to the tradition that is the Sudbury Wolves, but also the newly formed Sudbury Caruso Miners. And long before every weekend of the winter would see a steady throng of northern sports teams making the trek south for tournament or league play, the fact remained that Sudbury could still attract top-end hockey outings to the Nickel City in those days.
Fresh off their Allan Cup Championship (1950-1951), the Owen Sound Mercurys were travelling across the north, coming off a 5-4 win over the North Bay Black Hawks as they faced off against the Miners. You cannot help but to love a local lineup that featured not only the colourful names of Tug Parri, Bucky Basso, Hickory Cooney, Tubby Halverson and Fats Rogers, but many others whose families remain involved in the community to this day.
Lou Prete, Red McCarthy, Danny Linton and Stan Smith were among the stars of that team, which had just welcomed back team president Don James, while Reg Wilkinson remained as chairman of the team’s finance committee.
There is something particularly charming of the writing genre that allowed the following lead to flow into the account of the 10-8 Sudbury Carusos victory over Owen Sound: “The mighty Mercs crumpled like a brick of ice cream in a hot oven as the arsenic-tainted “home brews” snapped to life in the third period to fire seven consecutive goals past Bobby Gillison.”
The sports section was that lifeline to the community, informing those who could not attend that the Ukrainians had come through in the dying minutes of overtime to defeat the “game and cocky” Carusos (their words – not mine) 2-1 in the Star Cup final. An early strike from Ljubomri Bojicic had propelled the Italians to their only lead, with Uks captain Myron Chyka pulling his team even, ripping one into the top corner on a penalty kick, before Saar (just one name only, as far as I could tell) netted the game-winner in extra time.
There was certainly no less controversy and on-going discussion in each and every sport that there is today, even if the issues being debated were different. The star basketball trio of Wayne Eadie, Marvin Zinn and Beefy McKay were at the centre of it all in 1951. “Recent shifts in the Sudbury District Basketball League were causing quite a bit of speculation”, reported the Star, as “three former Internationals who were turning out for practice with the Hotelmen suddenly started bouncing the ball around for a new club” (the hard-court version of the Ukrainians, no less).
Football was also at the forefront, as quarterbacks Tony Cuculic (Sudbury Tech Blue Devils) and Jerry Wiley (Sudbury High School Wolves) were critical to a contest that would end in a 12-12 tie, as Cuculic connected with Cec Brown from the 25 yard line in the final minute of play. While the local teams still had to navigate their way through a cluttered northern loop that also included the Sault Ste Marie Wildcats, Scollard Hall Bears, North Bay Collegiate and Vocational School Trojans and Kirkland Lake Red Devils, their star players were shining bright.
Cuculic was leading the polls for the DeMarco Award, presented annually to a player who has been of most value to his club during the NOSSA Big Six grid season, with teammate Brown sitting second. First presented four years prior, the award had been doled out to Walter Makarinski, Syl O’Hara and Henry Harju, with the winner also receiving two tickets to the annual Grey Cup in Toronto.
While current team managers deal with mastering the inns and outs of the Hockey Canada on-line player registration system, consider the following break-though that Mackintosh revealed to his Sudbury readership some seventy years earlier. “The Northern Ontario Hockey Association will usher in a new system of keeping track of hockey players this winter – a master card file which will be kept up from season to season,” he wrote.
“It sounds like a first class idea. If a player is transferred to another branch, his card will follow along behind him.”
Yes, the reporters of the day were not merely that key conduit to informational needs, but also able to do so in a story-telling manner that was both entertaining and enlightening. “They are saying that the Copper Cliff Curling Club will open its season on November 3rd,” shared Mackintosh. “Which means that it won’t be long before the boys in the Elm Alley Coffee Club will be re-playing their games on the salt and pepper shakers and the sugar bowl.”
With visions like this, how can one not be nostalgic?