Hockey Central

The Bathurst Papermakers

On the Northern tip of New Brunswick, Canada's picture province, 70 miles from what Sports Illustrated once called some of the best salmon fishing in the world, sits the city of Bathurst. Bobby Orr, Ted Williams, Jack Nicklaus, Jimmy Carter and other luminaries who could afford the tab came for the salmon fishing, but there was something else that distinguished this town: hard-rock competitive hockey. Throughout its 65-year history, the Bathurst Papermakers played senior or intermediate hockey, filling their own and their opponents' rinks from the Quebec border to the small towns of Newfoundland.

Senior and intermediate hockey were the top two levels of the adult amateur game in Canada. Players past junior age were eligible for both levels. Generally it was budget and arena capacity that separated senior and intermediate leagues. Senior hockey's national champion was awarded the Allan Cup; the top intermediate team – an honor claimed by the Papermakers in 1971 – won the Hardy Cup.

In the Maritimes many players with professional experience up to and including the NHL returned to play with senior or intermediate clubs and, with only 120 NHL jobs in the six-team era, many gifted players were content to stay home and use their hockey skills to help them secure a steady job in a plant or mill that sponsored a team. The result was excellent hockey hotly contested in Bathurst and other Maritime towns.

The Bathurst Papermakers were known by sports fans throughout Eastern Canada and were a source of great pride to their town and to all of northern New Brunswick. It all started with an eight-man roster in 1920. Typical of the time, protective gear was confined to knee and shin pads and reinforced gloves.

From this modest nucleus, the team, composed of employees from the local pulp and paper mill, went on to accumulate many laurels, starting with the Maritime Senior Championship. On March 9, 1929 the Papermakers defeated the Halifax Wolverines 1-0 before a crowd of 8,000. That same year, the wooden-roofed Bathurst Arena collapsed after a heavy snowfall. A steel structure was built in its place and the Papermakers soldiered on.

Bathurst borders the beautiful Bay of Chaleur. Its inhabitants are largely English and Acadian with a leavening of Irish, Scottish and Jewish. The population of the town is 11,000 with additional people living in fishing and logging hamlets like Tracadie, Shippagan, St. Isodore and Caraquet, all of which are within 60 miles of Bathurst.

While pulp and paper, fishing, and mining provided jobs in Bathurst and its small liberal arts college produced numerous civil servants and politicians including Canada's current Governor-General Romeo Lablanc, it was hockey that stitched the town together. Outdoor rinks – and there were many – hosted an array of local teams from peewee to juvenile. Once such rink was 25 miles from Bathurst at a private boys school on the Jacquet River. On a cold winter Sunday afternoon in the late 1960s, the protocol of the day stipulated that the home team had the wind in the first and third periods while the visitors supplied logs for the wood-burning stove in the dressing rooms. Most of the priests that ran the school came from Quebec and had played hockey. They actively participated in refereeing, coaching, or yelling at poor passes and great plays alike. Their rink was truly an altar where the real teaching of religion took place.

If Father Boudreau's backhand got by you, it was certain that the stations of the cross in the cathedral in Bathurst or Holy Family Church in West Bathurst would be frequented more readily for spiritual rejuvenation. There were no chalk talks in the confessional or diagrams of passing plans distributed before Sunday sermon, but everybody knew that Father Thistle would cut short his 12 o'clock sermon so that one could either hurry to the rink or, if the Papermakers were playing at home, beat the rush to the Bathurst Arena for an afternoon tilt against an opponent from the very competitive North Shore Intermediate A Hockey League.

The Papermakers' top rival was the Campbellton Tigers, a fast-skating club based an hour to the west. Campbellton was a team of skaters and the sheet ice in their rink was patterned after the Montreal Forum. Because the Bathurst Arena was modeled on snug Boston Garden, the corners in 'Tiger Town' were safer and the passing lanes wider and faster. Other teams in the loop were the Dalhousie Rangers, located next door to Campbellton, and the Chatham Ironmen and Newcastle Legionnaires. All five teams were located within a 200-mile radius.

These five clubs in the North Shore league shared the sports pages of New Brunswick's two leading dailies with a corresponding four-team Southern League comprised of Saint John, Moncton, Fredericton and a fourth club that played out of various communities over the years. The Moncton Times and the Saint John Telegram gave extensive coverage to intermediate hockey. The largest towns and biggest rinks in the province were located in the south, but players in the Southern League knew that the North Shore Hockey League played a great brand of hockey.

Power in New Brunswick, whether in partly politics or hockey administration, was concentrated in the more affluent south. Calling the shots at the New Brunswick Amateur Hockey Association were two southerners, secretary-registrar Len Poore and Dr. William MacGillivary, Dean of the Faculty of Physical Education at the University of New Brunswick and later the chairman of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. The first northern New Brunswicker to make his mark on the NBAHA was James MacLaggan who moved from Peterborough, Ontario to Bathurst in the 1950s. When he first got involved, MacLaggan was told that no northerner could become president of the NBAHA. Time would reveal a different story.

In the 1940s, Bathurst's best hockey was played at the high school level. Campbellton-born Jack Furlotte, who later coached the Papermakers, played a fiercely competitive brand of hockey as a member of the 1945, 1946 and 1947 high school teams that won provincial and Maritime championships. Clifford Kennah was Furlotte's math partner at school and proved to have a full understanding of the geometry of the corners and the calculus of play in the slot, from where he was able to score many exciting goals.

Playing for Bathurst High School meant early morning and late evening practices. After the local figure skating club and public skaters finished using the Bathurst Arena, the high school team took to the ice – if homework was completed. When the playoffs were completed in April, many students turned aside an occasional letter from an NCAA school or from Junior A teams in Quebec and Ontario to complete their studies and final exams. Some of these talented hockey players left to pursue hockey outside the Maritimes, but many stayed after their high school careers ended and found jobs in the paper mill, the town works department or the local hardware store, which enabled them to earn a living while playing lots of intermediate hockey.

For the best players, it was a reasonably comfortable life that was able to attract some big-name professionals from Quebec at the midpoint of their careers. Salaries reached $350 per week as part of a package that included a job, a place to live and a spot on the North Shore club's roster.

The Papermaker's coach in the 1950s was Ev Doucet, whose colorful language and ever-present pipe made him the local equivalent of Toronto's loquacious King Clancy. Doucet understood the delicate balance of local hockey politics and knew just when to add an import to the roster and when to stick with the locals. In 1954-55 a 40-goal Quebec import by the name of Moe Lamirande joined Doug and Keir Howat from the small town of Sussex, New Brunswick to form the nucleus of a team that attracted attention throughout the Maritimes. Lamirande and the Howats were joined by Dicker Macdonald from Sydney, Nova Scotia, who added fight in the corners and speed to the net, enabling him to score goals that brought the fans to their feet.

In 1958 a balcony collapsed at the east end of the rink. No one was hurt, so the imperturbable Bathurst fans accommodated the displaced balcony dwellers after only a short stoppage in play.

In the late 1950s, the Papermakers became the first New Brunswick team to win a Maritime Intermediate A hockey championship. The team at that time was led by Rolly Rossignol, a former Montreal Canadien. He joined local greats, Fred MaKay, Earl Cooper and Bob MacMinn to make the Papermakers a source of pride throughout the region.

The Chatham Ironmen challenged the Papermakers with an import-rich roster that included players such as "Wild" Bill Malone who caught the eye of several NHL scouts. The Ironmen built their roster by signing players from leagues throughout Quebec and Ontario, as well as from the Intermediate and American leagues. Despite this stacked lineup, the Ironmen still could not manage to beat Bathurst consistently. The Papermakers drew upon their winning tradition and from the mysterious black ointment concocted by trainer Ron Wheeler and equipment manager Lou Anderson. Wheeler was the town's recreation director and, when he wasn't trainer to the Papermakers, was trainer to a stable of horses, so his mystery ointment had been perfected down the backstreches of several regional race tracks.

Jack Furlotte, the coach of the Papermakers who was later inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame in Bathurst, agreed that this rubdown formulation was a great remedy for the aches and sprains that were part of Intermediate A hockey. But he cautioned that one had to be extremely careful not to get any of the potion on strategic parts of one's anatomy, because it burned like hell and wouldn't come off! Ask Art Malais, a member of the 1971 Hardy Cup champions. who once made this mistake and spent several hours in the shower attempting to deal with a dark stain on his manhood. Malais scrubbed and scrubbed before he was told about the antidote: white vinegar would do the trick every time!

Malais's predicament aside, it was the 1971 edition of the Papermakers that brought Bathurst a measure of fame that spread beyond the Maritimes. At the beginning of the season, management felt that the team had the ability to go all the way. A decision was made by Bathurst's municipal council to underwrite the cost of hosting a national Hardy Cup final if the team made the playoffs and won its way into the tournament. James LacLaggan, Bathurst's man on the provincial hockey executive, lobbied for all he was worth against southern New Brunswickers' traditional bias against the north, arguing that the Papermakers' organization could bring off the huge task of hosting a national tournament.

Many of the men who had been part of the Papermakers from the 1920s to the 1960s had remained in Bathurst. They would make sure that Bathurst's organization would be first rate. All the Papermakers had to do was keep winning on the ice and that they did, beginning with an 35-game regular-season schedule and continuing into the best-of-seven league and provincial playoffs. Millworkers, miners and teachers by day and hockey heroes by night, Bathurst clinched the North Shore crown by eliminating the Campbellton Tigers in five games. Two Southern League teams, the Saint John Mooseheads and the Fredericton Capitals, were defeated by the Papermakers en route to the provincial intermediate title.

The Maritime playdowns proved anticlimactic. A team from Newfoundland journeyed to the Bathurst Arena and left humiliated, with one game ending in a 14-4 victory for the Papermakers. This one-sided win set the stage for an Eastern Canadian final. According to Canadian Amateur Hockey Association rules, teams reaching the semifinal round of a national championship were permitted to strengthen their rosters by adding up to three players from other clubs in their league. The Papermakers voted to stay with their local players. No last-minute additions would disrupt the chemistry of this championship-bound team.

Emburn, Ontario provided the Papermakers' opponents in the best-of-five Eastern Canadian intermediate final. Emburn was a talented hockey club staffed by many players with Allan Cup playoff experience that was put to good use in game one, an 8-1 Emburm win. Bathurst captain Joe Hachey, a former Montreal Junior Canadien, and coach Jack Furlotte convened a team meeting to discuss strategy. The conclusion was a simple one: go to the body in game two.

This take-no-prisoners approach yielded a 4-1 win for the Papermakers, to the delight of 4,500 spectators packed tightly into the Bathurst Arena. Reporters criticized the Papermakers for rough play in game two as official protests were made to the tournament executive, the NBAHA and the CAHA. No protest was upheld, allowing the series to go on. Bathurst prevailed in the next two contests, winning close games by scores of 2-1 and 3-1.

The Papermakers had their wish: a berth in a Hardy Cup national intermediate championship series played in Bathurst. Their opponents in the best-of-five national final were the Western Canadian champions from Rosetown, Saskatchewan.

The national final was a best-of-five series. From the out-set it appeared that the series was going to be a close one as the Rosedown Red Wings matched up well against the Papermakers. The usual controversy with selection of officials was quickly put to rest by Len Poore of the NBAHA. There would be no administrative delays: the championship would be fairly decided on the ice, not in the boardroom of the local Legion hall.

The Friday evening opener was filled with tension. The pregame introductions drew equal amounts of cheering for the home team and booing for the westerners. The game went back and fourth and was deadlocked after 60 minutes. Bathurst team captain Joe Hachey brought the house to a roar when he potted the winner. The Papermakers had struck first blood.

The second game of the series was played Saturday night. hard-working Art Malais gave Bathurst the lead early in the first period when he blasted home Jim Craik's pass from behind the Rosetown cage at the 1:36 mark.

The game was a tough one: four major penalties were assessed along with two game misconducts for joining a fight already in progress. A few moments after this had been sorted out, Bob Degrace, a local restaurateur and former chairman of the Canadian Food and Restaurant Association, scrambled a few eggs with his right elbow, the result of which saw a Rosetown Red Wing counting stars. The ensuring penalty proved costly as Rosetown's Keith Robson squared the match just seven seconds into the power-play with a goal at 16:00 of the second.

The winning goal came off the stick of Bathurst's Lou Ouellette, an ex-Oshawa General who had played for a time with Bobby Orr. His first goal of the series at 10:48 of the final period proved to be the winner, giving Bathurst a 2-1 victory and a two-game lead in the series.

At the end of the game Rosetown launched a protest based on an incorrect icing call with 18 seconds remaining on the clock. The resulting face-off forced the Red Wings to remove their sixth attacker and put their goalie back in the net. The protest wasn't a calm one. Players pushed to get at the linesman who made the call, resulting in the ejection of Rosetown's Terry Simpson. Although he steadfastly denied making physical contact with the official, he was suspended for the remainder of the tournament.

The next day, a determined Bathurst squad set out to complete a three-game final series sweep. Enthusiastic supporters filled Bathurst Arena on Sunday hoping to see their hometown team win a national championship, something no other New Brunswick squad had done since the Moncton Hawks won the Allan Cup in 1932-33. Father Thistle had cut short his sermon for a good cause, as a congregation's worth of spiritual rejuvenation would occur that afternoon at the rink.

Bathurst took the lead early as team spokesperson Paul Ouellette (Lou's older brother) scored the important first goal just 55 seconds into the contest. Fellow teacher Aurelle Hachey put the Papermakers ahead 2-0 at 6:08 with an unassisted maker. Aurelle was a last-minute replacement called up from an intermediate B team. The Hacheys were a family of gifted all-round athletes. Brother Sam was the team's goaltender while Aurelle and a third brother, Paul, won New Brunswick's amateur golf championship on several occasions.

It took the Rosetown Red Wings nearly 18 minutes of play in the second period to finally beat Sam Hachey's spectacular goaltending. Gerry Follick tipped in Neil Torrance's drive from the blue line to cut the Papermakers lead to a lone goal. Hachey's strong play in net kept the Papermakers in front until they broke the game wide open in the third period with three goals, a pair by Lou Ouellette and one by Jum Craik. When the final buzzer went the score was 5-2 and the celebration was on.

This final game victory was the culmination of an outstanding postseason. The Papermakers had won 15 of 16 playoff games and had swept three of their four playoff series en route to the Canadian Intermediate A Hockey championship. Captain Joe Hacjey – no relation to Aurelle and Sam – hoisted the Hardy Cup on behalf of everyone in northern New Brunswick. This team of home-brewed players was a national champion.

The North Shore League flourished through the 1970s as the Campbellton Tigers won the Hardy Cup in each of the next three seasons. In recent years there has been little of this kind of sponsored amateur hockey in New Brunswick. The minor pro American Hockey League expanded into the Maritimes in the 1980s and, more recently, a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team opened its doors in Moncton. With NHL hockey streaming in on cable and satellite television, intermediate hockey no longer has the power to pack the local arena and fuel young fans' dreams. But for those who remember what went on in the Bathurst Arena in the spring of 1971, the Papermakers offer a dictionary definition of the phrase: "That's hockey."