Friday, 26 June 2009

Canada's Hockey Factory

If you're a hockey fan, you're completely aware of the hockey factory known as Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minnesota. SSM has produced a vast number of NHL stars including Joe Corvo, Patrick Eaves, Jack Johnson, Zach Parise, Jordan Parise, and, of course, Sidney Crosby to name a few. While Canada is viewed as hockey's homeland, there really isn't the same credence given to the few schools or major junior teams that have produced a wealth of NHL talents like Shattuck-St. Mary's has. Today, however, I want to bring light to one of those major junior teams: the Notre Dame Hounds of Wilcox, Saskatchewan. They are based at the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame.

The Hounds joined the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in 1970, but didn't really make an impact in their first few seasons. However, records and game reviews are somewhat harder to come by on the Internet for a major junior team from the 1970s, so I can't really give you any information other than their best standing from 1970-76 was 5th in the SJHL.

However, after the 1976 season, they left the SHJL. Not being affiliated with a league for a while will negatively-impact records for a team, and there is little to no information on the Internet for the team until the 1986-87 season when they returned to the SJHL. However, it appears that the Hounds were operated as a "AAA" minor league hockey team from 1976-86.

During that 1985-86 season, the Hounds possessed one of the most lethal scoring lines in all of junior hockey when Gary Leeman, Wendel Clark, and Russ Courtnall lined up alongside one another for the Hounds. Later on, their illustrious careers would take them into the NHL, and all three would play on the "Hound Line" for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Hounds, during that season, were dominant, but ended up losing the Air Canada Cup at the Canadian Midget Championship to a team from Quebec.

After the 1986-87 season, the Hounds jumped directly into Tier II Junior "A" hockey with the SJHL for the 1987-88. The Hounds found the competition they were searching for as they played through season with close scores in each and every game. They qualified for the SJHL Playoffs as they finished first in the SJHL in their first year, and went on to win the Credential Cup as the SJHL Champions.

They moved on to play the Winnipeg South Blues for the Anavet Cup. The winner would have a chance to represent the Western region in the Centennial Cup, a tournament to determine the best Junior "A" team in Canada. The Hounds made short work of the series, sweeping the Blues with little effort in four games. They advanced to the Abbot Cup Championship against the Calgary Canucks. The Canucks overwhelmed the Hounds, and led the best-of-seven series 3-1 through the first four games. However, two big wins in Games Five and Six by the Hounds evened the series for a dramatic seventh game. With a 3-2 lead in the third period, future NHL goaltender Curtis Joseph shut the door on the Canucks, and the Hounds won the right to represent Western Canada at the Centennial Cup.

At the Centennial Cup Tournament, the Hounds played the Halifax Lions in their first game, and defeated them by a 6-5 score. They won their second game against the Thunder Bay Flyers by a 9-7 score. They lost their third and final game in the round-robin in triple-overtime by a 4-3 margin to the Pembroke Lumber Kings from Ontario. The semi-final would match the two teams up again, and the Hounds hammered the Lumber Kings in this second game by a 7-3 score to advance to the Centennial Cup Final.

The Centennial Cup Final would feature the Halifax Lions against the Notre Dame Hounds. Early in the third period, with the teams tied at 2-2, future NHL centerman Rod Brind'Amour connected with future World Junior Championship hero Dwayne Norris for the Hounds' third goal. Curtis Joseph stonewalled the Lions the rest of the way, and the Hounds won the Centennial Cup.

Adding a few honours to their championship season, Brind'Amour received awards for being the Top Scorer, Top Centerman, and Most Valuable Player. Teammate and future NHL defenceman Joby Messier was named as the tournament's Top Defenceman.

Since that time, the Notre Dame Hounds have been producing quality players that have gone on to play professional hockey in a variety of leagues. Some of the more notable NHL talent that got their starts at Notre Dame include Wendel Clark, Gary Leeman, Russ Courtnall, Curtis Joseph, Rod Brind'Amour, Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Tyler Myers, Dave Karpa, Kent Manderville, Lawrence Nycholat, James Patrick, and Braydon Coburn (on the right).

Here's a quick clip of some of the current players and administration talking about how important hockey is to the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, and how the Hounds have become an institution of winning:

The Notre Dame Hounds are one of the better grassroots hockey programs in Canada, and they have a pretty good lineage of players who have gone on to bigger and better stages. While this type of school may not be for everyone as Athol Murray College of Notre Dame is a Catholic school, what the school has done in preparing the young men and women attending the institution is good for hockey and good for their future lives.

And that's exactly what a school should do.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

**Huge thanks to BJ Vicks of RadarDDB for the heads-up about the video!**

1 comment:

Jennifer Hammer said...

several of my Tri-City Americans went to ND--Brooks Macek, Jordan Messier, and list player Jaden Schwartz. Keep 'em coming ND :)