by Joseph Trainor
Saturday, September 27, Brandt Centre
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
NOTE: This is a report of a fictional game that includes players from over a century of hockey, written with the hope of inspiring an actual annual charity match featuring African-Canadian and First Nations hockey players that are still alive and well.
Not every hockey fan is aware that segregation was once prevalent in our sport. During the late 19th and early 20th Century, in Montreal a player would be deemed ineligible to play for an amateur team if he ever played for money, or was “a labourer, or an Indian.”
In Toronto the rules were less overt, yet remained very exclusive. A player would be deemed a pro if he ever played for money, ever played against someone who had played for money, or ever played with someone who had. Also, you would be declared a pro if you were a “lacrosse
player, or baseball player.”
The 1896 United States Supreme Court ruling (Plessy vs Ferguson) legalizing segregation would have profound influence on North American athletic competitions for at least the next seventy-five years. Without access to the multi-level development leagues and tournaments, minority participation at hockey's highest levels was for many decades just a dream, for it was not until the final quarter (from 1974 on) of the 20th Century that the NHL became a league that was truly open to all.
Organized as a charity game to assist with health benefits for former Canadian soldiers, the Game of the Ages would also support a NGO building pre-fab steel schools on reserves across Canada. The Brandt family of Saskatchewan was also keen to raise awareness of how much of Canada's military history consisted of African-Canadian and First Nations soldiers defending the nation. It was deemed that the first year would be a one-time event with the greatest players from all eras, while future Legends - Stars matchups would be logistically realistic and comprised of roughly half oldtimers and half active players. For these All-Time Stars lineups, there would need to be a bias towards players from earlier eras, when racial barriers were so much higher. Even though this meant that deserving younger players would have to be left off this year's squad, they knew they would be playing in the real annual games slated to start next year.
Thirty-five to forty players (see tables below) had been invited by each team to indicate their availability for the Game of the Ages, and as each side received over thirty positive responses, final player selection was very difficult. The First Nations contenders were heavy at center ice and on the wings, while the All-Blacks were loaded with big, strong wingers. All the restaurants and hotspots on Victoria just east of Albert were jam packed with hockeyists, and a steady stream of partying fans were heading up Elphinstone Street and filling the rink. The Game of the Ages had been sold out for three weeks now, and hotels all over Regina were booked solid, with a near Grey Cup atmosphere enveloping the city.
Two busloads of Pasqua First Nations hockey fans had arrived to support the Legends, together with carloads and truckloads of hockey savants from across the province.
The Regina region had developed many accomplished hockey players in recent decades, including Red
Berenson (St. Louis Blues star who played for Team Canada 1972), Jordan Eberle, Tyler Bozak, Ryan Getzlaf, Scott Hartnell, and of course the captain of the All-Black Stars, Dirk Graham. Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser was born in Shauunavon SK, while for the Legends, Wade Redden was born in Llyodminster (SK side) and Theoren Fleury in Oxbow.
Former premier Roy Romanow was at the game, and Tommy Douglas's grandson Kiefer Sutherland was also in attendance. First Nations members from across Saskatchewan were well represented in the crowd, and the Centre was humming with anticipation.
Honoured Special Guest for the evening was Terry Trafford, who played several seasons for the OHL's Saginaw Spirit before succumbing to emotional distress and leaving us far too soon. As a defensive-minded, playmaking center with years of top-level hockey experience, had he lived even a month or two longer, he would have had an opportunity to play pro in the USA or Europe, yet despondency in the moment led to a profound tragedy. Due to a shortage of centers with experience at an elite level, Trafford had been among the forty receiving the initial Black Stars invitations, and had been an eager participant in practices leading up to the game of the Ages.
Announced as the hockey hero selected to drop the puck for the ceremonial faceoff, as Terry stepped onto the red carpet at center ice, a huge ovation welcomed him. Captain Bryan Trottier of First Nations Legends skated up to shake young Mr. Trafford's hand, followed quickly by Captain Jarome Iginla of the All-Black Stars. Trottier was born in Val Marie, Saskatchewan while Iginla is from Edmonton, and Trafford from Toronto. The three posed for photographers and then the players joined their teammates to stand for O Canada.
Black Stars coach John Paris Jr managed to get in three practices before the big game, but several players had came in late last night and P.K. Subban had just arrived in the morning, though all knew he was match-ready, having suited up for three NHL pre-season tilts in the past week. Defending the area in front of Grant Fuhr, Mr. Paris' starting lineup had the Habs' P.K. paired with 2013 Stanley Cup winner Johnny Oduya of the Chicago Blackhawks.
At center was Anson Carter, flanked by Iginla on right wing and Tony McKegney and his 639 points playing left. With over 1,300 games played and more than 560 goals scored, Jarome Iginla was one of the greatest hockey players to ever play the game, and Paris would be leaning on him this evening.
For the Legends, Coach Ted Nolan had his own magical offensive weapon, so against Carter for the opening faceoff he lined up center Bryan Trottier, he of the six Stanley Cups (seven if you include his Assistant Coach Cup in Colorado) and 1,425 NHL points including 524 goals. On Trottier's wings Ted placed Theoren Fleury and Reggie Leach, with the defence tandem comprised of Wade Redden and Sheldon Souray. It was a foregone conclusion that Mr. Nolan would designate the starting goaltender role to Carey Price, the Team Canada superstar whose mother Lynda is a former chief of British Columbia's Ulkatcho First Nation.
Anson Carter won the opening faceoff and pulled it back to Oduya, who skated across the red line and fired it in. McKegney gave chase and he and Carter cycled the puck down low until Iginla was spotted in the high slot. As the puck arrived the Legends were closing in so Jarome
tipped the puck to Subban back at the point, who one-timed a zinger past the shortside post. It was barely thirty-five seconds in, Trottier grabbed the puck off the boards and skated out to the neutral zone, then lobbed it deep and headed to the bench for a change. What happened
next was miraculous, as it seemed the entire building was focused on the First Nations Legends line change. Nolan tapped George Armstrong on the shoulder, and as the Chief rolled over the boards to replace Trottier, the crowd rose to their feet and went truly wild.
Though half Irish, Armstrong is considered the man who smashed the NHL barrier for First Nations and Metis hockey players in Canada. While Fred Sasakamoose from Sandy Lake had starred for Moose Jaw Canucks and played 11 games for Chicago in 1954, becoming the first Treaty aboriginal to play in the bigs, George "Chief" Armstrong is the star who really changed the game forever. Appearing in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform for twenty consecutive seasons, Chief captained the team for 13 years, scored 713 points (almost all against Original Six opponents), and won four Stanley Cups. Armstrong also won the Allan Cup as a player in 1950 (Toronto Marlboros), and two Memorial Cups as coach of the junior Marlboros (1973, 1975). Toronto has never had a finer ambassador of hockey.
George "Chief" Armstrong
The crowd is on their feet and going crazy, shouting "Chief! Chief! Chief!" at the top of their lungs. Wingers Dale McCourt and Frank St. Marseille join Armstrong on the ice and the puck slides effortlessly between the three. Second D-pair for the All-Blacks, Seth Jones and Dustin Byfuglien, are hemmed in and back on their heels in the face of the buzzing barrage. Coach Paris slotted All-Star winger and former NHL head coach Dirk Graham in at center for the second line, flanked by Wayne Simmonds on right and rising star Evander Kane on left wing. Though diligent in their defensive efforts, it appeared as though the Black Stars had not expected the fast pace and dazzling artistry to emerge so quickly in the game.
On the points now for the legends were Rich Pilon and Mike Peluso, and Pilon aimed a hard wrister toward Fuhr. St. Marseille stood just to the left of the crease, and his deflection tipped the puck over the goalie's shoulder and into the shortside top corner. The fans erupted again
when the announcer credited "The Chief" with the second assist on the goal. It was 1-0 for the First Nations team as the third line forwards skated out for the faceoff. The All-Blacks iced a line of Wilie O'Ree at center, Kyle Okposo on right wing, and Joel Ward skating on the left side. Willie had been the first black player in the NHL, debuting for two games with the Boston Bruins in 1957-58, then suiting up for 43 matches in 1960-61. The colour barrier in hockey's elite league did not fall again until 1974, spurred by open competition with the WHA, and for the past forty years the NHL has been considered an open league.
The third defense pair was Eddie Martin and Sean Brown. Sean had played over 400 NHL games before continuing his career as a star of European hockey. Eddie was the Team Captain and Cover Point (offensive defenseman) for the champion (1899, 1900) Halifax Eurekas of the Colored Hockey League, and is the first known hockey player to regularly deploy the slapshot as an offensive weapon.
1906 Halifax Eurekas
The original CHL was formed in 1894, comprised of teams in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, and their style of fast, rough hockey would later be emulated in other pro leagues.The legends countered with a line of USA Olympian T.J. Oshie at center, flanked by Stan Jonathan on the left and Jonathan Cheechoo on the right. Pilon and Peluso remained on the defense, but once the zone was cleared, they headed to the bench as Gary Sargent and Chris Simon took to the ice. Simon was a forward who had played over 780 games on the left wing in the NHL, but today the Legends needed defensemen and when Ted Nolan asks you to do something, you say yes. Simon was just happy to be there, among hockey players, repping his people and culture.
The fourth lines featured John Chabot between Gino Odjick on the left and Ron Delorme on the right, up against Herb Carnegie (key playmaker on the famed “Black Aces” line) centering right winger Mike Grier and left winger Georges Laraque. It had been rumoured that the Black Aces line would be reunited for this night, as they had skated together in practice. In the end, Ossie Carnegie had the flu and Manny McIntyre was a healthy scratch.
Halfway through the first period, referee Angela James assessed each coach a minor penalty, and Ted and John were escorted to the sin bin as Angela announced to the crowd that each had been penalized “2 minutes for looking too good!”
Late in the first, Carnegie undressed three opposing players with his wizardly stickhandling and then deftly set up Mike Grier to hammer a hard one-timer into the high corner, a 'half-snapper, top-cheddar' that had Price diving across a fraction of a second behind the play. The game was tied 1-1.
The backup goalies were Ray Emery for the Black Stars and Kevin Weeks for the Legends. Weeks had been the third netminder for Paris' squad however when it was heard that the Legends other goalie wouldn't arrive on time, he was loaned to the Legends. After Weeks crossed over, the third goalie for the All-Black Stars became Henry "Braces" Franklyn, the Dartmouth Jubilees captain / forward / goaltender who had been the first to deploy an exciting "butterfly style" netminding technique of going up or down depending on the action in front of him. In central Canada at the time, goaltenders had to remain standing for the entire game, and many other Colored Hockey League (1894-1936) innovations (forward passing, slapshots) would also become mainstays of pro hockey in the years leading up to and after the NHL was formed in 1917.
Each coach was allowed to dress two goalies, six defensemen and twelve forwards, plus one extra skater and a designated "founder". Nolan's 13th forward was the versatile Rene Bourque, while Paris, knowing the toughness and tenacity of the Legends forwards, dressed Mark Fraser as a seventh defender. Willie Littlechild was the "founder" skating for the Legends, and "Braces" Franklyn suited up in that role for the African-Canadian (mostly) squad. Assistant coaches for the Stars were Mike Marson and Alton White, while the Legends were helped by Craig Berube and Jordin Tootoo.
At the beginning of the second, period, just before the puck drop, Carey Price and Grant Fuhr each skated to center ice and shook hands, then something unbelievable happened. They took off their helmets and gloves and then exchanged sweaters, then proceeded to each other's goal crease, taking up the blue paint at the other end. The fans weren't sure what was going on but they were having tons of fun.
It was less than five minutes later when Price skated over to the Legends bench and sent Weeks into the game to backstop the Stars. They also switch jerseys. Now Fuhr and Price are the netminders for the Legends, with Emery, Weeks and Franklyn minding the other end. Not everyone in the building was aware that Grant Fuhr's birth mother was from Enoch Cree Nation, but for those that did, his playing the middle period for the Legends made perfect sense.
First Nations took the lead again midway through the second, for when Leach delivered a crushing blow to separate Okposos from the puck, Trottier pounced on the disc and spotted Fleury streaking up the middle. A tape-to-tape pass sent Theoren in all alone and he deked Emery and slid the puck between his pads to give his side a 2-1 lead. Before the end of the second period, Anson Carter tied the game and then in the final minute, Oshie netted a
beauty off the shortside high post, set up crisply by Mike Peluso. Heading into the final intermission, the Legends were back in the lead.
Val James, the first African-American (USA-born) in the NHL, was the other ref for the evening, and early in the third, he was elated to be able to call a penalty against former Buffalo Sabres teammate Dale McCourt (McKegney was also on that 1981-82 squad), for tripping Halifax Eurekas star Eddie Martin. When Val pointed to centre ice, Dale protested that Eddie had not been in the clear, but the man in the striped shirt had the last laugh.
Even though Carey Price was in net to start the third period for the Legends, when Eddie Martin was awarded that penalty shot, a quick conference by the bench resulted in legendary goalie Henry “Braces” Franklyn being borrowed by the Legends and entering the game for the one play, as he was the only guy who knew Martin's moves. Henry had dressed for the Black Stars however was now entering the game to defend against one of their top threats. Eddie screamed in from the left, faked a slapshot and then attempted to cross in front, but Braces poke-checked him and the game remained 3-2 for the Black Stars.
Stay with me here... Price and Fuhr had changed jerseys and ends to start the second. Then five minutes in, Price traded Fuhr's jersey for Weeks' Legends shirt, so while Fuhr finished the second period wearing Price's sweater, Carey got it back during intermission and in the third, Grant sat on the Legends bench backing Price, wearing Weeks' upper uniform. Weeks had played over half of the second in Fuhr's jersey, then Ray Emery entered the net for the Stars in the third period. Got it? Clear as mud? The fans were amused by rinkside chatter and shouts of "Who's in net?" and enjoyed the levity of the “trading places” backstoppers.
Late in the third, Theoren Fleury was assessed a slashing penalty for a chop on the legs of Joel Ward as he steamed down the wing. On the ensuing power play that began with fifty-four seconds to go, Paris sent out Willie O'Ree to play alongside Iginla and Carter. Subban and Jones were on the points. Marson called a timeout, and motioned for Emery to take a seat on the bench. Alton White looked over to John Paris and mouthed the name "Dirk", and as Paris nodded, Alton was tapping the shoulder of Dirk Graham, who had scored 70 goals and 125 points for Toledo in 1982-83, and even more impressively, 33 goals and 78 points for the 1988-89 Chicago Blackhawks, his first year as captain, a position he held until 1995.
Anson Carter won another draw and Seth Jones kept the puck inside the blueline, then sent it across to Subban. Graham and Iginla were crashing the net, battling Redden and Souray for position and drawing atention to the melee. O'Ree skated around the net and popped free on the far side, and P.K. spotted him there and slid the puck across; in one lightning-sweep motion Willie had fired the puck over Price's stretched out pad. The game was tied 3-3 and the Black Stars bench was overjoyed with emotion.
Even the First Nations Legends stood to applaud the good passing play and finishing touch. There had been no provision for overtime, so the game ended in a draw. To hockey aficionados, the 3-all score was pleasingly reminiscent of the New Year's Eve tilt in 1975 between the Montreal Canadiens and Soviet Red Army, Ken Dryden versus Vladislav Tretiak. Many consider that Montreal Forum match the ultimate game of the ages, the finest exhibition ever.
The amicable outcome in Regina raised hopes that the result was a harbinger of good relations to come between all the players in the game, and the younger dudes vowed to meet up again next year. O'Ree's game-tying goal earned him the the Third Star, while Second Star went to Bryan Trottier. When it was announced that Theoren Fleury, of Oxbow, Saskatchewan, was the match's First Star, the rafters shook like the Pats had just won the Memorial Cup at home.
Immediately after the game there were a variety of receptions and parties to choose from. Grand Council of First Nations Chiefs of Saskatchewan hosted a soiree at the Radisson Plaza Hotel, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders were sponsoring an event at Taylor Field, to honour the visiting Black Stars players, and the party also included pre-eminent First Nations guests, even Ted Nolan himself.
Key people were also invited to a secretive after-party reception at Brandt House, the family mansion, and the stunning palais proved a hit with all who made it out. By midnight the joint was hopping, as the hosts had limousines bringing guests from the other two gatherings, and later offered chits for waiting taxis to anyone desiring to leave. Can't be too careful these days, especially when you know in advance that alcohol will be consumed. Beer is almost as Canadian as hockey.
There was a grand hall with a winding stairway plus an interior theater bar and tv room where legacy hockey clips were being shown, and a billiards room with fireplace and hockey on the big screen. It was warm enough to swim, and brand new swimsuits were available for those who wanted to take a dip. Several players had agreed to explore business ventures together during the coming months, including plans for a new hockey camp for aboriginal AND inner city youth, plus a program to team up with ex-soldiers to install steel schools and community centres on First Nations land.
The family offered to help host the game every 2nd year, and it was informally agreed at the after party that the game would be held in Regina in 2015 and 2017, with Saint John, New Brunswick getting the 2016 game, and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia would be hosting in 2018.
Winnipeg would get 2019, then Regina would host in 2020, 2022 and every two years forward. A Brandt Cup would be awarded to the winning team, with winning player's names inscribed on the side each year, while the Henry Sylvester Williams Award (named after the Colored Hockey League co-founder) was offered to the MVP of the annual charity game.
All the players and hockey fans left Regina in a buoyant mood, confident of the success of the event, with most making plans to return next year, and travel around Canada for future “Games of the Ages.” Hockey had united people and communities, once again.
22-Man Starting Lineups
First Nations Legends
Bryan Trottier, Theoren Fleury, Reggie Leach
George Armstrong, Frank St. Marseille, Dale McCourt
T.J. Oshie, Stan Jonathan, Jonathan Cheechoo
John Chabot, Gino Odjick, Ron Delorme
Willie Littlechild (Founder)
Wade Redden, Sheldon Souray
Rich Pilon, Mike Peluso
Gary Sargent, Chris Simon
Kevin Weeks (on loan from Black Stars)
Coach: Ted Nolan
Assistant coaches: Craig Berube and Jordin Tootoo.
Jarome Iginla, Anson Carter, Tony McKegney
Dirk Graham, Wayne Simmonds, Evander Kane
Wilie O'Ree, Kyle Okposo, Joel Ward
Herb Carnegie, Mike Grier, Georges Laraque
P.K. Subban, Johnny Oduya,
Seth Jones, Dustin Byfuglien
Eddie Martin, Sean Brown
Henry "Braces" Franklyn (Founder)
Coach: John Paris Jr
Assistant coaches: Mike Marson and Alton White
Referees: Val James, Angela James
Linesmen: Hayley Wickenheiser, Marie-Philip Poulin
John Paris Jr
Full List of Invitees
F, Jarome Iginla, 1977, Edmonton AB
G, Grant Fuhr, 1962, Spruce Grove AB
F, Tony McKegney, 1958, Montreal PQ
RW, Dirk Graham, 1959, Regina SK
C, Anson Carter, 1974, Toronto ON
D, P.K. Subban, 1989, Toronto ON
RW, Wayne Simmonds, 1988, Scarborough ON
RW, Kyle Okposo, 1989 St. Paul MN
LW, Evander Kane, 1991, Vancouver BC
G, Ray Emery, 1982, Hamilton ON
F, Willie O'Ree, 1935, Fredericton NB
D, Seth Jones, 1994, Plano TX
F, Joel Ward, 1980, North York ON
D, Johnny Oduya, 1981, Stockholm Sweden
C, Herb Carnegie, 1919, Toronto ON
G, Henry “Braces” Franklyn, 1870, Dartmouth NS
RW, Mike Grier, 1975, Detroit MI
D, Dustin Byfuglien, 1985, Minneapolis MN
RW, Jamal Mayers, 1974, Toronto ON
D, Eddie Martin, circa 1880, Halifax NS
LW, Georges Laraque, 1976, Montreal PQ
F, Mike Marson, 1955, Scarborough ON
C, Alton White, 1945, Amherst NS
G, Kevin Weeks, 1975, Toronto ON
D, Sean Brown, 1976, Oshawa ON
D, Mark Fraser, 1986, Ottawa ON
RW, Donald Brashear, 1972, Bedford IN
RW, Ossie Carnegie, 1915 Riviere-du-Loup PQ
D, Darnell Nurse, 1995, Hamilton ON
LW, Manny McIntyre, 1918, Fredericton NB
LW, Val James, 1957, Ocala FL
D, Theo Peckham, 1987, Richmond Hill ON
G, Eldon “Pokey” Reddick, 1964, Halifax NS
D, Jason Doig, 1977, Montreal PQ
G, Fred Brathwaite, 1972, Ottawa ON
C, Terry Trafford, 1994, Toronto ON
First Nations Legends
C, Bryan Trottier, 1956, Val Marie, SK
C, George Armstrong, 1930, Skead ON
RW, Theoren Fleury, 1968, Oxbow SK
RW, Reggie Leach, 1950, Rivertopn MB
G, Carey Price, 1987, Vancouver BC
F, Dale McCourt, 1957, Falconbridge ON
RW, Frank St. Marseille, 1939, Levack ON
D, Wade Redden, 1977, Lloydminster SK
RW, Jonathan Cheechoo, 1980, Moose Factory ON
LW, Stan Jonathan, 1955, Ohsweken ON
LW, Rene Bourque, 1981, Lac La Biche AB
C, T.J. Oshie, 1986, Mount Vernon WA
D, Sheldon Souray, 1976, Elk Point AB
LW, Chris Simon, 1972, Wawa ON
C, John Chabot, 1962, Summerside PEI
LW, Gino Odjick, 1970, Maniwaki PQ
RW, Ron Delorme, 1955, North Battleford SK
RW, Sandy McCarthy, 1972, Toronto ON
RW, Jordin Tootoo, 1983, Churchill MB
C, Vern Fiddler, 1980, Edmonton AB
RW, Arron Asham, 1978, Portage La Prairie MB
LW, Craig Berube, 1965, Calahoo AB
D, Rich Pilon, 1968, Saskatoon SK
D, Mike Peluso, 1965, Hibbing MN
C, Fred Saskamoose, 1934, Debden SK
D, Gary Sargent, 1954, Red Lake MN
C, Kyle Chipchura, 1986, Westlock AB
C, Cody McCormick, 1983, London ON
C, Dwight King, 1989, Meadowlake SK
LW, Everett Sanipass, 1968 Big Cove NB
F, Willie Littlechild, 1944, Hobbema AB
FNL 1.46 St. Marseille (Pilon, Armstrong)
ABS 19.17 Grier (Carnegie, Fraser)
FNL 10.23 Fleury (Trottier)
ABS 16.42 Carter (McKegney, Subban)
FNL 19.45 Oshie (Peluso, Jonathan)
ABS 19.28 O'Ree (Subban, Jones)
9.56 FNL – Nolan, 2.00 Looking Too Good
9.56 ABS – Paris, 2.00 Looking Too Good
3.42 FNL – McCourt, 2.00 Tripping
19.06 FNL – Fleury, 2.00 Slashing
Price 20.00 – 0/14
Fuhr 20.00 – 2/12
Price 20.00 – 1/13
Franklyn 0.00 – 0/1 (Penalty Shot)
Fuhr 20.00 1/11
Price 4.50 0/3
Weeks 15.10 2/9
Emery 20.00 0/12
Joseph Trainor is a freelance writer and Canadian horse racing and Toronto Maple Leafs fan, amateur hockey historian and student of standardbred breeding. Joe is also a perspiring songwriter and lover of inspiring architecture. His fist novel, Ari Loves Salome, was published in 2012.
Ari Loves Salome by Joseph Trainor, at Amazon.com