From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
Remember This . . . A hockey game with a comic twist!
Each year when the Bon Soo Winter Carnival begins, people look forward with anticipation to all of the wonderful events and activities that have been planned.
During the 1960s and early 1970s one event was looked forward to with great anticipation each year. The Flying Clergy – Combines Charity Hockey Game was a local favourite that actually traces its origins back prior to the establishment of the Bon Soo Winter Carnival.
In 1962, Tom Keenan of the Sault Star and George Fraser and Paul Fockler, both from CJIC (Radio and Television studio) met after work at the Victoria Hotel one Friday evening. Before long their conversation had sparked an idea that they should have a hockey game that would pit the Sault Star against CJIC.
Any funds raised would then be given to a local charity. After speaking to Angelo Bumbacco, it was decided that they would play their hockey game one hour prior to the Junior Greyhound hockey game against the Michigan Sault Indians (hockey team). These games normally drew about 500 spectators but for this particular game the arena was filled with approximately 2,100 people.
All the proceeds during the first couple of years went to the Rotary Club for their work with children with disabilities.
In the fall of 1967, John Curran was approached about coming up with a way to raise $2,000 for the struggling Bon Soo Winter Carnival which had started in 1964. The result was a hockey game that featured the combined staffs of the Sault Star and CJIC against the priests and ministers of Sault Ste. Marie.
The participants had a series of practice sessions, created a number of funny skits and they were ready to take to the ice. They raised $1,895.00 for the Winter Carnival.
The community enjoyed the charity game so much that it became an annual event. In order to find a charity for the next year, it was decided that they would create the Flying Clergy Trust Fund with the money raised being used for emergency welfare. This would be used for people who did not qualify for assistance under the regular agencies.
A “friendly” rivalry existed between the two teams which they liked to play up for the benefit of the crowds. Much to the consternation of the Combines team, the Clergy were consistent in coming out as winners in their annual matchups. The members of the clergy always seemed to have the support of the crowd as they proved that they could beat the “big, bad Combines”!
In 1971, the Sault Star reported that the “biggest mistake that the Sault Star / CJIC Combines coach Wayne Turner made (other than letting his team out on the ice) was in allowing his remarkable rejects to be conned into going out for the extra (overtime) period by Judge Brian Vallee!”
It was alleged that the Combines had spent a great part of their day preparing for the game and forming their game plan at the House of Chow and appeared to be on the point of collapse! Antics during the game included pies in the face being delivered to Gene Ubriaco, referee John Curran, Combines goalie Russ Ramsay and “Munga” Mancuso, much to the delight of the crowd that now numbered just under 5,000 people.
Karl Sepkowski and Oliver Lehto were said to have skated as if they had no laces in their skates while the Masked Marvel (a.k.a. Mayor John Rhodes) made his debut in an unsuccessful attempt to help the Combines team!
In the 1972 game, Ron Irwin, mayor of the city at the time, played for the Combines team and was referred to as their “problem” child. A member of the Clergy team claimed that he had to be one of the worst hockey players that he had ever seen.
When Irwin was questioned about his lack of finesse on the ice, he blamed his skates saying “that they were just too big and they start turning corners about ten seconds before the rest of me gets there”.
The suspicion held by many was that Irwin was trying to lull the Clergy team members into complacency prior to the game and that he was actually a “ringer” brought in as a secret weapon!
The spectators knew that they could expect to see anything during these games – an outhouse might show up on the ice, a policeman might appear and make an arrest of a bandit trying to escape on snowshoes and shots on goal could come from the goalie’s own team member at times! The only thing that was guaranteed was excessive laughter coming from the stands.
While this game is no longer part of the Bon Soo Winter Carnival events, many people will immediately smile as they remember the crazy skits that entertained the crowd in a hockey game that also benefited so many people in the community through the charitable proceeds from the game.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.