From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
Remember This . . . Soo Greyhounds
When the temperatures begin to drop, our city’s attention turns to hockey. Children attend practices and fix their eyes on the goal of someday playing in the NHL. We have had a long history of local players that have reached this goal. Going back to the early twentieth century we see how these players were mentored and received training to reach their goals.
In 1920 there were three junior teams in an inter-city league. Junior players had to be between 16 and 21 years of age. By 1925, the population of the Sault was 21,812 and the junior league had expanded to 5 teams. A Junior Greyhounds team was organized in 1929, competing in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL). By 1930 the inter-city junior league was flourishing, playing in the Southern Group with the Sudbury Wolf Cubs and the Chapleau Huskies. The juniors won the league championship four consecutive years from 1928 to 1931, and added a fifth title in 1942.
The current Greyhounds Junior A franchise was founded in 1962 as a tier-two member of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League. The team's founders were Angelo Bumbacco, Lloyd Prokop, Phil Suraci, Pat Esposito and Dr. Bill Kelly. The Greyhounds played for ten seasons in the NOJHL along with the Sudbury Wolves, North Bay Trappers, Espanola Eagles and the Garson-Falconbridge Native Sons. The team’s executive board eventually added new members Jim McAuley, Dr. Allan Lalonde and Mike Suraci to their ranks. During the next decade the team was extremely successful, finishing in first place five times and winning the league championship twice. This version of the Greyhounds was composed completely of local players.
While in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, the Greyhounds won the McNamara Trophy as playoff champions in 1967, 1970, and 1972. The Greyhounds were also regular season champions six times and playoff finalists four times.
In 1972, the Greyhounds entered the Ontario Hockey Association as a Major Junior A expansion team. As with any sports team, they have experienced some good years and some years with disappointing results.
Since joining the OHL, Sault Ste. Marie has won a total of eight division titles, four Hamilton Spectator Trophy titles given out since 1957-58 to the Ontario Hockey League team that finishes with the most points during the regular season, three J. Ross Robertson Cup titles awarded annually to the winner of the Ontario Hockey League playoff championship, and one Memorial Cup title awarded annually to the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) champion. The Greyhounds became one of the few teams in the league to make at least three consecutive appearances in the Memorial Cup.
Over the years there have been a lot of Greyhound players who have made their mark while playing locally and many have gone on to play in the NHL but probably one of the most famous players continues to be Wayne Gretzky, who played for the Greyhounds as a 16 year old during the 1977-78 season. It was during this season that he acquired his trademark number of ‘99’. He wanted to wear number 9 for his hero Gordie Howe but it was already being worn by Brian Gualazzi. He tried a couple of other numbers before Coach Muzz McPherson suggested that he wear the number ‘99’ on his hockey jersey and Wayne would keep this number throughout the rest of his hockey career. Gretzky recounts that he was amazed at the generosity that was shown to the players by the community and the team management. On one occasion, when Wayne Gretzky and Craig Hartsburg were chosen to play for Team Canada, Angelo Bumbacco took Wayne to a local men’s store and personally bought him a suit and topcoat. He also gave each of them $100 for spending money. These actions made a big impression on the young player and the friendships that he made in this community would continue long after Wayne Gretzky went on to play in the NHL.
When the players are not on the ice or attending classes at the local high schools, they are encouraged to give back to the local community. In the past they have visited the penitentiary in Kinross, Michigan and the Northern Treatment Centre, reminding the young players that their choices have consequences and the importance of making the right choices in life. There have also been visits to the Sault Area Hospital and ARCH. During the past few years the Greyhounds have participated in Literacy Day at the Centennial Library, providing children with the opportunity to have the hockey players read books to them, and interact one on one with their hockey heroes.
The Greyhound Hockey team has a long history in this community and has brought a lot of excitement to the fans over the years and who knows – you just might be watching the next ‘Great One’ develop their skills right in front of you!