Former players remember their junior C days
PICTOU – The induction of four Pictou Mariners junior C hockey teams this weekend to the Pictou County Sports Hall of Fame will recognize their accomplishment of winning four straight county and provincial titles, but perhaps more importantly it will be somewhat of a reunion.
The Pictou County Junior C Mariners won four straight Pictou County and provincial titles from 1983-86. Pictured is the 1983-84 league and provincial championship team. Front from left: Robbie MacDonald, Tracy MacCarthy, Donnie Murphy, David Quann and Vincent Joyce. Second row from left: Bayne Barkhouse, Mike Currie, Donnie English, Gerry Shaw, Shawn MacDonald, Steve MacCarthy, Toady Marks and Donnie Cyr. Third row from left: Leo Cormier, Glen McCullion, Duffy MacDonald, Darcy MacIsaac, Bob Heighton, Lawerence LeBlanc and Scott MacPhail.
With the induction being announced a few months ago it has given players, coaches and fans a chance to reflect on what has been referred to as some of the greatest hockey years in Pictou County. Bobby Heighton, a member of the Mariners from 1983-84 to 1986-87, said when they were playing they had no idea they were making as big a mark as they did.
“Over the last few weeks you know you’re going in and you start thinking about all these things more and more,” he said. “Back then you don’t really realize – you knew you were good, but we worked hard and we were a group or a family that did a lot of things together. As you get older you appreciate it more. I’ve coached pretty much all my life and I always refer to things going back to my junior days playing in Pictou. We were junior C, but I’m sure we could’ve played some of the junior B teams and beaten them.
“Actually we played a junior B from the island and kicked the snot out of them.”
The junior C league in Pictou County started in 1981-82, with Thorburn winning the championship. The Pictou Mariners were unstoppable the next four seasons though, winning the Pictou County and provincial titles from 1983-86.
Dana “Teapot” Johnston was a member of the team from 1981-82 to 1985-86. He said it should’ve been five straight.
“It was amazing time to play hockey and even the year we lost was a good ride,” said Johnston. “It should’ve been five titles, but Thorburn had a good team and I can’t take that away from them. We were good, but they were just a little bit better that year.”
Guys like Donnie Murphy, Donnie English, Bruce Hebert, Mike Richards, Johnston, Heighton and more were household names back in those days. Both Heighton and Johnston, both from Pictou, said they never played for the glory. They played cause they loved hockey.
“I just loved the game and wanted to go play hockey,” said Johnston. “It didn’t matter who I played for. Obviously you’re trying to play the best hockey out there from an ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ level, but I really didn’t care too much. I just wanted to play.”
Heighton added that being inducted into the Hall of Fame was definitely not something he ever expected or sought when he was playing.
“To be put in there – if you go in there and look around – Joey MacDonald is there, Colin White is there, Jonny (Sim) is there, and there’s guys like Tiger Mackie and a lot of these older guys from all kinds of other sports too,” he said. “You kinda think I don’t really deserve to be in this company, but when people sit and look at what we did they figure it’s pretty amazing too. You don’t get involved in sports to hope some day in the Hall of Fame. I just played sports since I was a kid because I loved it and I eventually gave back starting to coach when I was 13 up until three years ago. Trying to get in the Hall of Fame wasn’t the reason I did it.”
Behind every great product on the ice is a great group off the ice. When Lawerence “Moon” LeBlanc called Heighton to say the teams were being inducted, Heighton said the executive and coaches deserved it just as much as the players.
“You think it’s always the players, but being on both sides of sports, the coaches and the executive do things for the group behind the scenes and don’t get recognized enough,” he said. “Like Moon, Lawerence LeBlanc, they fought tooth and nail behind the scenes. Tony Marks, who was the president, Bill Hamilton and Mike Currie; there was so many of people like Frank Richards and Scotty McPhail were our equipment guys. The stuff they had done for us and stuff they did that we don’t know about is unreal.”
“The coaches and executive deserve just as much recognition as we do for all the hard work they put in.”
Johnston said it was the group that set up the league and worked on things for their team that made it possible for them to win four straight. He wasn’t certain if executive members had footed bills out of their own pockets when the team started out, but believed that was the case.
“As players we didn’t know too much about what was going on behind the scenes as we basically just had to focus on hockey,” he said. “We had quite the executive looking after us and didn’t know burdens they had. They took great care of us and if there were problems we didn’t know.”
If winning championships wasn’t enough, these teams were playing in front of capacity crowds every night as every rink in Pictou County had a junior C team (Westville, Pictou, Thorburn, Trenton, New Glasgow and Stellarton). Heighton said the rivalries likely brought fans out to many of the games because if a few fights happened a day or two before they wanted to see if something would happen the next game. He added that the quality of hockey was outstanding and playing in front of the large crowd was something special.
“You had your rivals the same as the NHL, certain teams you hated,” he said. “I also think that everyone felt like we were a rival because we were the only team on the opposite side of causeway. I know that we brought the crowds into the Hector Arena and fire marshals would say there were already too many people in arena some nights. At one point we had 2,600 people in Hector Arena for a playoff game, which is crazy to think of now.”
Johnston's most memorable moment in his five years with the Mariners didn’t come at the Hector though. His goal in double-overtime against Thorburn at the New Glasgow Stadium on March 20, 1984 is one he will never forget.
“We were down for most of the third period and another teammate, Bruce Hebert, scored with just a second or two left to send the game to overtime,” he said. “We played a full period of overtime with neither of us scoring, but in the second overtime Tim MacDonald, Shawn MacDonald and I went in on a three-on-two. They split the defence and left me wide open to beat their goalie short side. I’ll never forget it.”
Heighton said winning three Nova Scotia championships was his highlight of being with the Mariners, although it wasn’t just those final games, it was the whole experience with the team.
“Winning Nova Scotia would be the highlight of it, but the people you meet and the friendships you have were also up there,” he said. “Life is so busy now and everyone is so busy and you don’t have time to spend together like we did then. Meeting all the people I did was a big highlight for me, but playing in front of a sold out stadium in New Glasgow and winning Nova Scotia titles was a big deal too.”
The teams will be inducted today at the Pictou County Sports Hall of Fame ceremony being held in Westville.
On Twitter: @NGNewsChris