Kevin Barrett | Out of WriteField
For many Canadian boys, early days on the ice led to dreams of making it into the NHL, scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal for the home team and basking on the championship glory.
But along the way, many also dreamed of ‘The Wrigley’.
No, not the baseball field, or the chewing gum.
‘The Wrigley,’ as it was known in rinks across Canada for many teenagers, was the national midget hockey championship, the stepping stone to greatness for some who still held those long coveted big league aspirations.
The tournament carried big time cache, especially in small towns, like Dieppe, St. Stephen and Summerside, Prince Edward Island and many points between the coasts of British Columbia and Newfoundland.
In contrast to regular events for minor skaters in their early career path, this was the first Canadian tournament for hockey, an event for the 15- or 16-year-old puck dreamers that today, could be best compared to the Brier. That’s because every province was represented, every province had a chance to play at the national level and every player could impress scouts looking to uncover a hidden gem.
The added distinguishing characteristic was the gear.
When you hit the Wrigley, you got a free helmet, gloves, pants, socks and of course, your province’s jersey.
Star or scrub, you were taking gear home. Your own game-worn swag was a big deal.
However, my diminished skills did not get me on or even close to a squad that ever made it to the Wrigley, or the Air Canada Cup that followed or the Telus Cup, which it is known as now.
But in the day, when it was an event featuring provincial instead of regional championship, there were more opportunities for Maritime players to shine.
While I did not make it, I knew of some who did.
Any many hockey fans heard of those elite midget stars – such as Rollie (the Goalie) Melanson of Shediac, defencemen Don Sweeney of St. Stephen and Randy Jones of Quispamsis, forwards Andrew McKim of Saint John and Scott Pellerin of Shediac as well as former Saint John Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant, and current superstar Sidney Crosby of Cole Harbour.
None of their teams’ won gold but the ‘Wrigley’ or its later incarnations opened the doors to continued development to the big leagues.
That’s why a current Telus top-40 of all-time list is intriguing in advance of this year’s 40th anniversary celebration of the national event in Sault Ste. Marie in late April.
(Check put the link to the list here: http://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/National-Championships/Men/National-Midget/2013/40-for-40/40-36.aspx)
On the list of potential top-40 alumni, including the NBers listed above are: Three overall first round NHL picks – Wendel Clark, Crosby and Gord Kluzak.
There are nine Hockey Hall of Famers on the list of alumni – Glenn Anderson, Ron Francis, Mike Gartner, Al MacInnis, Larry Murphy, Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Denis Savard and Steve Yzerman.
They have already started to countdown – with Chris Mason at No. 40, Manny Fernandez at No. 39, Joffrey Lupul at No. 38 and Ryane Clowe at No. 37.
It is interesting to see where Crosby will end up and if he jumps Yzerman, Sakic, or Patrick Roy – an early indicator of where he could rank in the greatest of all time discussion when his career eventually ends.
It will also be interesting to see if any NBers make the grade.