Tag Archives: Ron Clarke

Three Orillia Guys

Getting pinned at an Orillia tournament.

Teammate John French was our best player and went on to play junior with the Toronto Marlies, was drafted by Montreal, and skated with the AHL Montreal Voyageurs where his goalie was Ken Dryden.

After moving to the Baltimore Clippers for one season, John signed with the New England Whalers of the brand new World Hockey Association and became teammates with his old friend from Orillia, Rick Ley. He also played for The San Diego Mariners and Indianapolis Racers of the WHA, and ended his career with the AHL Springfield Indians.

In the late 1970s my first wife and I bought an old desk in a second-hand store in Ottawa, and in the drawer was a John French WHA hockey card.

Ron Clarke, on the left, got smashed so hard into the boards one night in Collingwood they had to remove a kidney. Ron’s one of my oldest friend, we grew up in the same neighbourhood, and we still keep in touch. It’s always a good day when I get to see Ron, who now lives in Kitchener.

Surprise! There’s Another Calendar!

Yesterday I talked about my old buddy Ron Clarke bringing me a 1965-66 Canadiens Forum calendar when we met in Orillia recently – My New/Old Calendar, but I held back on the full story so I could stretch it over two days. Sometimes it’s good to stretch things. Especially nowadays when NHL rinks sit quiet.

Ron also gave me a 1956-57 calendar!

Yes, it’s in bad shape. It’s wrinkled and some of the months have been cut off, but it doesn’t matter one bit. It’s a fine specimen, and I’m extremely touched that Ron would do this. He’s my oldest friend, we go way back, and although he says there’s a lot he can’t remember in his day-to-day life, he still remembers my old Orillia phone number and my birth date, even though we only see each other every decade or so now. What a guy.

Thanks for the two old calendars, Ron. They mean a lot to me. Your friendship means a lot to me.

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Psst, Wanna Buy An Arena?

For just $600,000, you can be the proud owner of the Orillia arena. Of course, you have to keep in mind that it’s condemned and has to be torn down (for about $400,000), but at least you’ll own prime property in the core of Orillia where you can put in a miniature golf course or pool hall or something.

The arena was built in 1951 by volunteers, legendary Leafs goalie Turk Broda was there for the opening ceremonies, and it was where I practically lived, where I learned to bang pucks around, and where on Sunday public skating, try to work up the nerve to skate with some of the girls I had mad crushes on.

My buddies and I, Ron Clarke in particular, would trudge up and down the hill, carrying our sticks and duffel bags, and often latch on to car fenders and have them drag us down streets without the drivers having a clue that we were hitching a ride.

Sometimes Ron and I, after leaving the arena, would sit on a stranger’s porch and watch the hockey game through the window, especially those old Habs-Leafs Wednesday night affairs. The people inside, warm as toast, had no idea.

The reason the arena is condemned is because the roof might cave in. Years ago they tried to fix it by erecting god-awful steel beams to prop it up, which you can see in the photos, and these beams not only got in the way of watching the game, but some of them even find their way into the players’ benches and penalty box. Just a horrible thing, but then again, you don’t really want the roof to cave in while someone has a breakaway.

I’m not going to go on and on about all the things that occurred in this old place, after all, you have your own arenas and memories. So I’ll just stick some pictures in so you can have a look. And you can see those god-awful steel beams.

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Reporting From Cobourg – Hobo!

As far as I can remember, the only American Hockey League game I ever went to was an exhibition contest in Barrie, Ont. in the early sixties between the Rochester Americans and Buffalo Bisons. Ron Clarke and I hitchhiked down from Orillia, got there early, and somehow managed to meet the Buffalo trainer, who let us hang out in the Bisons dressing room and gave us jobs as stick boys during the game. We then took the bus home, carrying sticks signed by the Buffalo team, which we promptly wrecked playing road hockey.

I suppose this winter I could spend six hours making my way to Abbotsford, east of Vancouver, to see the Bulldogs when they come to town to play the Heat, the Calgary Flames AHL affiliate, but I think I’ll pass on the long and tedious drive, the hotel room, and the several restaurant meals. Unless it’s a handy drive, no hotel involved, and cheap tickets and arena beer, I’m not donating any more greenbacks to the NHL. They have lots and I don’t. And we’ve seen how much they care about us.

I’d do what Hobo just did though. He drove a few minutes from his place to Cobourg to see the Bulldogs and Toronto Marlies in action, spent almost nothing, and he sends a nice little report about the affair.

Take it away, Hobo!

“It was the Marlies 3, Bulldogs 1, and the Marlies get full credit for the victory. The Dogs looked painfully like the parent club, not generating any kind of flowing offence, and losing in the last few minutes by taking a needless penalty. But at least they weren’t afraid to mix it up.

“The Cobourg rink is a great place to watch a game. We were in the last row of seating, about fifteen rows from the ice, and right behind us were Habs brass Larry Carriere and Rick Dudley in a makeshift press area. It took awhile for me to put names to these faces I recognized from somewhere, and I didn’t really talk to them much except to to tell them their little team played just like the big boys. I suppose they didn’t really need to hear this from a schmuck like me. It was interesting to eavesdrop on their conversation, though.

“Jarred Tinordi hardly played a shift for the first two periods but played more in the third. Brendan Gallagher didn’t dress. The Bulldogs pulled their goalie for an extra attacker and I heard Carriere say, “Hey, they only have five guys out there.”

“I really enjoy watching AHL games, especially at fifteen bucks a ticket. And Jake Gardiner was by far the best player on the ice. Too bad he was wearing the wrong colours.”

Thanks Hobo. Just great. And if anyone checks out the Bulldogs in action or any other minor-league tilts and wants to write a little bit about the experience, please sent it along. It would make for a nice post, just like Hobo’s today.

Here’s the lineup when Ron Clarke and I saw the Rochester Americans and Buffalo Bisons in Barrie. I didn’t realize until years later when I looked at this that Don Cherry was in the Amerks lineup. I guess he didn’t stand out.

I Don’t Want To Brag Or Anything, But…….

I don’t want to brag or anything, but there was a time when I was as proficient with a spoon as with a baseball bat. Yes indeed. It says so right here.

And I don’t want to brag or anything, but my grade 8 girlfriend was one of the top two or three hottest chicks in my class. That’s us dancing in the church basement.

I would walk Lynn Sinclair home and we’d make out on the sidewak outside her house, and her chest would rub against me, causing my hormones to do the mambo and give me pains below my belly button for hours afterward.

And I certainly don’t want to brag about the time my peewee baseball rode on a fire truck in a parade, celebrating the fact that we won a bunch of tournaments, with me being as proficient with a bat as I was with a spoon.

And I also don’t want to brag about playing in the NHL. Okay, it was called the Little NHL, and it was a pile of teams from Ontario going at it. But anyway.

John French would one day become property of the Habs, and enjoyed a fine career in the WHA. Ron Clarke became a successful heavy equipment salesman and I hear from him every so often. Myself, I never ever made it to third base with Lynn Sinclair.




The Day Mel Got His Face Smashed In

Last year when I was in Orillia, I spent a sensational day with some of my old buddies, and we did what old buddies do – we talked about the old days. And it confirmed just what I’ve suspected – that I’ve misplaced my memory and I can’t remember where I put it.

One of the guys in the group, Mel St. Onge, took the bull by the horns and not only gave us a tour down memory lane of the streets of Orillia, but also arranged for my oldest buddy Ron Clarke to come up from Waterloo to surprise me.

It was just excellent. These guys are salt of the earth. The whole bunch of them.

Mel also told me about the time he was hurt in a game, and to this day he doesn’t understand why I wasn’t there to witness it. I was on the team, but I don’t remember it. Maybe I was hungover.

It was a Juvenile game, and my Orillia team was in Elmvale to play….yes….Elmvale.

And on the Elmvale team was a player who may or may not have become a serial killer, or worse….a Broad St. Bully.

I don’t know what Mel did to deserve this. Cripes.

Mel was playing defence and this guy came over the blueline with his head down, and as Mel was about to rock him with an Alexei Emelin-type hit, the guy smashed his stick into Mel’s face. Mel hit the ice like a ton of bricks, got up to chase him, but back down he went again, with blood gushing all over the place.

Mel was quickly taken to a doctor in Elmvale where he was stitched up with 57 stitches, and then was rushed to the hospital in Barrie where doctors pulled his broken jaw and teeth back from halfway down his throat. They then pulled four teeth and sent him on his way.

In that same game, the player who did all this also bit Orillia’s Andy Rowe on the ear, and in the end, the guy was banned from hockey for life. You have to be a pretty greasy dude to be banned for life.

It was bad, this incident, and Mel also lost 20 pounds while recovering. But he said it had a silver lining. He was excused from taking his Christmas exams.

Something else about Mel. He was an excellent ball player and at one time was scouted by the Kansas City Royals organization. He also, for many years, wrote a sports column for Orillia’s Packet and Times. But best of all, he’s simply a great guy.

And the Elmvale guy? Come to think of it, one of Gaston’s buddies in San Quentin was from Elmvale.

(If you’re not familiar with Gaston, he’s under “Gaston” over in Categories. He’s quite an asshole).

The Old Barn Going Down

Word has come down that the Orillia Community Centre, after 61 years as home to skaters and shooters and wrestlers and fall fairs, will be flattened and I don’t mind saying, I’m quite upset about this. It’s not that old, is it?

The Orillia Arena, in the heart of the city, is where I learned to skate. It’s where I belonged to teams and scored my first goal and scored more in later years when I became a smallish-yet-shifty right winger for the Orillia Byer’s Bulldozers bantam and midget teams.

I tried to pattern myself after Ralph Backstrom, and I used to get numerous breakaways, sort of like Tomas Plekanec, and my big move was to veer to the right of the goalie, then shoot it over to the left. But I digress.

It’s where I went to public skating every Sunday and tried to work up enough nerve to ask Brenda Clarke or Janis Emmons to skate, which meant you got to hold hands with them, which meant it was sort of like sex in a way.

The old arena is where Ron Clarke and I trudged up to from the west ward with stick and duffel bag slung over our shoulders, and I probably mentioned to him that Brenda Clark wants me to be her boyfriend. Rocket Richard came to the arena, Bobby Orr played there, I saw Orr’s brother Ron in action there often, and retired NHL great Cal Gardner was on the Orillia senior team. It even boasted a large portrait of Queen Elizabeth at one end, like the old Winnipeg Arena did.

The grand arena was built by volunteers – men after their regular work day was through, kids joining in after school, people from all over Orillia coming together and putting the thing up at a cost of $150,000. Toronto Maple Leaf great Turk Broda showed for the opening ceremonies, which I didn’t know until recently, and as the years went by, it earned its rightful place as ground zero for a bunch of kids like me.

First it’s the family home getting sold after my dad went into an old folks home, and now the arena is getting the wrecking ball. From an emotional point of view, it’s getting harder to get back there now. My heart works overtime. I just wish I could have one last skate at the old barn. Maybe even with Brenda Clark and Janice Emmons.



Ron And Dennis’ Excellent Adventure

The other day the phone rang and it was my old friend Ron Clarke, and although he lives in the Kitchener/Waterloo area, he was in Vancouver visiting his 34 year old daughter who has terminal lung cancer.

Ron and I go back further than any other of my other friends as we were childhood buddies and schoolmates and we played road hockey and  held on to bumpers of cars and got free rides as the unsuspecting drivers made their way through snowy streets. He and I traded hockey cards, smoked our first cigarettes together, went through minor hockey, and he started hanging around with a girl in grade seven and ended up marrying her after they dated for about ten years.

Ron and I went our separate ways because he was a straight-laced guy who wanted no part of what was happening with the counter-culture in the 1960’s, and I was the opposite. But we always remained friends over the years anyway.

After talking to Ron, I remembered a time when we were 12 year old altar boys and one of the priests was not only the big shot priest, the Monsignor, but he also somehow had a connection to the Toronto Maple Leafs. It might have something to do with St. Michael’s College in Toronto but I’m not sure. 

Monsignor Lee asked Ron and I one day if we’d like to go to Peterborough for the day and visit the Leafs in training camp, and off we went. Turns out Monsignor Lee had more than just a slight connection with the Leafs. It was almost like he was part of them.

In the afternoon, we had dinner with the team, for gawd’s sakes, although the players, Keon, Horton, Mahovlich, Baun, Pulford and the rest were on the other side of the room. Ron and I sat at a table with King Clancy and Jim Gregory, and the two of them, with the Monsignor, told old stories about when they did this and when they did that, and although I don’t recall any of the conversations, I can still picture  Clancy being really funny and Jim Gregory doing most of the talking.

Later on, we had primo seats at the Peterborough arena to see the Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks play an exhibition game and we went down to the boards and got Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita’s autographs.

Then, back to Orillia we went, an hour away.

Back to the present. I spoke briefly on the phone with Ron’s daughter, Jocelyne, and I told her she was going to beat her lung cancer. She said that’s not what any of her doctor’s have told her.


Ron and I also went to Barrie at about the same age as when we went to Peterborough, and he and I helped the AHL Buffalo Bisons trainer and stood behind the bench as stick boys for an exhibition game between the Bisons and Rochester Americans. Don Cherry played for Rochester but it didn’t matter at that time, (I only know because I still have the lineup sheet), and the only players who made an impact on me where Gilles Marotte, Billy Dea, and Fred Stanfield.

I also remember Ron and I coming home from playing hockey at the arena in Orillia and noticed the Habs-Leafs on TV in someone’s living room. So we sat outside the window and watched the game without the people knowing.