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Eric Richards and PAB Minor Hockey

Eric Richards played a key role in helping found the PAB Minor Hockey Association and served for decades as a volunteer with the board. – Courtesy of John Spencer

PORT AUX BASQUES – It reads like a virtual ‘Who’s Who’ in the early days of minor hockey in Port Aux Basques – a journal kept safe among minor hockey memorabilia of former longtime local minor hockey secretary, and provincially recognized volunteer, Eric Richards. Eric passed away on March 16, 2021. The journal, invaluable to the history of the local minor hockey association, will now join a collection of items donated by Eric’s family to be displayed at either the local museum or the Bruce II Sports Centre.

It was 1967. The Bruce Arena, unofficially called the ‘stadium’, was preparing for a second hockey season. The Armco-designed green structure, built on land once owned by the church, stood magnificently against the skyline high up on Army Hill, overlooking the harbour in the twin towns of Channel-Port Aux Basques.

The stadium had been opened by then Premier ‘Joey’ Smallwood, the last living Father of Confederation, with much political fanfare on July 13, 1966. Port aux Basques was the last stop on a province-wide tour, complete with a two mile long motorcade, marking the official opening of the Trans Canada Highway across the province. Given the significance of the event, Town Council had sent a letter out to residents to “have their property cleaned up and painted for the occasion.”

The official Gala Opening Night for hockey followed on Nov. 19, with an inter-provincial junior game between the Glace Bay Minors and Corner Brook Pats with Newfoundland Amateur Hockey Association (NAHA) Hall of Fame members, Frank ‘Dankee’ Dorrington behind the Corner Brook bench and a very young, future NHL goalie, Doug Grant between the pipes.

Fast forward to Sept. 19, 1967. It was time to get organized for a new hockey season – time to offer an opportunity for children to step on the ice as part of the newly formed PAB Minor Hockey Association. The first executive consisted of a strong element of school, church and community volunteers, representing all walks of life.

The Tuesday evening public meeting held at St. James Elementary School was chaired by local educator Nathan Kettle. Mr. Kettle accepted the role as the first President of the newly formed association. The rest of the executive consisted of Rev. Bellamy, Vice President and Register; Edward Sheaves, Secretary Treasurer; Referee in Chief, Tom Hounsell; Division Heads: Midget, Lorne Wicks; Bantam-Robert Peddle; Pee Wee-Derrick Harvey; Squirts-Rev. Cyrus Pittman.

The other order of business that evening was to select Tom Hounsell and Lorne Wicks to attend Hockey Newfoundland’s governing body, the NAHA’s annual fall meeting in Corner Brook. The minutes noted that expenses of both gentlemen would be covered by the provincial body. Wicks was later given the task to deliver a constitution to govern the affairs of the association, which he fulfilled.

Being affiliated with the NAHA meant local minor teams could participate in the annual Easter tournaments. Very early into its first year of operations, the PAB association was preparing for provincial championships in Stephenville and Bonavista.

While Stephenville did not present travel challenges, securing hockey pants for the boys at a cost of $10.00 a pair was high on the agenda. However, getting a team to Bonavista generated creative discussion, leaving executive member Tom Hounsell to investigate the possibility of putting the team on a train.

Registration for the first season was scheduled for Oct. 21 and Nov. 4, with no extension other than if a new family moved to town after the start of the season. While no player numbers were recorded for the first season, it is likely that Nov. 1969 minutes showing 338 players registered over four divisions were a close reflection of the interest for the game. Those numbers as well, particularly in the younger age divisions, necessitated creative work on the part of volunteer organizers in dividing up the ice, creating three mini rinks by using lumber and plywood dividers at respective blue lines. The material for the dividers was donated by Mayor Mark Staples.

Other business to be attended to before the scheduled first day on the ice set for Nov. 18 discussed the availability of locker space. It was suggested that Mr. R. Peddle, Mr. Louis Battiste and Mr. Ken Fraser would assume those duties. Those who recall the early days at the stadium know pretty much everything needed by coaches and players was stored in plywood lockers built under the bleachers along the south east end of the building. This area was also used to store the wooden ice dividers, along with rocks used by curlers.

Skill development surfaced in the third meeting of this new group when it was decided to send Bob Peddle, Doug Harvey and, stadium manager, Lew Hardwick, to a coaches’ clinic at Gander. There were also notes within the minutes of having provincial NAHA hockey icon, and Hockey NL Hall of Fame member, Joe Byrne, and former four time Stanley Cup winner, Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Howie Meeker come to town to offer clinics.

At a meeting held on Jan. 11, 1968, it was decided to expand the opportunity for other children in the area to play within the local association by inviting players from Isle Aux Morts and the Codroy Valley to be placed on local teams. Rev. Pittman, Anglican minister in Isle Aux Morts, was tasked to make the contacts.

Other notables from those early days, referenced in a motion made by volunteer Samuel Keeping and seconded by businessman Mr. James Knee on Oct. 9, 1969, included creating a figure skating section, with the position of Vice President under the PAB Minor Hockey umbrella. Miss Mary English was assigned responsibility to investigate the possibility, with an estimated budget of between $500 and $600.

The minutes recorded in those early days are invaluable to the celebrated history of the PAB Minor Hockey Association. It was no doubt invaluable, as well, in preserving the contribution of the early volunteers and setting a tone for level of excellence, as evidenced by volunteers within the proud organization.

For those who had the opportunity to be involved within Eric Richards’ time with minor hockey both as a volunteer and assuming roles as secretary and Director that spanned decades, you knew all too well of Eric’s commitment and dedication. We also respected Eric’s ability to be up front when taking on a responsibility both locally and provincially. This candid approach by Eric was reflected in an advertisement in the local newspaper of the day, The Gulf News (Nov. 1991) seeking volunteers to complete an executive slate for the 1991 hockey season.

‘Executive Positions Open’. Applications have been invited for four executive positions with the Port aux Basques Minor Hockey Association. The association needs directors to handle public relations, bingo fundraising and the Novice division. Spokesperson Eric Richards noted with honesty, “The salary is nil, working hours are long, rewards are scarce and there is verbal abuse in abundance. All that is required,” he added, “are good nerve(s) and a thick skin.” Classic Eric.

He was a tremendous volunteer, dedicated to building a better community. His legacy spread over decades. The work of Eric, and those who gathered on Sept.19, 1967, to lay the foundation of the PAB Minor Hockey Association will not be forgotten.

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