In its inaugural year, Powell River’s Sports Hall of Fame will induct one team and eight athletes who have had a lasting legacy. In the weeks leading up to the gala, taking place June 15 at Hap Parker Arena, the Peak has been profiling the inductees, giving more insight into their accomplishments and contributions to the fabric of the community.
“It’s time for crystal ball gazing. Until a few games are under the belt who can predict anything?”
That question from sports writer Jack Teahen’s Mainly Hockey column from the September 18, 1969, issue of the Powell River News wasn’t answered until Tuesday, April 21,1970.
Powell River Regals came from behind to win the fifth game of a five-game series against Val-d’Or Olympic Hockey Club to capture the W.C. Hardy Trophy and become national senior hockey champions.
Just months away from that season start 50 years ago, the Regals are among the inaugural Powell River Sports Hall of Fame inductees.
Shortly after completion of Willingdon Arena in 1955, there were three hockey teams: Home Gas, Rodmay Hotel and Wilshire’s Variety. From those teams, an all-star squad was formed called the Luckies, and the story goes that the name was based on Lucky Lager beer.
When Lager is spelled backwards, it becomes Regal, which is how the team that became national champions less than 15 years later supposedly got its name.
When fans think back on that time, they remember lining up for tickets in the early morning, thrilling goals, outstanding goaltending and heart-stopping moments. People who lived through it with the players and team officials can still pinpoint their favourite moments and recall the screams of: “We’re number one!” as the hands on the old time clock counted down the seconds of the final game, a 5-3 win.
On their way to the championship, the Regals had to dispel Comox Totems and Port Alberni Labatts to win the Black Ball Trophy as Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey League champions.
To capture the Coy Cup as BC champions, they had to defeat Chemainus Blues, Shmyr Flyers, Prince George Mohawks and Kimberley Centennials.
Downing Lloydminister Border Kings and Rosetown Redwings earned the green and gold the Edmonton Journal Cup as Western Canadian champions.
All those victories set up the final series against the Olympic from Quebec. Regals won the first game, then lost the next two before tying the series and forcing a fifth game.
Centre George Chambers, who had been drafted by Detroit Red Wings when there were only six National Hockey League teams, came to Powell River for the 1959/1960 season. He and Bob Crawford were encouraged by Barry Lang to come here. The two attended elementary and high school together and remained lifelong friends until Crawford died with Chambers one of those at his side.
Crawford was a playing coach, something that Chambers, a prolific goal scorer, admired realizing how difficult it was to play his shifts and be thinking about game strategy.
“I’ll always remember when we needed a goal, he would yell ‘Chambers get out there.’”
Chambers, who has owned property on Savary Island since the 1960s, left the community a few times but always returned.
“I love Powell River,” he said.
After quitting the mill at age 28 because he was unable to acquire an apprenticeship, he enrolled in Simon Fraser University and became a teacher, a career that lasted 29 years.
Chambers remembers the 1969/1970 season started out like any other year but “it was awesome how it ended with the old arena filled every night. It was a highlight of my life for sure. That was something. Not very many teams get to win a national title.”
Joining Chambers on wing, team captain Rob Carmen also came to and left Powell River a couple times, returning for good in 1961. The Saskatchewan native remembers the team had been building for a few years before the epic championship season.
“We had some pretty good players and good goaltending, and had finally got by Port Alberni to win the Coy Cup,” said Carmen. “That was exciting for me the first time it happened.”
Regals won the Coy Cup for the first time in 1966/1967, and again in 1968/1969, but were defeated at the next stage of playoffs on each occasion.
A bonus for the Regals in 1969/1970 was having every provincial competitor come west, something that happened every other year.
Once the Regals became provincial champions, they were able to pick up three players from other teams. That year it was John Shmyr, Gary Begg and Al McLean. Carmen had known McLean from his junior year in Melville.
“When we finally played Val-d’Or, we knew it would be tough,” said Carmen. “Several of their players had played in the American Hockey League and they came on pretty strong.”
To get ready for the games, Carmen said he would leave his home in Wildwood and start walking. His wife Sandra would pick him up and take him the rest of the way to the arena.
He said he scored a lot of what some people call “garbage goals,” heading for the front of the net and waiting for a rebound from a Chambers’ shot.
After the 26-game playoff run, during which Carmen never took a day off work from his millwright’s job, he finally called in the day after the final game to say he would not be coming in.
“I’d had a few drinks to calm down,” he said. “The next day, when I went to work, all the millwrights gave me a standing ovation from a platform. It gave me goosebumps.”
To this day, Carmen said frequently when he goes to the [Town Centre] mall, someone comes up to him and wants to talk about that unforgettable season.
He agrees with Chambers who said, “It’s great to be part of the first induction of Powell River Sports Hall of Fame. It’s quite an honour.”