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A strange friendship through a rugged 1969 hockey series


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For hockey followers, it's old news that the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League defeated the scrappy Cape Breton Screaming Eagles 5-2 last Friday night at the Metro Centre in Halifax to win the best of seven playoff round 4-1.

But probably unknown to many hockey fans in these parts is that the Cape Breton team practiced at the Sportsplex in Brookfield during the early stages of the recent series.

Although it was practically done in secret with the doors chained shut, we learned about the practice session a number of days later through longtime friend Donald Ross.

I called Ross to ask what he remembered about a terrific 1969 Nova Scotia Intermediate A playoff hockey series between Sydney Alpines and the Brookfield Elks, and by coincidence, he said: "You'd never believe who called me the other day?" Realizing that I was stuck, Ross continued: "Blair Joseph - the assistant coach of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles."

An interesting aspect of this story is that Joseph - a former boxer - and the spirited Ross were opponents who faced each other in more ways than one during a rugged Nova Scotia championship hockey series played in Truro and Sydney during March of 1969.

The Elks, who were led by the likes of Ross, Donnie Dennis, Bobby Crowell, Gordon Matheson, Owen Deuville, Barry Clarke, Denny Clyke, Terry Henderson, Vaughan Matheson, Hugh Matheson, Buddy Gardiner, Randy Roop, David Law and goaltender Cy McGettigan, won the first two games in the best-of-five series in Truro by scores of 6-5 and 9-7.

But in Sydney, the Alpines came charging back with 4-3 and 7-6 wins to force a sudden-death game for the championship. It was also scheduled for Sydney on March 9.

The game, played before 3,000 revved up hockey fans, was described in part on the sports page of the Truro Daily News the next day - "The Brookfield Elks fought back from two consecutive losses on Sydney ice to eke out a 4-0 decision and take the Nova Scotia Intermediate A title three games to two.

Cy McGettigan put on a spectacular display of goaltending Sunday and Bobby Crowell notched a brace before a large crowd at the Sydney Forum. Gordon Matheson scored the Elk's first goal (the winner) on a pass from Randy Roop and Crowell. Denny Clyke fired the fourth Brookfield goal, unassisted in the third period.

The defence, led by Hugh Matheson, who was flown to Sydney for the game, played outstanding hockey. A second period brawl resulted in major penalties to Ross and Law of the Elks and Blair Joseph and Pete McPhedrin of the Alpines."

It was interesting to hear from a few members of that Brookfield team and what they remember about the series.

"It was one of the best hockey series that I can recall playing in,"?Crowell said. "We flew Hughie Matheson in for the fifth and deciding game. Hughie made a big difference. In that final game I remember that Donald Ross and Blair Joseph had one of the longest hockey fights imaginable - neither one of them would quit. Winning the series was great, I'll never forget it."

Reaching Buddy Gardiner at his home in Barrie, Ont., the Shubenacadie East native and former 30-year-member of the OPP, recalled: "That was a series that went right down to the wire. There was a big, big crowd to that last game in Sydney ... it was quite an atmosphere. Another thing that comes to mind is that Sydney's Blair Joseph was a hard-nosed lad and quite a scrapper. He and Donald Ross had quite a battle in the final game."

Law, a former 35-year farmer who is now involved in trucking, said: "Sydney certainly came swarming back down there to win two straight games. They were on fire and the place was jammed for the final fifth game. I never played all that much but it was a heck of a rough game and we got a pretty good brawl going in the second period. I remember they had this Blair Joseph and everyone said, 'don't touch him, he's a boxer.' Donald Ross and Joseph had quite a tangle and they went at it toe-to-toe for a couple minutes. It was the best hockey series, it was real rugged, good hockey and one thing I do remember is that we won it."

Donald Ross, commenting on the 1969 series as well as the recent telephone call from Blair Joseph, explained: "What comes to mind now is that I had just started dating my future wife Linda. She came to Sydney for the game and there I was out there on the ice fighting. I decided that I had to get away from the stupid fighting. When Blair and I finished our bout, I don't think either one of us could lift our arms, we were that tired.

"I can remember our playoff win quite clearly and you may not read it in the game summary but the team spirit and the input of guys like Randy Roop, Terry Henderson and Hughie Matheson, that still stands out to me. Roop had the most drive. What a competitor, a no-quit attitude, the best spirit I ever saw in a teammate.

"Blair Joseph called after all these years to tell me (the Screaming Eagles) had practiced in Brookfield and he was sorry that it was a closed-door thing and that he couldn't invite me down. He told me that in a recent pep talk to his Screaming Eagle players, he told them about first meeting me and that he always remembered me because I wouldn't quit. He said to me, 'I hope you don't mind.' I thanked him for doing that. Blair also asked me about my health situation - I have nothing but respect for the man."

Yes, a strange friendship through a rugged 1969 hockey series.

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