GUEST COLUMN: The day the NHL came to town

Randy Evans

For the Sarnia Legionnaires, the 1956-57 hockey season was a heady one.

Led by coach Stu Cousins and general manager Tom Norris, the Legion began their third season by signing as a farm team of the NHL Chicago Blackhawks.

Bolstered by imports sent to town by the Hawks, the Legion went on to win their first provincial championship that season.

Not so, however, for that year’s Sr. B Sarnia C.V.’S.  With a roster made up primarily of former Sarnia Sailors and coached by Ted Garvin, the older pucksters finished the year in 6th and last place in their league.

Despite their obvious talent, the Legionnaires lacked one thing the senior crew had – experience.  And so, for one night, C.V. players including Hilt Fraser, Charlie Glaab and Don Savage joined the youngsters, and for good reason.

The Chicago Blackhawks were coming to town for a game.

Though sitting in the NHL basement, the Hawks arrived at the Sarnia Arena on Jan. 23, 1957 with a pro squad featuring three future Hockey Hall of Famers: coach Tom Ivan, defenseman Pierre Pilote and forward Harry Watson.

Despite ticket prices of $1.25 for reserved seats and $1 for general admission, some 3,200 fans jammed the arena to its rafters. Arena manager Walter Smilie reportedly turned away another 200 fans.

Observer sportswriter Fred Wheeler said the Hawks played non-aggressive hockey and concentrating on playmaking. Perhaps the pre-game steak dinner fed to the Hawks at the Legion slowed them down.

In any event, after the puck dropped the game was briefly tied before the pros pulled away to a 5-1 first period lead. It was 10-3 after two and 14-6 at the closing buzzer.  The shots on goal favoured the Hawks 45-27, which explains why the crowd gave a big hand to Sarnia’s goaltending duo of Bobby Foster and Bill Armstrong.

Jack Kerwin and Pat “Whitey” Stapleton led the locals with a goal and assist each, with other goals going to Glaab, Savage, Ed Leslie and Ted Wright. Other Sarnia assists were attributed to Bob Duncan and Dick Robinson.

The proceeds of the game were shared by the Legionaires and the S.M.A.A. hockey group.

It was a big night at the Brock Street Barn.

Randy Evans is a local history buff