OPINION: Sarnia hockey pioneer going into Sports Hall of Fame

Mike L’Heureux, right, and Sarnia sports colleague Gerry Stewart, seen together downtown in 2017. Photo courtesy, Brian Keelan

A small town in Ohio owes most of its hockey culture to a group of guys from Sarnia.

And this month one of them will officially be recognized for his sporting prowess.

Mike L’Heureux was born in Chatham in 1941 and moved to Sarnia at the age of four. His Dad, Morris (Moe) L’Heureux had returned from the Royal Canadian Air Force and bought a home in the new postwar housing development known today as the “Tree Streets.”

L’Heureux grew up in a world of backyard skating rinks and a love of hockey fuelled by heritage. His grandfather played on three Allan Cup teams in Port Arthur (today Thunder Bay) and father Moe coached both Senior and Junior B hockey in Sarnia.

Coming up through the SMAA, Mike played on the Sarnia Legionnaires from 1959-62, then for Port Huron Junior College (today St. Clair College).

He then headed to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio – a city of 40,000 including 20,000 college students. It was a time when Canadian schools were ambivalent about athletic scholarships and U.S. schools aggressively sought athletes north of the border.

Mike L’Heureux lettered at OU in tennis and soccer but his great contribution was in hockey. He was the team’s top scorer and set a single-game scoring record (9 points) that stands to this day, more than half a century later.

The 1968-69 OU hockey team had six Canadian players, coached by Terry Gray and assisted by Gerry Stewart and Larry Lockhart – all from Sarnia.

Mike L’Heureux was the first inductee into Ohio University’s Hall of Fame in 2005. After college, he continued to referee and coach. As a coach of the college team, he compiled a remarkable 55-17-2 record.

In Athens he is recognized for having established the city’s very first youth hockey program, aided by Ken Gamble of Sarnia (of the Gamble Insurance family). Together, these men created a huge Sarnia hockey legacy in the rolling hills of Southeastern Ohio.

The youth program, still operating vigourously today, has been described as “a little bit of Sarnia in Appalachia.”

To talk to 77-year-old Mike L’Heureux is like walking through seven decades of Sarnia’s hockey history, from his days of playing for Our Lady of Mercy School against Sacred Heart, to the impressive list of Canadian athletes who honed their skills in the U.S. college system.

A cattle farmer today, L’Heureux still returns to Sarnia as often as he can to visit family and friends.

He will be inducted into the Sarnia-Lambton Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday, Oct. 26, at the Sarnia Golf and Curling Club.