Pictou Advocate sports

An exciting year despite no league

Sports

It was precisely 60 years ago — March 1958 on our calendars.

At that time, I had reached a fork in the road in my personal journey towards a career. A month earlier, I had walked away from engineering studies at St. Francis Xavier University that had bored me to death. I had dumped my hardly-used textbooks in the trash so I could switch to the University of King’s College and a journalism world I truly wanted to enter.

It was a good winter to be back in Pictou County.

For me, already a fanatical follower of all sports, I knew interesting things were occurring in senior hockey at home even though the sport itself was also at a crossroads.

The previous season proved to be the last for the APC league that had been around since the 1920s. The next year would see the beginning of a new Nova Scotia senior circuit including New Glasgow.

But that ‘57-58 winter was caught in between. There was no league involving one or more teams in the county.

It didn’t matter.

As things developed and playoff time arrived that March, there was plenty of action around New Glasgow Stadium, affectionately known as Freeman’s Freeze in those memorable days.

There was also lots of excitement.

Two matters had to be settled in a few weeks. First, a Maritime team for Allan Cup playdowns had to be declared. Then a true Maritime senior champion had to be determined.

The Rangers were ready.

Leo Fahey, the long-time player and coach with county teams, was in the double role with the club.

Frankie Prozenor was in nets, and there were long-time performers like Nelson Wilson, Bert Dalling, Ralph Cameron, Jim MacNeil, Jimmy MacDonald, Billy Billick, Ducky MacLean, Alex Robertson, Gun Mason, Ron Cheek, Eugene Swartzack and Geno Scatalone.

There was a so-called Maritime league operating, but it was localized in Amherst, Charlottetown and Summerside. There was also the Cape Breton loop.

The Rangers and Halifax Wolverines, however, were left out, confined to independent status.

Since they had lots of time on their schedules, they were matched for an extended best-of-nine battle. It could have used up a couple of weeks, even longer. But it didn’t.

The Wolverines had an abundance of experience in their lineup, many of their players known to New Glasgow fans — guys like Bert Hirschfeld, Dugger MacNeil, Kenny Flynn and Hap Hanson. That, though, made no difference. The Rangers surprisingly knocked the city guys off in five straight games, outscoring Halifax by a wide 27-8 margin. Included in the victories were two shutouts by Prozenor.

That put New Glasgow against the Amherst Ramblers in a best-of-seven set to confirm which club would advance to Allan Cup frolics.

The hot Rangers kept rolling, scoring victories in games one, two and three. Amherst responded by adding three players, one of whom was the great home-brew icon Shermie White. The Ramblers made the moves look good, taking the next three contests to deadlock the series 3-3.

Game seven was in New Glasgow. Some 3,500 customers paid their way into the 2,300-seat Stadium. And, yes, the locals prevailed, taking a well-earned verdict that had spectators in a state of pandemonium.

For the Rangers, it was on to Allan Cup action.

It was a best-of-five round against the Quebec champion Hull Legions. Remember that great showdown at the Stadium? It, too, went the distance.

New Glasgow gained a 2-1 games lead — and it was very exciting much of the time. The locals were a win away from the Eastern Canadian finals.

But it didn’t happen.

Though dropping close decisions in games four and five, the Rangers, it should be remembered even after all this time, had given a fine account of themselves.

But hold everything. The team’s season wasn’t over.

Remember the need to crown a true Maritime champion from among qualifying franchises? Besides the Rangers, there were the Charlottetown Royals, Bathurst Papermakers and North Sydney Combines vying for those honours.

That action had already begun while New Glasgow was having its affair with Hull. By the time that was finished, Charlottetown was ready to challenge the Rangers in what was the Maritime semi-final.

It was a best-of-five series. The Royals were powerful, their roster made up of former Maritime Big Four stars like Buck Whitlock, Orin Carver and Angie Carroll. Though the Island was considered power-packed, New Glasgow continued being impressive.

The first two games were at the Stadium. The red-hot Royals scored five times in the first period against the over-rested Rangers to gain the opening win. New Glasgow took the second home game by a single goal before activities switched to Charlottetown for completion.

On the island, the Rangers lost game three by a goal, then won another close struggle to square the action at two wins apiece. Obviously there had been too many games in a short period of time. The Rangers appeared weary in the next match, suffering a drubbing in the wrap-up.

The first and last games against the Island were the only times New Glasgow suffered lopsided defeats in 22 playoff games. Those final three games had been played on three consecutive nights.

That season without a local league to play in? The independent Rangers didn’t seem to notice. They enjoyed a very satisfying campaign.

By the following season, the Rangers had entered the new Nova Scotia loop with four other teams, all in Metro — the Halifax Wolverines, Dartmouth Chebuctos, Shearwater Flyers and Stadacona Sailors.

Remember how I was going to Halifax to study journalism? Perfect timing. The Evening News hired me to cover all New Glasgow road games since they were all in Halifax and Dartmouth.

Meantime, how good were those league-less Rangers in 1957-58?

Good enough that, 42 years later in 2000, they were inducted into the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame.

It was a team that had earned the honour.