My Christmas week column a year ago featured a quiz that asked 33 questions about Pictou County sports history. It seemed to be popular and, in the last few weeks alone, I’ve had a number of readers ask if I would be doing another quiz this year.
Instead, I decided to focus on one particular hockey feat to see if it is remembered by local fans after five and a half decades.
I took a different approach after posing one question to four elderly fans who, as they say in the sports world, “know their stuff.”
On separate occasions, I asked the same thing: What member of the New Glasgow Rangers established an all-time Maritime record for goals scored in senior hockey in one season?
I believe each of the four old guys — they have to be old to have been around at the time — was confident he had the correct answer.
Two of them quickly said it was Fleming Mackell, the former NHL star who was New Glasgow’s playing coach in the franchise’s final season.
They were wrong.
Another life-long fan thought about it for several minutes before naming Daryl (Big M) MacMillan, the darling of many Rangers supporters in the early 1960s.
Another incorrect reply.
The fourth person I asked chose a local player — the talented Nelson Wilson — who spent most of his senior career with New Glasgow.
No, also wrong.
I don’t want the column to end yet, so I offer a few facts and figures before giving the answer. All three of the players named deserve credit for their goal scoring accomplishments.
First, however, what was the Maritime record that was shattered by a New Glasgow Ranger?
The record of 76 goals was initially set in 1953-54 — in what was called the Maritime Major Hockey League — by Billy Ford of the Halifax Atlantics. That was the second season in succession that the Atlantics won the semi-pro circuit and went on to win the national Alexander Cup championship.
Ford had 62 assists to go with his record-setting goals mark to win the league scoring crown with 138 points. He was so popular in Halifax that a Billy Ford Night was held at which he was given a new station wagon.
The Ford record was matched eight years later — in 1961-62 — when Alain Caron of the Amherst Ramblers scored 76 goals among 122 points to win the Nova Scotia Senior Hockey League points title. He was so dominant that runner-up Daryl MacMillan was 33 points behind.
I’ve always remembered those two performances.
I used to listen to the Halifax games on the radio in the early ’50s and heard the game in which Ford completed his performance. Then, when Caron had his huge campaign, I was covering the Ramblers and the senior league and was league statistician.
For those reasons, that 76 was embedded in my mind.
That’s why I was interested to see if other fans from those long-ago times could recall the guy who smashed the record, and did it by a sizable margin.
I wasn’t surprised by the Mackell guesses.
He was arguably the best player ever to play for a senior team in Pictou County, having spent four years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, including two Stanley Cup seasons, and nine years with the Boston Bruins. In Boston, he enjoyed three 20-goal years, topped by 27 goals in 1952-53.
He arrived in New Glasgow late in 1963-64, then the following winter, as playing coach, he was the league scoring champion with 49 goals and 75 assists for 124 points. His 49 markers provided many highlights for local fans and played a major part in the club’s Maritime championship.
MacMillan was a legitimate choice, too.
He was another fan favourite, arriving in the county in 1961-62 with a reputation as a huge goal scorer. Among his earlier accomplishments was an 81-goal season four years previous with the Sarnia Sailors — achieved in just 48 games. He had spent years in the International and Eastern minor pro circuits.
MacMillan didn’t disappoint in New Glasgow. Not by a longshot. He had joined the Rangers a month late in ‘61-62, yet led the Rangers in goals with 29. The next year, he had a 47-goal performance, playing on the top line with Wilson and Ralph Cameron. A good reason to remember him as a prime sniper.
Wilson was a decent guess, as well.
Okay, he didn’t have any 50-plus goal campaigns, but that didn’t take away from his outstanding career, all in Pictou County. Indeed, he scored lots of goals, year after year after year. Despite a serious facial injury that forced his retirement far too soon, he managed over 300 goals in senior hockey.
Wilson was another star — a true local favourite — who was rewarded with Nelson Wilson Night when he was given a new car. The only thing that’s missing is his induction into the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame, an honour that he should have received a long time ago.
And so, as my subject nears its end, I must not forget that significant fact — the answer to the question I posed in the first place.
It happened in 1963-64.
It was the second season in New Glasgow for the 23-year-old from Matane, Que. In his previous campaign, he demonstrated that he could score, getting 42 goals.
His output was nothing short of amazing.
Look what he did during the schedule: At one stage, in five road games, he scored 20 times; in the last game of the season, he had six goals.
Those aren’t misprints.
Looking back, he wasn’t big in size – just five-foot-nine and 170 pounds — but out on the ice he was huge while smashing the Maritime record with an enormous 89 goals.
What a year it was for Nels Tremblay.