There’s a question that keeps being asked in emails from readers or during conversations with acquaintances or total strangers. How do I keep finding new column ideas after writing for so many years?
The longevity reference just makes me smile.
Sometimes I get a subject in a rather peculiar way. It happened again for this week’s column.
I went to bed a bit disgusted after a Toronto Maple Leafs defeat that shouldn’t have been a defeat. I had no inkling what I’d be writing about the next morning.
Things changed while I slept.
That night, I dreamed a dream that I was being assigned — by what newspaper I don’t know — to cover the first game of a new APC Senior Hockey League. When I awoke just after dawn, I even had the heading for this column in mind.
As I was getting up, I was actually thinking the APC league might make a decent column — even if I didn’t remember what paper gave me the assignment so long ago.
There was just one problem: I wasn’t even born when four teams — Antigonish, New Glasgow, Thorburn and Truro — were preparing to participate in the new venture.
It was the winter of 1922-23 — yes, 98 hockey seasons ago. I wasn’t even a twinkle in my parents’ eyes.
But maybe I could do the column anyway.
When I was in Grade 10 at New Glasgow High in 1954, a rookie in the sportswriting business with the Evening News, the new sports editor, Ricky Fraser assigned me to some APC league games.
I already knew the product.
I had been attending APC matches with my father at the old Arena downtown since I was five. By the time the Stadium opened in 1951, I was far more familiar with senior hockey players than my chemistry and physics teachers at the high school.
Yes, I told the dogs as I gave them their breakfast, I’ll do an APC column. Neither George nor Gracie seemed interested. There was no applause, no barking.
My concern was how many hockey fans were still alive within The Advocate’s reach when the APC league started. Or even when it ended.
The final season was in 1956-57.
Even that was 64 years ago. Ouch, I thought, that’s a long time. But I continued this effort.
I’ve seen many hockey leagues.
There were my working years in New Glasgow when the local Rangers were in the Nova Scotia Senior Hockey League, a circuit that later carried a Maritime nameplate.
Not long after taking my typewriter to Halifax, there were 13 years of the Nova Scotia Voyageurs in the American Hockey League, then subsequent AHL campaigns with the Nova Scotia Oilers and Halifax Citadels.
There were also the talented junior clubs like the Cole Harbour Scotia Colts, the Halifax teams of numerous names, and the university leagues that were popular with many fans.
Now there have been two decades of the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior League.
And, on the personal side, there were the winters attending my two sons’ minor hockey games and, more recently, girls hockey involving two granddaughters.
When I consider all those experiences, I still believe the old APC league was a pretty darn good brand of hockey.
Maybe it did start shortly after the First World War, maybe it was around for 16 years before I was born. But I loved it as a pre-schooler, and I continued loving it into the early years of my career.
There were plenty of teams.
There were clubs like New Glasgow’s Tigers, Colts, Bombers and Rangers; Stellarton’s Oaklands and Royals; Pictou’s Regals, Shipyards, Refitters and Maripacs; Truro Bearcats, Antigonish Bulldogs and the St. Francis Xavier X-Men.
There were also brief stays by the likes of the Trenton Scotias and Pictou County Pontiacs. Back in the war years, there were the Debert Army Bearcats and Debert RCAF Flyers.
No, I wasn’t around to watch “oldtimers,” like Hughie McCarron, Art Dalton, Bill Forbes, Clary Potts, Foster Dickson, Frank and Irving McGibbon, Syd Malcolm and Bruce Cox, most of whom I got to know after their playing days.
I certainly recall the first players I saw in action, guys like Boots Baird, Lionel Hancock, Tiger Mackie, Pete Kelly, Kink MacDonald, Ab MacKinnon, Les Topshee, Sonny MacDonald and Shorty MacDougall.
Into the 1950s, there was hardly a player I didn’t know, let alone watch. Enter the likes of Nelson Wilson, Ralph Cameron, Jim MacNeil, Mark Babineau, Kent Storey, Jim MacDonald, Alex Robertson, Shorty Aikens and Arnie Baudoux. A list that could go on and on.
From my earliest knowledge of the league, until its final curtain, I liked the idea that most — but not quite all — of the players were locals, guys you could see around town, at their jobs, in the church pews on Sunday.
Imports started arriving more frequently in the 1950s, adding new dimension and new interest to the rosters.
One thing that seemed like a bonus back then was the fact there were no hockey games on television. Heck, there was no television. That meant, if you wanted to see hockey, you went to the local rinks.
Another aspect of hockey I began to love as a youngster was statistics.
Oh how I enjoyed following the stats pages, the scoring races, the numbers and numbers that make up the complete sports picture. That’s probably why I wound up being an official scorer and statistician for various teams and leagues.
A number of years ago, a hockey-loving Pictonian, Corey Hartling, compiled an entire book of statistical facts about the APC league, its teams and players — the full era from 1922 to 1957.
I have shelves filled with sports books, none more interesting than Corey’s effort, “A Comprehensive Look at the Antigonish-Pictou-Colchester (APC) Hockey League.”
All these factors helped turn a dream into a column.