Hockey will be the talk of the town in Hamilton this April as the Bulldogs seek to become the third steel city team to make it to the Memorial Cup.
It was a war of words that led to Hamilton’s first national junior title in 1962 and a physical battle that ended with the second crown in 1976.
Red Wings coach Eddie Bush said the Edmonton Oil Kings were the scruffiest team he had ever seen, with dirty uniforms and holes in their sweaters, when they took ice for the final in 1962.
“We’re big, but not big enough to carry a mobile tailor shop around with us!” Oil Kings GM countered.
After only 2,594 fans showed up for Game 2 in Guelph, Leclerc questioned where all the westerners were.
“You sent 10,000 easterners out west to colonize it, then we sent 200,000 westerners back east to civilize it!” he cracked.
The Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) planned to play the entire Memorial Cup final at Maple Leaf Gardens, which could accommodate crowds five times the size of the Hamilton Forum.
But when Toronto TV station CFTO said it wanted to air all games, CHCH in Hamilton threatened to sue unless it got the same opportunity. Ken Soble owned both the Red Wings and CHCH.
The CAHA then changed its mind and the series started at the forum. Arrangements were made, however, to play the next three games at the slightly bigger Memorial Gardens in Guelph and Game 5, if necessary, at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.
After finishing second to the Montreal Junior Canadiens in the Provincial Junior A League, the Red Wings eliminated the St. Catharines Tee-Pees in the first round of the playoffs, then sidelined the Niagara Falls Flyers in four straight games in the final. The Flyers had upset Montreal in their first round series.
Pit Martin and Lowell MacDonald made the first all-star team and linemate Paul Henderson went on to score the most famous goal in Canadian hockey history against the Soviet Union in 1972.
Facing the Quebec Citadelles in the Eastern Canadian Final, Bush’s Red Wings breezed to victory in four games, waltzing to 8-1 and 9-3 wins at the forum in the last two games.
Hamilton took the Memorial Cup in five games, but not before former Detroit Red Wings defenceman Howie Young, who had played junior hockey for the Hamilton Tiger Cubs for two seasons, clashed with Bush during Game 5 in Kitchener.
Young, who was playing for the Edmonton Flyers of the semi-pro Western Hockey League at the time, wore cowboy boots and a huge stetson to the games to cheer for the Oil Kings. He did so sometimes in an advanced state of inebriation.
Young was charged with assaulting a Kitchener police officer when he was being escorted from the arena.
The Memorial Cup champions were honored during a banquet at the old Wentworth Arms Hotel at the corner of Main and Hughson Streets. The players were presented with expensive wrist watches by owner Ken Soble and club president Syd Bibby. They received rings from Mayor Jack MacDonald and handsome white sweaters from Jimmy Skinner of the parent Detroit Red Wings.
The banquet also had political overtones. Jack Roxburgh, president of the CAHA, was supposed to be there, but instead stayed back home in Simcoe electioneering with Lester B. Pearson, leader of the federal Liberal party.
It paid off for Roxburgh. Even though Pearson fell short of ousting John Diefenbaker as Prime Minister in the June election, the CAHA president was elected MP for the riding of Norfolk. John Munro was elected to the House of Commons for the first time in the riding of Hamilton East in the same election.
When the Fincups defeated the New Westminister Bruins 5-2 to win the Memorial Cup at the Montreal Forum in 1976, they got a little exuberant on the way home.
After getting off their flight from Montreal, the champs took a bus to the Hamilton Forum. Along the way, some players started to lean on the bus horn. Driver Barry Gunby of Waterdown was pulled over and issued a $28 ticket for making too much noise!
At first City Alderman Charlie Cupido, brother of Mario and Ron Cupido who owned the team with Joe Finocchio, said he would pay the fine. Then Alderman Bill McCulloch said he would ask the police chief to overrule it.
In the end Regional Chair Anne Jones suggested each councillor chip in a buck and the fine was paid.
Hamilton finished first in the Emms Division of the league with a record of 43-15-8, then disposed of the Kitchener Rangers, Toronto Marlboros and Sudbury Wolves in the playoffs.
Dale McCourt, who is the nephew of then-Marlies coach and former Toronto Maple Leafs captain George Armstrong, had a fabulous season with 55 goals and 139 points in just 66 games. There was so much talent in the league, though, that he finished only fourth in individual scoring.
Writing for The Toronto Star Arlie Keller suggested the Fincups, coached by Bert Templeton, had a well-earned reputation for being ‘animals’.
“They are quite often called cheap-shot artists and a club that wins by intimidating the opposition,” he wrote.
Ironically, the Bruins were viewed in exactly the same way in their league the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL). But the Fincups kept their noses clean when the chips were on the line and stuck to hockey.
“Hockey is simple,” Templeton said after the final game. “You get the puck out of your end as fast as you can, get it into the other team’s end as fast as you can and get on it as fast as you can!”