The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League has a history stretching back more than three decades.
Sitting atop the league's all-time records list are two players who skated with the Yorkton Terriers franchise. One player is in the record books for his skills around the net. The other is there for his willingness to bend and break the rules governing the game.
Darrell Spelay spent four seasons baffling goaltenders in the SJHL scoring 243 goals and adding 208 assists for 451 points in 246 games played. The points total is the best in the SJHL's history, 48 points better than Greg Thomson, also a former Terrier, and a linemate of Spelay. Spelay's 243 goals is also a league record.
Spelay's 451 points aren't bad stats for a guy who started in minor hockey as a goaltender.
"I guess I am a little surprised (the record still stands)," he said.
That being said, he says hockey has changed. Few players last four years in the SJHL now, either advancing to the Western Hockey League or a college scholarship before they play as 20-year-old. "Players playing four years in the SJHL are almost a thing of the past," he said.
While admitting he had a knack for potting goals, Spelay was not taking all the credit for his success.
"I was just fortunate to play with some excellent players who were able to get me the puck," he said with a smile. "There were a lot of empty net tip-ins created by great playmakers."
When it came to physical play, and in particular dropping the gloves, Grant Ottenbreit was the man, amassing 1,329 penalty minutes.
As a youngster, Ottenbreit patrolled the blue line, but as a junior with the Terriers was quickly moved to the wing, where he assumed the role of enforcer on the team.
It was a case of recognizing his own limitations as a player, and having a willingness to do whatever he had to play as a Terrier. Even with that, Ottenbreit said he was lucky to make the team in the fall of 1984. It was a season the Terriers were in a massive rebuilding program - they won only eight of 64 games in his rookie season.
"The only reason I made the team was because there were no strong vets," he said.
It was in his first training camp during which Terriers general manager Max Chambers set out Ottenbreit's role, if he was going to make the team.
"He just kept me around to fight," he said, adding he had no problem stepping into the role. "I'd do anything to make the team ... I'd have carried all the guys bags and taped their sticks just to play.
Look at the alternatives to hockey: going to school, or going to work."
Spelay too started with the Terriers in a season the team was retooling. However, the gifted forward would stand out for the young team.
In the 1979-80 season, Spelay would earn Most Valuable Player honours with the Terriers. He scored 56
goals and led the team with
86 points, which was second in the league. He also earned the team's Most Sportsmanlike Player award.
For Spelay it was only one outstanding season in a four-year Terriers career which would rank him among the best players ever to skate for the team.
Becoming a fighter, a protector of teammates, was an easy step for Ottenbreit, in that it fit his style. "I was always kind of a rugged kid. I always played rough on the snow hill, or tackle football with the older kids."
Ottenbreit said that, in his era, the role of a fighter was certainly more pronounced, although there remains a role today too. "If you're down three goals you might need something to help turn it around. Or, if you're up three goals you need someone to respond when they look to turn it around."
It's not a case where Ottenbreit won every fight, he guesses maybe only 15 per cent, holding his own the
majority, and losing his share.
However, he said winning was not as important as accepting the challenge, and standing up for the team.
While noted as something of a pugilist on skates, by his final year with the Terriers he was on the team's top line along with Mark Marianchuk and Ed Zawatsky. Zawatsky would amass 152 points that season, still a Terriers season record.
"I'd worked on my game quite a lot the first two years trying to improve," he said, adding while he never became a great skater, his passing and positional play did improve. Of course he credits his linemates with the success offensively.
"Those guys were so talented. I was just there to babysit. I made things more comfortable for them.
They felt better when I was there,"
-- Excerpt (plus additions) from Guts and Go: Great Saskatchewan Hockey Stories by Calvin Daniels, from Heritage House Publishing
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