More than 50 years ago, they travelled from every corner of the country to Vancouver, B.C., invited by Father David Bauer to be part of Canada’s first true
national hockey team.
In late September a core group of those teams travelled once again, this time to the Red Lodge Resort on Manitoulin Island near Sudbury, Ont., for their
ninth reunion, proving that Bauer’s vision had lasting power. The national team program is still team-building to this day.
The group included a number of players from the original team, which was together from 1963-70, and a few from the early 1980s when it made its return
following Canada’s hiatus from international competition.
“What it is … is we have such an identity,” says Barry MacKenzie, a member of Canada’s National Men’s Team from 1963-68, then again for the final season in
1969-70. “We see each other after three or four years and it’s like we’ve never been apart. It’s something we try to keep going every two or three years.
We realize every now and then that we’re losing a few people so it’s more time we can get together and tell stories.”
“I just love [the reunions]. I look forward to them,” adds Paul Conlin, a member of the national program from 1963-68. “These people that we have at these
reunions, they’re like family. They really are. You see these guys and it’s like you’re still in the dressing room with them, and now we also have the
wives and significant others. It’s fabulous.”
Bauer’s vision for the original Team Canada when he founded the program prior to the 1963-64 season was to create an opportunity for players seeking both a
high-level hockey experience and an education.
The national program was put in place in time for the 1964 Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria, where the Canadians finished fourth; the result
remains, to this day, one of the most controversial in international hockey history, with a bronze-medal finish changed to fourth by the International Ice
Hockey Federation somewhere between the end of the final game of the tournament, and the medal presentations.
In all, the original Nats competed at two Olympics and five IIHF World Championships, bringing home Olympic bronze from the 1968 Games in Grenoble, France,
and bronze from the worlds in 1966 and 1967.
Despite the fact the program lasted only seven seasons, the bond formed between players remains even five decades later, and is reason the reunions have
become as popular as they have.
“Originally we started these reunions every three years, and then we changed it to two years because of people getting older. We’ve even had a couple
deaths in the group,” says John Ferguson, a member of the national team based in Ottawa in 1967-68. “It’s kind of nice to make sure when you come back the
same old folks are here that you played with, [and] played against in a lot of cases. It just means a lot. You don’t see your buddies for a couple years;
it’s a long time.”
The Manitoulin Island reunion included a banquet dinner, and a cruise on Lake Huron, although the lasting memories come from just being together and
rehashing old memories with old friends.
“Most of us have common backgrounds, a lot of common experiences,” says Jim Keon, a member of the national team based in Ottawa in 1968-69. “We do stay in
touch, not with everyone but you get a sense. But to come and renew acquaintances and retell old stories and the songs and everything is a lot of fun.”
“Of course, my shot has become better,” MacKenzie says with a laugh. “You know I think I’ve become a much better hockey player over the past few years … so
it’s good for the soul.”
Previous reunions criss-crossed the country, held in Wilcox, Sask., St. John’s, N.L., Gimli, Man., Niagara Falls, Ont., Ottawa, Ont., Winnipeg, Man.,
Penticton, B.C., and Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Plans are already underway for a 10th reunion in 2017 or 2018.