Belleville McFarlands win national championship
When the Belleville McFarlands gathered in the fall of 1957 for their second season, it would have been understandable if some of the players needed a program to be able to tell who their teammates were.
While some stayed in Belleville to work during the off-season, it was clear in training camp that manager Drury Denyes was the busiest person on the team during the summer.
Denyes had experienced a taste of success the previous season when the Macs had an upset win over the Cornwall Chevies in the first round of the playoffs and like their new booster club slogan, Denyes wanted “More Macs, More.”
A Bolstered Lineup for the McFarlands
Denyes bolstered the lineup with players like Barton Bradley, who won the Memorial Cup as a junior, Wayne “Weiner” Brown, Ed Marineau and Russ Kowalchuk. Local skater Gerry Goyer joined the team after a successful junior season with the Guelph Biltmores.
With the Whitby Dunlops playing an abbreviated season before heading overseas to play in the World Championships, Denyes believed that the McFarlands could follow suit and play for the Allan Cup.
The Dunlops were going to play regular season games in the Eastern Sr. A loop but manager/coach Wren Blair said that they wouldn’t play in the OHA playoffs after returning from the World Championships.
“Win or lose, the Dunlops won’t feel like playing hockey in Canada after the strenuous trip to Europe, the tension and struggle of the tournament and the heavy drain of exhibition games,” Blair said at an Eastern league meeting that fall.
“Besides, Whitby would like to see another team in the Eastern League not only to win the group title but to go on and win the Allan Cup for the second season in a row.”
Blair had been a tutor to Denyes in the building stages of the team the previous season and Denyes took his speech to heart.
Barton Bradley had played a season in the American League with the Hershey Bears before five years in the Western league. The swift skater had a hard, accurate shot and fit the McFarlands offensive system like a glove.
Brown played with Bradley and against Hildebrand in the Western League and said that their reunion in Belleville would be a comfortable fit.
“We all came together at the same time – that was the difference,” Brown said. “They brought Bradley in – he had been my centerman out west so Gerry (Goyer) wanted to know if we should bring him in. I said ‘sure, he’s my centre man’ and the next thing I know, Ike was here – I played against Ike in Vancouver – and we formed a line.”
Kowalchuk was another sought-after skater after racking up 23 goals and 208 penalty minutes the previous season with Sault Ste. Marie in the Northern League.
Kowalchuk was set to sign with Sudbury but they sent a contract with the name “Joe” Kowalchuk on it. While they were sorting out the error, Denyes swooped in and brought Kowalchuk south to play for the Macs.
“I Want These Fellas in Shape…”
“Bep” Guidolin decided not to return and started the season with the Windsor Bulldogs so Denyes tabbed Hildebrand to take over the player/coach role after he held the same title for the first half of the previous season in Pembroke.
Hildebrand helped his hometown Peterborough Timbermen win the provincial lacrosse title and when he got to Belleville in September, he was in fantastic shape. But he didn’t think his players could say the same and drove them hard as soon as they got back together.
“We’ll practice twice daily until a week before schedule opening,” Hildebrand told The Intelligencer when training camp opened. “Then we’ll taper down to one grind a day. I want these fellas in shape and that’s the way I hope they will be when the first whistle blows.”
If Denyes was excited about the second-year McFarlands, he wasn’t alone. The team’s booster club had swelled from 25 members the previous season to 400 in early September. By the end of October, the Macs were playing an exciting game and the booster club’s membership jumped to 850 by the end of October.
President Dick Beare prompted The Intelligencer to run a slogan contest and the anonymous woman who suggested “More Macs, More” received a pair of season tickets.
The Macs were still getting to know each other when the season opened and struggled through a tough stretch in January that included a loss to Whitby and then a 4-0 loss to Kingston, their first shutout of the season.
But the line of Brown, Bradley and Hildebrand was clicking and Brown scored three times in a 9-2 pasting of Cornwall in late January that moved the Macs into first place.
An 8-0 win over Cornwall a couple of weeks later clinched the regular season title.
Bradley finished the season with a team-high 30 goals and 64 points and was among the league scoring leaders in both categories.
He endeared himself to the fans and prompted scribe George Carver to describe him as “the smooth centre who uncoils himself in, out and around the centre spot with all the ease of an eel slithering through a pond of oil and is lamp-lighting poison when in front of an empty net.”
The Macs streaked into the playoffs on a high but came crashing back to earth in their opening round playoff series against the Kingston CKLC’s.
After winning the first game on home ice, the Macs dropped the next two and trailed in the series before roaring back for a 6-1 win that knotted the series at two games each. The Macs won game five but Kingston forced a seventh and deciding game with a 2-1 win on home ice.
Bradley With the Overtime Marker
The Macs learned their lesson and claimed the series with a game seven win on home ice that set up their second straight spot in the Eastern league finals.
This time they were up against Pembroke who hadn’t won or tied a game in Belleville in two seasons in the league.
The OHA wanted the finals to be a best-of-five affair but when both teams refused, the league forced them to rush through their series in seven days to make sure that they had enough time to play the Northern champs before heading to the Ontario final.
Bradley scored the overtime marker that clinched the series for Belleville in six games. Pembroke’s lack of success on Belleville ice continued in the post-sea-son and that turned out to be the difference in the series.
After the hurry-up series, the Macs swept the Northern League champion South Porcupine Porkies in three straight, including a 6-5 overtime win in the series clincher.
The Macs arrived back in Belleville by train to 1,000 cheering fans holding signs that read “Welcome Home” and “Well Done.”
The series win also gave them an all OHA final against the Kitchener Dutchmen, the top team in the Western loop that season.
Not Much Chance Against the Dutchmen…
The Macs weren’t given much of a chance to win the series against the Dutchmen, who had won Allan Cup championships in 1953 and 1955 and things didn’t look favorable when Kitchener jumped out to a two-goal lead early in the first period.
But after having a goal waved off late in the third period, “Weiner” Brown scored in overtime to give the Macs the lead in the series.
“When we got in the playoffs we had to go to Kingston, seven games, they whooped us,” Brown said.
“They gave us all we could handle at that time. Then we got playing better and then we got against Kitchener and they, we were told they were going to beat us in five (games) so that made us a little madder and we played very, very well against Kitchener. They didn’t have a chance. They didn’t have a prayer.”
The Whitby Dunlops were back in Canada after winning the World Championships and Wren Blair and player/coach “Bus” Gagnon stopped by the Memorial Arena to wish the Macs luck against Kitchener.
“Go get ‘em gang, we’re all behind you,” Gagnon trumpeted.
“I would rather have won this one than the Stanley Cup…”
The Macs sprinted to a 5-1 lead that gave them their third straight win in the se-ries and prompted one Toronto writer to dub them the “Eastern League Tornado.” Kitchener finally claimed a win on home ice before the Macs cruised to a 4-1 win on home ice that clinched the Ontario championship and the John Ross Robertson Cup.
“I have been in many battles for the title but this is my first (championship),” said Guidolin, who returned to the Macs lineup late in the season.
“I would rather have won this one than the Stanley Cup when I was with the National League. They called us a senior “B” club, and I made up my mind to show them how wrong they were, and that we were better.”
After taking several jabs that the Eastern League wouldn’t be able to compete against the more established Western and Northern Leagues, the Macs were the second straight Eastern League team to win the OHA championships and were one step away from playing for the Allan Cup.
That step proved to be the easiest. They clubbed the squad from Levis, Quebec 12-3 and 6-0 before officials from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association ruled the series over and that Belleville would be the Eastern Canada representative in the Allan Cup.
“Why is it that all of a sudden we start to play rather entertaining hockey? Some people say maybe even great,” captain Floyd Crawford reflected. “We were playing much better than what we had been in the past. And, oh I sat by the hour by myself figuring what precipitated that? What precipitated it? You know, a small town’s a small town and if we were somewhere else why not, why couldn’t they have received us like they did in Belleville? And that’s what it was.
“It was the people. They believed in us. And they started to make us believe in ourselves. We started to believe in ourselves because the Memorial used to be jam-packed. You couldn’t get in. You couldn’t get another body in there. And so, we kind of thought, ‘hey I guess we must have some-thing to offer them’.”
After cruising through the all-Ontario series, the Macs knew that they were in for a long road ahead – literally and figuratively. The Allan Cup championships would be played in British Columbia against the Kelowna Packers, the top team in Western Canada.
Hildebrand drove his charges through a relentless practice the day before they boarded a train to make the cross-country trip to the Okanagan Valley.
“I can remember it was a little bit different,” MacDonald said.
“It was kind of like the pro teams, we went out by train and had a car to ourselves and again a lot of harmony, a lot of chats and good times on the way out. We got to the hotel in Kelowna and I remember I walked in my room and there was a nice drink and a nice basket and a nice welcoming card. Something that I wasn’t used to.
“The pros had likely seen that over the years but I was just a farm boy coming from Prince Edward County and it really touched me very much. In fact, I remember I went to the phone and phoned home and said ‘you have no idea how these people out here have treated us’.”
The three-day trip gave the Macs some time to rest their assorted bumps and bruises from the playoff grind but it didn’t do much for their conditioning.
The Packers were insistent that the series would start the day the Macs arrived – presumably to take advantage of a bad case of train legs – but Denyes was steadfast that the team would have a day to practice before the puck dropped for real.
Denyes argued his point and then insisted on a closed practice that would conceal their strategies.
The plan worked because the Macs cruised to a 4-1 win in the opener. “Weiner” Brown and Moe Benoit scored in the first period and “Minnie” Menard staked the visitors to a three-goal lead before Kelowna finally got on the board midway through the second. Guidolin scored in the third period to ice the McFarlands’ series-open-ing win.
“It was a bruising, smashing, tough game with the Packers starting out to soften up the Macs,” Claude Tice wrote in The Intelligencer.
“They did not reckon with the McFarland’s ability along the same lines. When the teams settled away the Easterners showed a superior-ity in all departments.”
But despite the early win, Carver predicted that the series was far from over.
“The Kelowna Packers, it seems, are a big, tough, rugged crew who know how to throw their torsos around, and you can bet your hopes of the hereafter they’re not going to give up without a terrific struggle, especially since they are in their own bailiwick playing in front of the home town fans.”
He was right.
The Packers stormed out to a 6-0 win in the second game that was remembered more for its hostility than the score.
The Macs’ Keith MacDonald and Kelowna forward Andy McCallum had a violent open ice collision that left both men unconscious. MacDonald left with a concussion and a sore arm that was later diagnosed as a break that kept him out of the rest of the series. McCallum suffered a broken jaw but returned to play in the series.
“I’ll never forget it,” MacDonald reflected. “I was playing on my wrong wing and Davey Jones was playing centre and I passed to him with a backhand pass. And I remember I just took my eyes off what was ahead of me and looked to him to see if he picked the puck up, and hey this guy got me good.”
Packers’ defender Harry Smith got flagged with an attempt to injure match penalty when he swung his stick wildy at Bradley, who deflected the shot from his head but took the brunt of the force in his arm.
Unfortunately for the Macs, they received the majority of the penalties and Kelowna scored five times on the powerplay.
The game prompted Kelowna Courier Sports Editor George Inglis to write: “The Belleville Macs proved conclusively that their glitter was not gold, but tarnished brass. Riding on a one-game streak, they went into last night’s game all fuss and feathers. They came out plucked.”
“Last night, the Packers showed an ability which made the Macs look tawdry by comparison. They outplayed the Macs, they outshot them, out-scored them, and gave them one of the severest trimmings a club has taken in Allan Cup play, making the Eastern champs look like chumps.”
If the criticism fired the Macs up, it didn’t show in the next game. The teams made the 75 mile trip north to Kamloops where the Packers skated to a 3-0 win. Kelowna goaltender Dave Gatherun was a standout and pushed his shutout streak to 139 minutes against the Macs.
George Agar, who joined the Packers for the playoffs from their rival Vernon Canadians, scored twice in the win. MacDonald was out with his wrist injury and Hildebrand benched Russ Kowalchuk.
Knowing that they desperately needed a win to get back into the series, the Macs streaked out to a 3-1 lead early in Game 4 but Bill “Bug” Jones scored the tying goal in the third period and then potted the game-winner with 17 seconds left in the third.
Gordie Bell was sensational in the Macs net but couldn’t keep the Packers from skating to within one game of the national title.
“It is the first team the Macs have met this season that can skate with them and on two occasions on Saturday night they beat our best skaters to the rubber when the player was nearly into the clear and knocked the rubber from their sticks,” Tice described in the paper the following day.
Jones Suffers a Broken Neck
The injury parade continued for both teams. Jones suffered a hair-line fracture in his neck and spent the next couple of days in the Kelowna hospital. He missed the rest of the series and returned to Belleville with a cast that covered most of his upper body.
“I was standing in front of the net and looking to score a goal,” Jones remembered. “I couldn’t even tell who, somebody cross-checked me from behind on the neck and down I went.
“There was a big pile-up and when everybody got off I couldn’t move my head. Now I didn’t know what was wrong. I just, couldn’t move my head at all and they wheeled me off, took me to the hospital and x-rayed and said ‘you have a broken neck.’ That was scary.”
Guidolin was benched for game four and when the puck dropped for game five, he was determined to make a difference. His line with Brown and Bradley set the tone early according to Tice.
“They immediately gave the impression of things to come. They hammered the Packers in their own end, outskated them and checked them to death.”
The Macs led 2-1 after the first period and added another goal to their lead in the second. Ed Marineau and Bob Montgomery were both in the penalty box late in the third period for the Macs but defenders Lionel Botly and Moe Benoit performed “heroic service in the backfield” to kill off the penalties.
Steady defender Joe Lepine was knocked out of the game and rushed to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder and then Menard took a five minute boarding call when he rammed McCallum in the defensive zone causing Packers’ goalie Gatherun to charge out of his net waving his stick like a mad man.
Gatherun got two minutes for leaving his crease and the Macs killed off the three minute penalty to preserve the lead before Guidolin scored late in the period to ice the win and extend the series.
When the Packers scored three straight goals in the second period of Game 6, it looked like the Macs’ remarkable season had finally come crashing to a halt.
Kelowna sniper Mike Durbin looked like he was going to be knocked out of the series when he suffered a torn hip muscle courtesy of a hip check from Moe Benoit in Game 1, but Durbin didn’t miss a beat and exacted his revenge by setting up all three goals.
Withstood a Furious Charge
The Macs came back with a goal and Botly tied the game with a marker in the opening minute of the third period. Menard put the Macs ahead midway through the period and the Macs withstood a furious charge in the closing minutes to steal the win and force a seventh and deciding game.
Bell got hit in the face with the puck late in the third period but it didn’t break the skin and after a quick breather, he was back in the cage turning aside everything the Packers could throw at him.
“He has been the rock on which has hanged this series,” Tice commented on the play of the goaltender.
“At times he has been sensational and he has broken the hearts of the Packers on more than one occasion in this series. The boys have never had to worry about Gordie. He makes the key saves, smothers the rebounds and many of the goals that have eluded him have been of the fluky nature.”
If the thought of traveling all the way to Kelowna to lose the series wasn’t enough motivation for the Macs to win Game 6, some fallen teammates made sure.
“Determined to Win For Them…”
Jones, MacDonald and Lepine were out of the infirmary and went to the dressing room before the game. They were nearly smothered by their teammates who left the room “fighting mad and determined to win one for them.”
Claude Tice: “They feel they can beat the Packers at any type of game. Last night they outskated and outhustled the Packers and got the markers when they needed them. It was a fine thing to have a good bench and that is just what the McFarlands have. When a player gets hurt there is one waiting to take up the slack.”
After going down three games to one on the road, the Macs had staged a valiant comeback but to a man, they agreed that they wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than winning the national championship and bringing the Allan Cup back to Belleville.
They needed one more win to cap the season and after playing 87 games, they thought they had enough left in them for one more win.
“Normally it was quiet in the dressing room but I remember that I talked it up quite a bit and the goal for me was to go to Europe,” Botly said.
“I think I played every game to win but when you had a trip to Europe for two months at the end of the line, it was more than winning the Allan Cup. It was a chance of a lifetime that you’d probably never get again. So to me that was the biggest incentive.”
After skating through most of the first period in a scoreless tie, Bell rushed out of his crease after a loose puck and collided heavily with Jim Moro. Both players crashed to the ice and Bell needed a short break to get back to his senses.
“We’ll Call Him Allan and Win the Cup For Him”
Minutes later, Bob Dawes opened the scoring for the home team. Kelowna sensed that they were playing a beaten team and stormed out of the gate in the second period with a pair of quick goals that put the visitors on the ropes.
Ike Hildebrand received a good news call from home before taking the ice in Game 7. He was the proud father of a bouncing baby boy.
“We’ll call him Allan, and win the Cup for him,” Hildebrand said. Ike scored a pair of goals sandwiched around one by Kowalchuk and the McFarlands had life once again.
Durbin ruined the party when he scored eight seconds later to give the home team a marginal lead heading into the final period of the classic series.that energized the Macs.
Kowalchuk scored two more to complete the hat trick and Menard added another to put the game out of reach.
Gordon “Moe” Young replied for the shocked Packers but Menard ended any thoughts of a late game miracle by counting with 13 sec-onds left on the clock.
The fairy tale comeback was complete.
The Belleville McFarlands were the Allan Cup champions.
“50 some odd years we’ve had that to ponder with,” Crawford said. “I don’t know if it was a culmination of the excitement of what we had accomplished to that period. You know, there are flat periods in a season and I like to think to simplify it, that we hit a flat period for three or four games then found ourself, thank God, before it was too late. We didn’t roll over and play dead.
“Read All About It…”
“We came to attention I think and said ‘hey, we’ve gone through an awful lot of experiences in the last year or two years, we’re going to throw it away like this?’ We knew deep down in our hearts that we possibly had every bit as good a team as Kelowna and Kelowna had a very good club. And I think it was just that, the guys getting together realistically and saying ‘hey, enough of this playing around. Let’s get down to the facts.’
“And one thing led to another. We won a game; made it 3-2, and then we tied the series up, and went to a seventh game and…read all about it.”
The Macs knew that what they accomplished was rare – especially winning a championship away from home in such dramatic fashion.
“I think that a team has got to be at least a third better to make a trip like that across Canada and win that in their building,” MacDonald said.
“You’ve got to be that much better to do that, I feel. A lot of the guys that were on the bench at that time didn’t start the series, they came on and really made things happen for us. Russ Kowalchuk, Gerry Goyer – people like that.”
MacDonald said that it would have been easy for the guys to quit on each other. They felt like they were a million miles from home and down three games to one on the road. But he admitted that quitting never entered their mind. They cared too much for each other to be willing to let their teammates down.
“I never had a feeling of a family like there was with that McFarland club,” MacDonald said.
“What it was, I can’t really tell you. Again, I’ve got to emphasize fellas like Floyd Crawford. This man was captain of that team, well-respected, a chap that really didn’t put his own person ahead; he always looked after the players first. They came first. If there was a problem with the team and management, Floyd Crawford was there. In a very sensible, not-domineering way, he was able to deal with management, City of Belleville, and the players. Just a super guy.”
A Hero’s Welcome Home
The Macs returned home to a hero’s welcome that hadn’t been seen on the shores of the Bay of Quinte since the end of World War II.
Belleville Mayor Gerald B. Hyde declared their homecoming day to be Civic Allan Cup Day and the City hosted a ticker tape parade down Front Street.
The players rode in convertibles and wore white cowboy hats that they had received as congratulatory gifts in Calgary on their three-day journey home. The next day, the headline on the front page of The Intelligencer read “Fifty Thousand Welcome Macs Home.”
“Never in the history of this city has Front Street rocked and rolled to the acclaim of thou-sands,” the story read. “People stood in some places ten deep, cheering and waving as the motorcade slowly passed by.”
“I think this is the most wonderful reception I have ever experienced,” Bell said. “I am very glad we won because I would hate to lose and have to come back and face such a swell bunch of people.”
“This is the proudest moment of my life,” said Harvey McFarland, who also declared the Civic holiday in Picton so that people could travel to Belleville to welcome the Macs home.
“The Macs are a wonderful bunch of guys who showed true championship merit when it was needed.”
Fifty years later, the memories of that reception have stuck with the members of the team.
“Everybody here had their radios on in the middle of the night listening to that big comeback so it was a huge thing,” Botly said.
“Only a few days later, we’re having the parade. So most of the pictures that you see, especially if you see ones where the players were wearing ten-gallon hats, you know those were Kelowna pictures on Main Street.”
Denny Boyd of The Vancouver Sun was in Kelowna for the championship game.
“In the Belleville McFarlands dressing room there was a crumpled champagne-soaked banner in a garbage can. It read “Roll Packers Roll.”
“The picture told a sad but true story.
“The drive of the Kelowna Packers toward an Allan Cup champi-onship has died, smothered by one of the most iron-skinned acres-of-heart hockey teams in the history of the game – the Belleville Macs.
“Those Macs, a rag-tagged Senior “B” team two years ago used courage for a crutch as they plodded up what seemed an insurmount-able hill to become the senior amateur hockey champions of Canada. Thursday night they reached the summit.
“They defeated the Packers 8-5 with a defeat-defying rally that shook the blossoms off fruit trees for miles around.”
Excerpt from More Macs More (Bell, Aaron 2009)
Intelligencer photo courtesy Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County