Bobcats make a big impression in their first season
When the Belleville Bobcats opened training camp in the fall of 1972 for their first campaign in the Metro Jr. B Hockey League, they had plenty of new faces around…along with a few familiar ones.
The Bobcats were moving on from the Eastern Ontario Jr. B loop and were moving, along with the Peterborough Lions and Oshawa Legionaires, to the superior 10-team Metro League.
Defencemen Tim Yohn was back from the previous season and was looking to help the Bobcats establish themselves in their new league. Dave Horwood and Bill Jackett were also back but coach Moe Hunter was looking for more players among the 36 hopefuls taking the ice for training camp at Dick Ellis Arena.
Among the newcomers that stood out were forwards Rick Meagher and Rob Foster, who were both graduating from the local juvenile team.
Despite the promising youngsters, Hunter was worried about the makeup of his team early on.
“All the guys we have signed are good hockey players,” Hunter told The Intelligencer. “But we haven’t got much size and we could use some defencemen. Right now, all we’ve got is Timmy (Yohn).
The Bobcats added defenders Neil Turner from the Trenton Midgets and Wally Dainard, who had just returned from the Peterborough Petes’ training camp, along with 16-year-old goaltender Bob Moore, who was entering his first junior season.
Hunter also welcomed Ken Holmes and Paul Lavender, who both played for the Picton Jr. B’s the previous season.
Belleville Bobcats “Willing to hustle”
“We have players from Belleville juveniles, Trenton juveniles,Belleville midgets and Trenton Midgets,” Hunter said after a 4-3 loss to Peterborough in the Bobcats’ pre-season opener. “We’re really trying to weld together about six teams from last year, so it’s really not surprising that we weren’t clicking as a team.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do but I thought we showed we have a lot of guys who are willing to hustle.”
The Bobcats picked up a win in their season opener, clubbing the Kingston Frontenacs 7-1. Meagher’s goal late in the second period put the home team in position to win the historic game. Meagher picked up a clearing pass in the neutral zone and used his speed to beat the Kingston netminder.
“That goal by Meagher was the big turning point for us,” Hunter said after the game.
The Bobcats also picked up an early win against the defending champion Markham Waxers that put the league on notice that the upstarts from Belleville were going to be stiff competition.
“Wild” fans give Belleville Bobcats a home ice advantage
“We don’t have the same polish that we had last season, but we’ve got a lot of hustle on this team,” Hunter said. “We’re going to lose a few games but we’re going to win our share too. I’d say we’ve got a good shot at finishing in the top half of the league.”
Yohn, Meagher and Turner all made an impact in the league in the first half of the season. All three Bobcats were selected to represent the East Division in the Metro League All-Star Game in Toronto.
“The fans are wild down there…”
Frequent crowds of 1,200 at the Memorial Arena in Downtown Belleville gave the Bobcats a decided advantage against visiting opponents.
Locally, it brought back memories of the Belleville McFarlands heyday 15 years earlier.
“The fans are wild down there,” said Toronto Nationals coach Chuck Cromie, who admitted his players struggled to adjust to the rambunctious fans in Belleville after playing their home games in front of just a handful of fans. “I guess they have nothing to do on a Friday night except go watch hockey.”
The Bobcats (17-14-5) did finish in the top half of the league as Hunter predicted but a seven-game losing skid near the end of the season likely cost them a spot or two.
Belleville’s fifth place finish set up a first round playoff matchup against the Peterborough Lions, who finished in first place with 26 regular season wins.
The Bobcats didn’t win any of their four meetings with Peterborough in the regular season but made up for that by eliminating them in six-games in the opening round series.
Meagher continued to rack up points while rookie Peter Smrke was terrific at both ends of the ice and helped keep league scoring leader Bob Wasson from doing much damage in the series.
“He’s a great defensive player, but he can score goals,” Hunter said of Smrke, whose father Lou Smrke helped the Belleville McFarlands win the World Hockey Championship in 1959. “They’ve got to watch all three of our lines. They all can score.”
The Bobcats went on to sweep Oshawa in the second round to earn a spot in the league finals against the Nationals.
Legionnaires coach Jack Armstrong was impressed by the tenacity of the upstart Bobcats.
“They are a fired up hockey club,” Armstrong said. “Their coach did a hell of a job with that hockey club.”
Belleville Bobcats advance to league championship series
Nats coach Cromie was in attendance for the final game of the series and acted as though his team didn’t stand a chance against the upstart Bobcats.
“That team is too fast for us,” Cromie said. “They’ve got too much hustle. Too much skating power.”
Whether Cromie was being genuine or trying to play mind games before the series starts, his comments didn’t seem to phase the Bobcats, who jumped out to an early lead in the series with a 7-5 win in Game 1 in Toronto.
The Nats had a 5-4 edge late in regulation but the Bobcats tied the game with goalie Bob Moore on the bench for an extra attacker.
Jim Richardson scored the tying goal before Meagher got the winner in overtime. Meagher added three assists and was named first star of the game.
The Nats adjusted their forecheck to try to counter Meagher’s speed through the open ice. The tactic helped them slow Meagher’s scoring and helped the Nats rebound with a 5-4 overtime win in Game 3.
The Bobcats took a stranglehold in the series with a win in Game 4 before the Nats stormed back with three straight wins to send the series to a seventh and deciding game.
“We’ll have to come up with a big win, but with this club, anything’s possible,” Hunter said about the deciding game in Toronto. “I hope we can bounce back, but if not, well it’s been a good year.”
Meagher scored a second period goal for the Bobcats, but it wasn’t enough as the Nats went on to win the championship with a 5-3 win in the deciding game in Toronto.
“Ricky must have played around 35 minutes out there,” Hunter said. Meagher finished the playoffs with a team-leading 31 points (8 goals, 23 assist).
During the final series, Meagher was named Metro Jr. B Rookie of the Year after scoring 30 goals and 62 points in 33 games for the Bobcats.
Meagher was also helping his Quinte Secondary School basketball squad win the all-Ontario OFSAA championship.
Intelligencer photos courtesy Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County