Derrell Stamp can hardly believe it’s been 50 years since his Haliburton Junior D Huskies team hoisted the OHA Cup in front of a huge crowd at the Haliburton Community Centre.
The forward was only 16 years old for what was the highlight of his athletic career.
The team, under the leadership of owner, A.J. LaRue, coach, George Nicholls, manager Scotty LaRue, and trainers Bob Nichol and Curry “Pork” Whittaker, came back from a stunning playoff defeat the year before to beat a team from the much bigger community of Exeter to raise that cup on that fateful night – and go down in sporting lore in the Highlands.
The first Junior Huskies team was forged in 1965. According to the Haliburton Highlands Sports Hall of Fame committee, they were a “scrappy bunch.” However, thanks to a new hockey barn with artificial ice that extended practice time, and visiting National Hockey League players from Hockey Haven, the team evolved.
Stamp joined the squad as a 15-year-old for the 1969-70 season.
They made it to the OHA Cup finals.
He recalled that heartbreaking series in which the team was up three games to none against Norwich. They were leading 4-1 in what should have been the series-clinching game.
“Our goalie took a stick to the nose. It broke his nose. Our second stringer came in but he was not as good and we lost that game. Then, Norwich beat us the next three straight.”
It was a devastating loss for the team, but as often happens in sports, it brought a resiliency they would take to the 1970-71 playoffs.
“We had the makings of a group of good players, young players from a Bantam championship team mixed with the older guys, who were also very good.”
He said the team was fairly confident it would go back to the finals.
“We went to seven games the next year. It was terrific hockey as I recall. And the fan support from the community was great. They followed us in buses and cars and stayed in the same hotels when we were on the road.”
He said supporters came from as far away as Bobcaygeon, Fenelon Falls and Bancroft, culminating in game seven in Haliburton with an estimated crowd of 1,600.
According to the committee, the players were household names. Captain Bob Woodcock, assistant captains, Craig Stamp and Gerry McElwain, and a team with depth and stamina to first become Central Ontario League champs, then playoff Junior D champs and Eastern Ontario Junior D champs.
In that fateful OHA Cup series, Haliburton and the Exeter Hawks were evenlymatched. It was three-all going into the game seven decider. The Huskies held on for a 6-5 win.
Stamp said he has never experienced anything like the aftermath.
“It felt like most of the people in the stands came out on the ice. Everybody was so exuberant and happy. Parents, friends, girlfriends. It was pandemonium.”
Speaking on behalf of the team, Stamp said he’s pleased with the Hall of Fame induction.
“It’s an honour to go in. Most people don’t remember 50 years ago but at the time it was a very big deal for the town and the community.”