Building the Belleville McFarlands

Building the Belleville McFarlands

The Belleville McFarlands were already the most popular thing Belleville had ever produced but after winning the Allan Cup, their fame grew to new heights in the Quinte area.

Many of the players now called the city home and they said that the hospitality that they received as adopted sons to the community gave them a sense of team spirit that many of them had never felt before.

Macs captain Floyd Crawford was a typical rink rat that moved from team-to-team looking for a paycheque and a place to fit in the lineup.

Have skates, will travel…

In Belleville, Crawford said that he felt like he was home. He was one of many players that stayed in Belleville after his playing days were over and after a lengthy coaching career in the junior ranks, Crawford and his large family settled in Belleville permanently.

“The fans and the citizens of Belleville really, really gave us a great feeling that we maybe were somebody,” Crawford said.

“A lot of us guys were ‘have skates will travel’. We were on the rebound and all of a sudden we come to Belleville and we started to believe in ourselves. It was because the fans would rush into that arena at nine o’clock at night to see us play that had a lot of affect on us, as far as putting it all together.

“That’s my perception of it, maybe why we were good.”

99 steps…

Friday nights at the Memorial Arena were special for the city. Fans lined up early to get in and squeezed in to watch the Macs at work.

The standing room frequently reached four deep on the North end of the rink.

The side door of the Memorial was exactly 99 steps from the Queen’s Hotel across from City Hall and fans made a beeline there for a quick pint between periods.

It’s no doubt that had something to do with the rambunctious nature of the home fans.

“The atmosphere in there, it was just like a powder keg.

“That crowd was ready to give their lives for us. Our big opposition was the Whitby Dunlops and those games used to be classics.”

Floyd Crawford, Team Captain

Crawford had some memorable fights in his career with the McFarlands but one with Harry Sinden from the Dunlops stood out in his memory.

“Well I got along good with Harry,” Crawford said of the Dunlops blueliner that went on to win the Stanley Cup as the coach of the Boston Bruins.

“After the games were over you’d see those guys and they were like your brother. It was over, the game was over, and they’d come in and have a beer with you or whatever, and the next night you played them, they’d be right back to defend their team. That was good, I liked that philosophy how guys thought.

There was only one penalty box at the Memorial so opponents would be forced to serve their time in close proximity to each other. Naturally, that made it difficult for guys to cool off during their break.

“Guys would get in here and they’d be heated up from the fight and whatnot, and tempers a little flared still and whatever,” Crawford said. “And one word would lead to another and a fight would erupt again in the penalty box.

“As I recall, the Whitby Dunlops bench was right there beside our penalty box. Our bench was across the road. Harry wasn’t a great fighter and I certainly wasn’t a great fighter, so I’m going to say that we probably drew. The thing that sticks out with me is the old police gentleman by the name of Bill Evans, who was just about ready for retirement, was down in the hallway when the fights commenced after leaving the bench.

He kept telling us in high English accent ‘Now chappies, that’s enough of that. Now please be gentlemen!’ And we’re fighting for our lives down in the hallway. It was kind of funny.”

The McFarlands were as much about entertainment as hockey for the people of Belleville. Keith MacDonald was one of few McFarlands that grew up in the area and he said that the community was transformed when the Macs hit the ice.

“People were hungry for hockey.

“The arena – I don’t know exactly how many it held but it was packed to no end. I mean it had a good crowd there during a season, let alone the playoffs.

Keith MacDonald, Belleville McFarlands

“Coming from The County I can remember two or three nights prior to a playoff game that telephone would ring. ‘Keith can you get me a seat?’ There was a lot of interest, not only here in Belleville I would imagine, but in the County in general there was a lot of interest for that club.”

The interest peaked early in the Macs third season when they were tuning up to play in the World Championships.

The eyes of the nation’s hockey fans would soon turn to the small community on the banks of the Bay of Quinte and expect the men that played for the mighty McFarlands would successfully defend the world title the Whitby Dunlops won for Canada months earlier in Oslo.

“I am not worried about the club,” player/coach Ike Hildebrand told The Intelligencer early in the season.

“The Whitby Dunlops were subjected to the same criticism a year ago and look what happened to them. It seems Allan Cup winners are supposed to be supermen, and clean up everything in sight when they pull on their gear the following season.

“Mark this. They can say what they like about this club, but by mid-January or thereabouts they will be just as strong if not better than the Dunnies were a year ago this time.

“We fully realize that the club that won the Allan Cup will not be strong enough to compete in the World Championships. Some players will be cut entirely. Positional changes will be made. Competent players will be added to the club.”

Before the season opened, Gerry Goyer and Russ Kowalchuk moved west to join the Kelowna Packers, who were gearing up for a mid-season trip to Russia to play an exhibition set of games behind the Iron Curtain.

Yes, the same Kelowna Packers the Macs had beaten months earlier to win the Allan Cup.

Manager Drury Denyes had some tough decisions ahead of him. He allowed Goyer and Kowalchuk to head west knowing that they wouldn’t likely play as big a role on the team as they did the previous season.

He also let “Bep” Guidolin go to Kingston instead of re-signing him again. It must have been a difficult decision after Guidolin helped build the team from scratch two years earlier, but Guidolin and Hildebrand didn’t always see eye to eye and Denyes couldn’t afford to let any personal differences get in the way of this team.

Denyes made a couple of early season signings that made bold statements that the Macs were planning to follow in the Dunlops’ footsteps and retain the national title for Canada.

He inked smooth-skating defenceman Fiori Goegan, who played for the North Bay Trappers and was one of the most sought-after defenders in senior hockey.

He also landed big defender Al Dewsbury, who played nine seasons in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. He played the previous season with Buffalo in the American League and Denyes had to clear some red tape before finally getting his release in October.

Denyes also added some depth up front. He brought in former American League scoring star John McLellan and skilled forward Lou Smrke, who played with Crawford in Chicoutimi in the Quebec League.

Smrke came at the glowing recommendation of Crawford.

“Lou was a very productive forward,” Crawford said years after naming one of his sons after his long-time friend. “He was a good finisher. Pound for pound he was a fiery individual and he wouldn’t give you any room on the ice. He was very aggressive.”

The club also thought that they had Frank Bathgate in the lineup but his transfer from Windsor was turned down by the Ontario Hockey Association.

Sluggish start…

Despite the bolstered lineup, the Macs had a sluggish start to the season and were the target of arrows from some sports writers that didn’t think they were up to the task of representing Canada.

Frank Orr had a piece on the front page of The Hockey News in November that claimed “Canada’s World Tourney Reps Too Weak.”

Orr went on to write: “The Macs are not good enough to win in their own league, Hildebrand is on the way out and the defence and goaltending are poor. Apparently, the players aren’t giving their best for Hildebrand and as one Eastern manager puts it, “they have a lot of old pros and you cannot teach an old dog new tricks’.”

Denyes responded to The Intelligencer: “There is nothing farther from the truth. Where Orr gets these pipe dreams from I cannot imagine. Nothing has been done, nor dreamed of about letting Ike go. I personally have never spoken a word to Orr on the matter, nor for that matter on the club.”

Unlike the Dunlops from the previous season, the Macs elected to play their complete Eastern and have it wrapped up by the end of January before embarking on a European warm-up before the World Championships started in March. That meant that they had to squeeze 50 games in 98 days from the end of October through the end of January. It was an ambitious schedule, but one that Hildebrand felt would best prepare his troops for their overseas adventure.

“It is going to be a tough season,” Hildebrand said. “Last season we set the group championship as our goal. We played hard and well and went on to win the Allan Cup.

“This season, as the national champions and Canada’s representatives, we have a lot to uphold. Every team will try to beat us. We have to prove we are championship caliber. The boys have got to play hockey all the time. I had faith in the Macs last year and I have faith in them again this season.

“I believe the team, with the necessary added strength, can go on to bring Canada her second consecutive World Championship.”

Ike Hildebrand,, Belleville McFarlands

Under enormous pressure…

The Macs were struggling early on and Denyes fined each player $25 after a humiliating 7-1 loss to Whitby in early November.

They were under enormous pressure to come together quickly and look like they could compete on the world stage. Wren Blair had guided the Dunlops to the championship the previous year and could empathize with the pressure that Denyes felt to get the team turned around.

“There is only one headache like it,” Blair told George Carver in November. “And only two people that I know of know what it’s like. They are Drury and I.

“All people think you have to do, is get the fellows into shape, pick up a few players to strengthen the club and presto, you’re on your way to Europe with nary a worry but winning.

“Shucks, that ain’t the half of it. You have got a public to please and if you get off on the wrong foot like Whitby did and the McFarlands are doing, you will find there is fan and public relations hostility. Last year the Toronto papers and radio people blasted the Dunnies nearly off the map because we were not the supermen we were supposed to be after winning the Allan Cup. You will find the same thing will happen if you fellows hit a losing skein.

“After a while when the club is complete you will find Canada and Canadians are solidly behind you. Then all you do is pray the boys are up for the tournament and leave the rest to the gods.”

Like Blair predicted, the Macs started getting used to their new teammates and new roles and started picking up steam in November. They appointed Billy Reay as assistant manager in January and he was charged with scouring all reaches of Ontario for help.

Reay, a 40-year-old from Winnipeg, played 10 seasons in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings and was recognized as the first player to celebrate a goal by raising his arms in the air.

Earlier in the season had been dismissed as the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs when they won five of their first 20 games of the season and brought a considerable amount of hockey knowledge to his new position with the Macs.

Reay helped bring in Billy Graham from the Kitchener Dutchmen and Dennis Boucher from the Quebec League. The Macs cruised to a 4-2 win over Kingston in mid-January that ran their winning streak to eight in a row and moved them into a tie with Whitby for first place.

If the Macs struggled to start the season, they were rolling by the time it was over. They posted a 20-4-4 record in the final 28 games and finished off the regular season in first place.

Despite their success, the Macs were still the subject of media speculation from around the country. But now, they appeared to have won over their critics and writers were taking up the cause of helping the Macs pick up players to fill in the final pieces of the puzzle.

“The fact remains that Canada should at all times send the best possible team to compete in world competition,” wrote Toronto Globe and Mail Sports Editor Jim Vipond, who suggested that the Canadian hockey regulators didn’t care much about the events held in Europe.

Vipond’s biggest beef was that the Buffalo Bisons of the American League wouldn’t grant a release for Peter Conacher to play for the Macs despite the fact that he hadn’t played professional hockey all season.

“It does not sit well that Buffalo and/or New York, should be able to prevent Pete Conacher from joining the McFarlands for the duration of the tournament. Conacher gave up professional hockey for a business career and was immediately suspended by his hockey bosses.

He has permission from his business firm to play for Belleville but the leech-like tentacles of professional sport prevent his participation. It’s a dog-in-the-manager attitude. ‘If we can’t have him, they can’t have him’, even though there is a national issue involved.”

Conacher got his release at the last minute and was in Belleville for the Macs final game of the season. He dressed for the game, but wasn’t yet in game shape and didn’t see much ice time.

“I had kind of retired,” Conacher reflected. “I’d played six years pro and then I decided I was going to stay. I had a job in Toronto and I was going to stick with it. So they had to get me re-instated as an amateur because pros weren’t allowed to play in those days.”

Hotshot Montreal Canadiens’ prospect Gordon “Red” Berenson also joined the team before they headed to Europe.

Berenson had played in a pair of Memorial Cups with the Regina Pats and scored a pair of goals and added an assist in the Macs 12-1 whomping of the Cornwall Chevies in their final game in Belleville the day before leaving for Toronto to depart for Europe.

Conacher said that he knew that joining the team meant that someone that was already playing in Belleville would get bumped from the roster.

He looked forward to the opportunity to play in the World Championships but was nervous about meeting some of his new teammates.

“I knew some of the guys. I had played with Dewsbury, I’d played with George Gosselin and I’d played junior against Wayne Brown so I did know some of the guys a little bit. I can honestly say I didn’t feel that comfortable about bumping somebody because they had earned the right to go and that was a big thing, a big accomplishment.

“To win the Allan Cup and then have parachuted a few of us in, I’m not sure. But anyway it worked out, and the guys, I think they were really great about it.”

Peter Conacher, Belleville McFarlands

Growing Booster Club…

The Macs’ Booster Club had grown dramatically under the guidance of president Dick Beare. Armand Duffy took over that role at the start of the 1958-59 season and immediately pledged to help the group raise $10,000 to help the Macs with the cost of traveling overseas for the World Championships.

The Booster Club had grown from a couple of hundred fans in the Macs first season to well over 1,000 by the time they won the Allan Cup in 1958.

Their main purpose was to raise funds to help support the costs of operating the hockey team but they also hosted social events for the players and their wives and naturally were the team’s most vocal supporters at home and for many to away games as well.

The Macs’ Boosters donned Scottish Tam hats that made them easily identifiable at home and on the road.

The Booster Club was in full force all season raising money for the overseas fund. They hosted events, signed up new pledges at one dollar each and put on community events like Bingo games to stash away as much money as they could for the team. 

The Belle Theatre also pledged money from the opening night of the new feature “Around the World in Eighty Days” and the Islam Caravan, Order of the Alhambra sponsored the Cliff MacKay Holiday Ranch variety show to support the cause.

Despite playing in a relatively small town with the expectation of representing the entire country at the World Championships, the Macs were on the hook for their own expenses to travel to Europe to participate in the tournament.

The funds raised in the community helped pay the freight overseas and the Macs had a 15-game barnstorming tour lined up when they got there to cover the rest of the charges.

Vipond and others in the media criticized this practice.

“Would not our Federal Government be making a valuable contribution to international competition if it took on the responsibility of flying our representatives to world tournaments or the Olympics or British Empire Games,” Vipond asked in The Globe and Mail.

“Meanwhile the Belleville club struggles for players and money. National encouragement being lacking, it behooves the rank and file of the sports world to get behind this club that it may make the trip under the most favorable conditions.”

Canadian Amateur Hockey Association President Bob Lebel responded to the criticism to The Canadian Press.

“We have heard letters have been circulated asking contributions toward an amount as high as $50,000,” Lebel stated.

“The CAHA has nothing to do with this campaign. When Belleville applied to the CAHA, as the amateur hockey governing body, to represent Canada the Belleville representatives told us they had all the financial support they needed through local organizations and the team management.

“I don’t want to imply that the CAHA doesn’t want to help. We are supplying uniforms, as well as trying to lend a hand in getting reinforcements. But we have no part in a subscription campaign.”

In other words, the Macs were on their own.

“Sir: Again, Canada gets ready to send a hockey team to Europe, the Belleville McFarlands, to defend the world amateur championship won by Whitby at Oslo last year. So, Canada gets behind the team with the usual fight the good fight, uphold the Canadian traditions, play the game for the game’s sake, etc. Now, this is great, and the players who are chosen hope to accomplish all this and a little more. They will not let Canada down. Yet, even before the team leaves, Canada lets them down. Just why is every Canadian hockey team that goes to Europe treated like an orphan or poor relation? I’m surprised these boys are not called on to go by raft. This is not meant to be funny. The facts must make other countries wonder just what’s wrong, why a championship team that’s expected by everyone to win championships has to operate on a shoestring budget. Every year, when the team should leave Canada with the feeling that Canada stands behind them, there is the problem of financing. These players have their own responsibilities and obligations to meet, and we just can’t picture them canvassing, selling tickets, beating drums like some medicine show. Looking at it as a worth-while venture, why doesn’t the government sponsor the team? The RCAF has planes going overseas and who else could represent our country better ass good-will ambassadors? If “Dief” can do it, so can Belleville McFarlands. Wake up, Canada. This is our team.

A.J. James, Keele -St., Toronto

Letter to the Editor – Toronto Daily Star in January 1959:

Excerpt from More Macs More (Bell, Aaron 2009)

Intelligencer photo courtesy Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County

Belleville McFarlands win national championship

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. 

The Belleville McFarlands faced the Kelowna Packers for the Allan Cup in 1959.

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

Bobcats make a big impression in their first season

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.

Bobcats coach Moe Hunter (left) and manager Russ Soule look on during a training camp skate at Dick Ellis Arena

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. 

Bobcats Neil Turner (left), Rick Meagher and Tim Yohn were named to the mid-season All-Star Game

“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.”

The Belleville Bobcats faced the Toronto Nationals in the 1973 Metro Jr. B finals

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.”

Bobcats’ coach Moe Hunter

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.

Rick Meagher (left) of the Belleville Bobcats was the 1972-73 Metro Jr. B Rookie of the Year

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