Friday, May 18, 2012

"Oilers Arena"

I would like to introduce you to Paul Neumann. Over the last 6 months, I have spent time conversing back and forth on twitter and in person with this guy. He has a pretty good head on his shoulders and most of all he has a OPINION and is a OILERS FAN! Recently I suggested he write a posting that I could put up for you, here at oilersjambalaya to read. Leave a comment after you read if you don't mind, letting him know what you think of his post. 

I hope to post my final segment of the "Welcome to NAIL Country" Part IV sometime tomorrow. In the meantime and in between time, 'Keep your stick on the ice!'


Oilers’ Arena    By Paul Neumann 
   It’s the Off-Season for your Edmonton Oilers, and so far most of the talk about the team has been about the upcoming NHL Entry Draft which will be held in Pittsburgh. The talk has centred mainly around Nail Yakupov and, if the Blue and Orange should draft him with the 3rd consecutive 1st Overall Pick or, trade down in the top 5 and try for a stud-defenceman. However, not too much attention has been garnered by the “proposed” downtown arena, least of all its name! So, if we may wander down Wayne Gretzky Drive as it were, I’d like to propose a name for the soon-to-be-hallowed halls of this complex.

   Myself, I’ve been advocating for it to be named the
“Bill Hunter Memorial Centre”. Now, for those of you, who do not know the history of hockey in Edmonton; let me first explain to you who this man was, and why he deserves this great honour.

   Bill Hunter was actually born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on May 5th, 1920. He was the first of TEN children, and an avid sports fan. Bill founded his first sports team, the Saskatchewan Dukes Football Club when he was only 18 years old! (The team is now known as the Saskatchewan Hilltops Football Club, whom now competes in the Canadian Junior Football League). From there on, Hunter enrolled in Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, where he managed the school’s baseball club.
   He first became involved in managing hockey when he coached and managed the Saskatoon Quakers Hockey Club form 1950-’52. In 1955, he bought, managed and, coached the Medicine Hat Tigers Hockey Club.
Now flash-forward. ‘Wild’ Bill Hunter is now at the helm of the Edmonton Oil Kings Hockey Club as the team’s Owner, General Manager and, Head Coach. The team was founded by Leo LeClerc in 1951, but sold to Hunter in the early 1960’s. Under Hunter, the Oil Kings would win the Memorial Cup in ’63 and in ’66 and, become the Founding Franchise of the Western Canada Hockey League which we all know today as the Western Hockey league. 

Hunter founded the new league because he believed that the four Western Provinces, whom each had their own junior hockey leagues, could not compete with the larger, more powerful Ontario Hockey league and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Hunter's dreams for a unified western league came true in the summer of 1966, when some member clubs in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League seceded from the league, and approached Hunter in hopes of starting a new league. 

These teams were the Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades, Estevan Bruins, Moose Jaw Canucks and the Weyburn Red Wings. The ‘league’ then added a team in Calgary-the Calgary Buffaloes. The Oil Kings made it to the Memorial Cup TEN times between 1954 and 1976, winning the Memorial Cup in 1963 and 1966, capturing President's Cup (now the Ed Chenoweth Cup) titles in 1971 and 1972. However, it would prove to be the final championship titles in the glorious history of the original Edmonton Oil Kings before relocating to Portland out of financial difficulty, to become the Portland WinterHawks in 1976, after having been sold to different ownership.

   In 1972, Bill was approached by Dennis Murphy and Gary Davidson if he wanted to become the owner of a franchise in a new professional hockey league, called the World Hockey Association. Hunter leaped at the chance, as he had long wanted to bring professional hockey to Edmonton, but the National Hockey League wasn’t interested in expanding to Western Canada, least of all to Edmonton. He would go on to name the franchise the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club and, the glorious history of one of the worlds’ most famous sports teams begun. The team won the Inaugural Game of the newly formed World Hockey Association over the Ottawa Nationals, 7-4, and won their first-ever game in the Northlands Coliseum 4-1 against the Cleveland Crusaders, and history would be written from there on in. 

The team acquired top-notch talent, and even coaxed goaltending legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Jacques Plante out of retirement to start in goal for the squad. Plante ended his career in professional hockey as an Oiler in 1975. (Why the number he wore as an Oiler, #30 isn’t retired by the Edmonton Oilers, I’ll never be able to understand).

Hunter made one more serious attempt to bring a professional team to Western Canada, when in 1983 he offered to buy the financially struggling St. Louis Blues Hockey Club and move the team to his hometown of Saskatoon. The offer took many by surprise, even in Canada, as few thought an NHL team could remain profitable in a small city in the middle of the Canadian Prairies.
   Hunter later sold the team to Nelson Skalbania in 1979 before the WHA merged with the NHL. 

   So as you can see, this great man did so much to advance our National Game, and just as much to make Edmonton the envy of most of the country. Just think of it, even though the Oilers haven’t been faring too well for quite a few seasons, we still show up ready to support our team. We in the City of Champions are still loyal to the Oil, and Mr. Bill Hunter himself is partly responsible for this attitude for our sports clubs. It is a part of our culture, it is in our Blue and Orange blood. So here’s to the “Bill Hunter Memorial Centre” and, Go Oilers, Go!!  

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