1956 Vernon Canadians: Vernon
The Vernon Canadians were formed in 1949 as part of the Okanagan Mainline League (OML), a men’s senior league that prior to 1949 was an intermediate league. In 1951 the OML split up into two leagues: the Pacific Coast Senior Hockey League and the Okanagan Senior Hockey League (OSHL). The Vernon Canadians continued to play under the new league with their most succesful year taking place during the 1955-56 season. That season, the Canadians played 56 games winning 37 and tallying up 76 points. They won the OSHL Championship beating the Kelowna Packers 3 out of 5 games. The Canadians went on to win the British Columbia Senior Men’s Hockey Playoffs against the Spokane Flyers, the Western Canada Senior Championships against the Winnipeg Maroons and, finally, the Vernon Canadians won the National Senior Championships of Canada and the Allan Cup by beating the Chatham Maroons 4 games to 1. In 1961, after many more exciting years of hockey, the Vernon Canadians folded along with the OSHL.
1955 Penticton Vees: Penticton
The first game played by the senior Penticton Vees was the opening of Penticton Memorial Arena on October 25, 1951, in a game against the Vernon Canadians. The Vees played in the Okanagan Senior Hockey League, and in 1953, were crowned Champions of Western Canada. In 1954, the Vees were National Senior Champions as winners of the Allan Cup. In 1955, the Vees represented Canada at the World’s Ice Hockey Championships in Krefeld, West Germany, beating the Soviet Union 5 to 0 for the gold medal. The Vees won another provincial championship in 1960. Six alumni from the senior Vees also played in the National Hockey league (NHL): James Bedard, Edward Diachuk, Connie Madigan, George McAvoy, Bill Warwick and his brother Grant Warwick.
When the OSHL folded in 1961, the Penticton Vees aso disbanded. However, the team name lived on as a Junior “A” team. They are now part of the British Columbia Hockey league (BCHL). While it is a common perception that the name 'Vees' comes from 'Victory' the name is actually taken from three local varieties of peaches (Vedette, Valiant and Veteran).
Larry Kwong: Vernon
Born in Vernon on June 17th 1923, Larry Kwong found his passion for hockey by listening to radio broadcasts of NHL games by Foster Hewitt. By the late 1930’s, Kwong was playing with the Vernon High School Hockey Team and the Vernon Hydrophones, an intermediate boy’s team. The Hydrophones won the midget hockey championship of B.C. in 1939 and the provincial juvenile title in 1941. Shortly after, as an 18-year-old, Kwong jumped the junior ranks to play senior hockey for the Trail Smoke Eaters who had won the 1939 World Ice Hockey Championships.
In 1944, Kwong was drafted into the Canadian Army. Instead of being deployed overseas, he was selected to play on the Red Deer Wheelers of the Central Alberta Garrison Hockey League. After World War II, Kwong returned to Trail and won the provincial senior hockey championship with the Smoke Eaters in 1946. In that B.C. Final series against the New Westminster Royals, Kwong led the Trail team in scoring and even made the winning goal that secured the team the Savage Cup. Later that year, hockey scout, Lester Patrick, saw Kwong play and was impressed enough to sign him for the New York Rovers, a farm team of the New York Rangers. Kwong scored a goal in his debut for the Rovers against the Boston Olympics in Boston on Oct. 27, 1946. At Madison Square Gardens on Nov. 17, 1946, Kwong was presented with the Keys to New York’s Chinatown. Kwong went on to lead the New York Rovers in scoring in 1947–1948 with 86 points in 65 games.
Less than a year after Jackie Robinson shattered the baseball colour line, Larry Kwong broke the barrier in hockey. On March 13, 1948, Kwong made his NHL debut with the New York Rangers against the Montreal Canadians in the Montreal Forum. Kwong had to wait until late in the third period before seeing the ice for his only shift of the night. He tallied no points in what would be his only big-league game. The Rovers' top scorer had watched several other Rover forwards get called to the NHL ahead of him. Demoted after a single minute, Kwong became convinced that he would not get an opportunity to prove himself at the NHL level with the Rangers. In the off-season, Kwong accepted a more lucrative offer to play for the Valleyfield Braves of the Quebec Senior Hockey League (QSHL).
Kwong went on to have a long and productive career in senior leagues in Canada and the United States. Coached by Toe Blake, Kwong was named as an assistant captain of the Valleyfield Braves of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. In 1951, Kwong won the Vimy Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the QSHL. That year, he led the Braves to the league championship and then to the Alexander Cup, the Canadian major senior title. In the following QSHL season (1951–52), Kwong's 38 goals were topped only by Jean Beliveau’s 45 tallies. In his nine-year tenure in the Quebec League, competing against future NHL All-Stars such as Béliveau, Jacque Plante, Dickie Moore, Gerry McNiel and Jean-Guy Talbot, Kwong averaged better than a point per game. Kwong also spent one season with the Nottingham Panthers in Britain, scoring 55 goals in 55 games. Larry Kwong now lives in Calgary.
Vern Dye: Vernon
Born in Bashaw, Alberta on October 31, 1922, Vern Dye relocated to Vernon in 1948, following his parents move here in 1945. Dye immediately got involved in the Vernon sports scene and by the spring of 1948 was playing 2nd base for Nick’s Aces, a local softball team that was formed in 1934 by Vernon businessman, Nick Alexis.
Dye went on to play in the Okanagan Mainline Baseball League with the Vernon Canadians and the Vernon Clippers. His coaching career began in earnest with the Vernon Clippers in July of 1958. The following year, Dye was coaching the Vernon Carlings and led that team to an OMBL pennant in 1960. Dye’s long standing baseball coaching career is perhaps best commemorated by his twenty year association with another OMBL team, the Vernon Luckies. Dye was also a voluntary scout for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Dye and his brother-in-law, Ernie Kowal, worked with Vernon city engineer Dave McKay in 1971 to have ball diamonds built at Lakeview Park. Dye was also instrumental in having major upgrades done to the diamond facilities at Polson Park.
Baseball wasn’t Dye’s only passion. He also coached minor hockey. In 1960, Dye was part of an 18-member group that signed $300.00 notes and bought the Vernon Junior Canadians from owner Bill Brown for Vernon Minor Hockey. In 1961, Vern Dye’s Canadians became one of four teams to enter the newly created Okanagan-Mainline Junior “A” Hockey League, which later became the BCHL (British Columbia Hockey League). In the years that followed, Dye served as President and Vice President for the league, and his contributions over three decades as owner, coach and general manager were the foundation of the Vernon franchise.
In 1990, Dye was presented with a plaque and Honourary Membership in the B.C.J.H.L. It was the first honourary membership bestowed by the franchise. A few years later, in 1997, Dye was again honoured by receiving the Brent Gilchrist B.C. Children’s Hospital Lifetime Community Sports Achievement Award. In 2009, Dye was recognized for his many years of service to Junior “A” Hockey in B.C. when the British Columbia Hockey League named their most valuable player trophy after him: The Vern Dye Memorial Trophy.
Vern Dye passed away in Vernon on December 11th, 2004.
Wayne Dye: Vernon
Born in Vernon on January 27th, 1953 Wayne Dye joins his father, Vern, as a 2011 inductee into the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame. At age six, Dye was a bat boy with the Okanagan Senior Baseball League’s Vernon Luckies. It was said they used to fill the bleachers at Polson Park for Sunday matinee games. Later, at 16, Dye was a rookie third baseman with the Luckies when he won the league’s MVP. That same year, Dye was locked up by Major League Baseball’s Seattle Pilots (now Milwaukee Brewers) with a $10,000 signing bonus and started his minor pro career in Class A in Newark, New Jersey. While there, his father Vern spent a month watching his son play third base and shortstop.
Negotiations with Seattle, who made Dye the youngest Canadian to ever sign a Major League contract, didn’t intimidate Vern.
“The scout asked me, ‘How much do you think your kid’s worth?’ I said, ‘Fifty-thousand’ and he said, ‘That’s good, you’re starting at the top.’”
“He could have signed with the Expos” said Vern, “and he would have started in Billings (Montana) where we would have driven to his games, but the offer was only half what Seattle had offered.”
Dye’s hockey career appeared promising from the outset as he played with teammates two and three years older through minor hockey. As a 13-year-old left winger, he spent the last part of the Junior A season with the Vernon Essos.
“He was a hell of a hockey player,” said former Essos’ coach Odie Lowe. “He had so much talent it wasn’t funny…He had a lot of ability. He wasn’t the fastest skater, but he could shoot the puck…He was one of the best players I coached.”
Dye spent five full seasons in the B.C. Junior Hockey League before joining the Western Canada Junior League New Westminster Bruins as a 20-year-old where he racked up 35 goals in one year. Bruins coach Ernie (Punch) McLean later said,
“A boy with that much ability should score at least 30 by accident.”
In 1973, Dye was drafted 109th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks. He played for the Spokane Flyers (Western International Hockey League) during the 1974-75 season scoring 24 goals over 46 games.
Dye’s skills as an athlete didn’t end with baseball and hockey. He was also a track and field superstar, specializing in running and javelin. His mother Joyce recalled…
“It just came naturally for Wayne I guess. One year they asked him to go to the Legion track meet and they entered him in seven events and he won them all. Everything in sports came easy to him.”
In addition, Dye was one of B.C.’s top snooker players and a strong golfer. Dye, who wore No. 8 for the Vernon Juniors, died in his sleep on November 8, 1988 at the age of 35. Wayne Dye was named Vernon’s Athlete of the Century in 1999.
Vernon Lakers: Vernon
Not once in the eleven seasons of league play did they fall under the five-hundred mark and they made the playoffs every season. The Vernon Lakers entered the regional playdowns in five consecutive years and made the national tournament four years straight, culminating in two National Championships, 1990 and 1991. The Vernon Lakers accomplishment of four National Championship appearances, 1989 – 1992, remains a Canadian Junior "A" Hockey record.
1 - League Pennant – 1988
5 - Interior Division Pennants – 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991
5 - Interior Division Championships – 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992
4 - Nat Bailey Cups - League Championships – 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992
4 - Mowat Cups - BC Championship – 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992
3 - Doyle Cups - BC vs. Alberta Championship – 1989, 1991, 1992
3 - Abbott Cups - Western Canadian Championship – 1989, 1991, 1992
2 - Centennial Cups - National Championship – 1990, 1991, Semi-Finalist: 1992
Born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, on April 3rd 1967, Brent Gilchrist grew up in Vernon and began his hockey career with the Vernon Vipers (known then as the Vernon Lakers) in 1982. At the age of 16, Gilchrist was playing for the Kelowna Wings; a junior hockey team that played in the Western Hockey League (WHL) from 1982 to 1985. The franchise relocated to Spokane, Washington following the 1984-85 season and became the Spokane Chiefs with 19-year old Gilchrist as its Captain.
Gilchrist was chosen 79th overall in the National Hockey League (NHL) 1985 entry draft by the Montreal Canadiens. Soon after, he was playing for their farm team, the Sherbrooke Canadiens. Gilchrist made his NHL debut in 1988-89. During his rookie season, he helped Montreal reach the Stanley Cup final. Gilchrist continued to serve as a reliable defensive player for Montreal for another two years before breaking out offensively with 23 goals in 1991-92.
Gilchrist was briefly with the Edmonton Oilers in 1992 before being traded to the Minnesota North Stars (Dallas Stars) for the 1992-93 season. He remained with the Stars until the summer of 1997 when he signed on as a free agent with the Detroit Red Wings and helped the club win its second straight Stanley Cup in 1998.
After missing most of the next two seasons recovering from a serious groin injury, Gilchrist rebounded in 2000-01 with a solid defensive performance in 60 games for the Wings. He returned to the Stars midway through the 2001-02 season. He then signed as a free agent with the Nashville Predators in the summer of 2002 and went on to play 41 games before suffering a back injury that forced him to retire from the game in 2003.
Ken Holland was born in Vernon on November 10, 1955. Holland has been on the hockey radar since the early 1970's. After serving as goaltender for his hometown Vernon Vikings, Holland starred with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Canada Hockey League, winning 23, tying 4 and losing just 10 games during the 1974-75 season. His net minding caught the eyes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who drafted Holland in the twelfth round, the 188th pick, of the 1975 National Hockey League (NHL) Entry Draft. The Maple Leafs never signed Ken, and he continued to play in the American Hockey League (AHL) as a free agent. He signed with the Hartford Whalers' organization in September 1979. In all, Ken played five AHL seasons in Binghamton, including a team name change from the Dusters to the Whalers in 1980-81. His tenure there was interrupted by a season with the Springfield Indians of the International Hockey League (IHL) in 1979-80, but was made more memorable when, on November 16, 1980, he was summoned to Hartford and played his first (NHL) game as a member of the Whalers. The next season, 1981-82, he was named to the AHL's Second All-Star Team. In 1998, Ken Holland was inducted into the Binghamton Hall of Fame.
In 1983-84, Holland joined the Adirondack Red Wings of the AHL, and during that season, played 3 games with the parent Detroit Red Wings. But, at the conclusion of the 1984-85 season retired from active duty and joined the Red Wings as an amateur scout for western Canada, a position he maintained until July 1989 when he was promoted to director of amateur scouting. From there, Holland was elevated to assistant general manager in June 1994, where he stayed until he was named Detroit's general manager on July 18, 1997. As General Manager, Holland has led the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cup victories: 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008.
Holland recently served as associate director for Hockey Canada at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and will hold the same role at the upcoming 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Born March 2, 1954 in Brandon, Manitoba, Johnstone grew up in Vernon, B.C. and starred with the local Essos of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League (BCJHL) before joining the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Canada Junior Hockey League (WCJHL) for three years. In 1972-73 he played on the Tigers powerhouse when it reached the Memorial Cup finals. After scoring 118 points for Medicine Hat in 1973-74, he was chosen 104th overall in the Amateur Draft.
Johnstone started his pro career with the Michigan Stags of the World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1974-75 but joined the Rangers the following year.
As a rookie, Johnstone scored 26 points in 53 games for New York in 1977-78 and represented Canada at the Izvestia tournament in Moscow. He missed a number of games from the 1978-79 season due to an injury but returned to score five goals in the playoffs as the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup final for the first time in seven years.
On June 13, 1983, Johnstone was part of a major deal with Detroit that saw him exchanged with Ron Duguay and Eddie Mio for Mike Blaisdell, Willie Huber and Mark Osborne.
During the summers he returned to Vernon and was a catcher on the Enderby, B.C. team that won two provincial senior baseball titles. After playing parts of three seasons in Motown, Johnstone retired in 1987. He returned to Vernon and served as an assistant coach with the junior Lakers then served as the head coach when the team won two Centennial Cups. In 1992-93 he was hired as the coach of the East Coast Hockey League's Johnstown Chiefs, an affiliate of the Boston Bruins.
Odie Lowe: Vernon
Born Norman Ewart "Odie" Lowe on April 15th 1928 in Winnipeg, Hockey was in Odie Lowe's blood at birth. His father, Odie Sr., was a pro in the old Pacific Coast League, and became "one of Western Canada's better-known hockey mentors."
Joining organized hockey in Winnipeg in 1938, Odie Junior began to make his own mark on the game…the mark of a champion. In 1945, he carried his high school team to the championship of Winnipeg and his juvenile team to Western Canada supremacy. In junior, the Lowes reunited in Lethbridge and captured the Alberta/BC crown. Kid Lowe also collected junior league scoring titles in Alberta and Manitoba.
Signed by the New York Rangers, the nifty centreman would first test his mettle on their farm team…one step away from the big league. Again, Odie Lowe produced, as the leading point-getter for the New York Rovers. He would be justly rewarded.
Late in the season, on March 13, 1949, 20-year-old Norm "Odie" Lowe realized his childhood dream. Called up for his NHL debut at Madison Square Garden, Lowe donned the Rangers' sweater and helped battle Maurice Richard and the Montreal Canadiens to a 1-1 tie.
Lowe's next NHL action came on the evening of Feb. 26, 1950. Earlier that day, Lowe had erupted for five points in a Rovers' matinee game at the Gardens.
Lowe played two more NHL games. In the expansion era, he would have been a surefire NHL star, but these were the Original Six days. The Rangers only had jobs for 3 centremen-jobs regularly filled by All-Stars Edgar Laprade, Don Raleigh, and Buddy O'Connor.
Rover coach Phil Watson was glad to get his top pivot back: "He's the brainiest guy on the ice…has the extra sense to know where the puck will be. He passes beautifully." Lowe led the Rovers to the 1950 Eastern League title.
Moving on to Minnesota, Lowe continued his scoring and winning ways: 78 points in 39 games for the St. Paul Saints in 1951-52, and another league championship. Lowe followed with back-to-back Manitoba Senior League titles with the Winnipeg Maroons. Then, in 1954, Lowe was lured to the Okanagan Valley to play for the Vernon Canadians. He was a "much-prized" addition to George Agar's team. Vernon had never won the Okanagan League or BC Senior A titles. In Lowe's first season, the town captured both. And the Canadians repeated in 1956.
Lowe led the way with 91 regular season points, and kept producing in the playoffs. In the quest for the Allan Cup, the ultimate prize for hockey towns across Canada, Vernon vanquished Kamloops, Kelowna, Spokane and Winnipeg. In the final against Chatham, Lowe set up 8 goals as Vernon cruised to a convincing victory, 4 games to 1. Lowe's 39 playoff points had helped propel Vernon to a 19-4-2 record…and the town's first national championship. Vernon had taken its place on the hockey map.
In 1956-57, Lowe eclipsed Grant Warwick's OSHL (Okanagan Senior Hockey League) single-season scoring records, finishing with 61 goals and 114 points in 54 games.
Nicknamed "Snapper", Lowe brought intensity and a complete game. He was "a tower of strength for the Canadians", pronounced The Vernon News. "Without doubt the best poke check artist to ever skate in this league….He and partner Johnny Harms make a top flight duo out there when it comes to killing penalties."
Remarkably, Odie Lowe enjoyed championship seasons eight times in the 1950s. Over seven seasons, Lowe suited up for Vernon 462 times. He recorded a staggering 317 goals, 358 assists and 675 points.
1961 was a pivotal year for hockey in BC. The Okanagan Senior League closed down, and a new junior league was formed in Vernon. These were the beginnings of the BCHL (British Columbia Hockey League). In this shift, Odie Lowe was front and center and an obvious choice to be Vernon's first Junior A coach.
In 1964, Lowe moved on to coach the Vernon Juveniles, guiding them to a 22-1-2 record and the provincial title, Vernon's first in 13 years.
Meanwhile, Lowe continued to play Senior B hockey with the Vernon Luckies, winning the Coy Cup in 1965, breaking a 19-year drought.
In 1967, Vernon's Junior A franchise became the Essos. With Odie Lowe back at the helm, the club started a winning tradition. Two solid winning seasons led to a dominant campaign in 1969-70. After a first-place finish, the Essos rolled through the playoffs to raise the Mowat Cup, Vernon's first BCJHL (British Columbia Junior Hockey League) crown. Lowe's Essos would repeat the feat in 1972.
For seven decades, Odie Lowe was involved in hockey in Vernon, finally hanging up his skates as a referee at the age of 85.
1969-72 Vernon Essos: Vernon
At the first Junior A hockey game in Vernon in 1961, the puck was dropped by 8-year-old Wayne Dye. Vernon fans, however, would have little to cheer about in the early years…until Dye was old enough, at 14, to suit up for his hometown squad.
In 1967, after six straight losing seasons-only 52 wins in 194 games-the franchise was in danger of slipping away. The Vernon Blades were in need of a major overhaul.
The owner of the local Esso station, Ernie Kowal, offered his service and resources to fix the team. New uniforms and a new name: the Vernon Essos. Manager Vern Dye brought in Odie Lowe to coach. Vern's son, Wayne, barely a teen, was ready for action. New Essos Tom Serviss, Jack Gilroy, Bob Mayer, and Lawrence Quechuck helped to kick the franchise into gear.
The 1967-68 Essos posted the first winning season in club history (19 wins 17 losses 4 ties), collecting as many wins as in the previous two years combined. They improved on their record again the following season (19-15-6).
In 1969-70, the Essos hit the gas hard. Vernon's high-octane offense topped the league, pumping in over 5 goals a game. Fiery competitor Wayne Dye paced the circuit in goals and points, followed closely by slick centre Lawrence Quechuck. Four more Essos placed in the top 10 in scoring-John Price, Don Manson, Bob Mayer and Jack Marsh.
Captain Bob Mayer was named the league's MVP, and Gary Osborne garnered the Top Goaltender Trophy. For posting the best goals-against average, the duo of Osborne and Gord McIntosh shared the Wally Forslund Trophy.
The Essos captured their first league pennant during the 1969-70 season with a piping hot 32-12-4 record.
During the 1970-71 season, the Essos cruised to a 34-20-6 record, capturing the Junior A hockey championships and the Mowat Cup. Sixteen-year-old Eddie Johnstone popped 45 goals in 50 games, while rookie Jim Lawrence topped the league with 127 points.
At the end of the 1972-73 season, the Essos hoisted the Mowat Cup for the second time in 3 years and effectively establishing Vernon as a junior hockey power. These were watershed years, as community pride shifted onto Vernon's young hockey representatives.
Three Essos, Wayne Dye, Ernie Gare and Tom Serviss were voted among the top-50 BCHL (British Columbia Hockey League) players of all time in 2011. Dye would also be named Vernon's Athlete of the Century. Dye's career Junior A totals-156 goals and 325 points-remain franchise records. Wayne's dad would be immortalized by the BCHL with the Vern Dye Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the league's MVP.
In the late 1980s, former Essos Ernie Gare, George Fargher and Eddie Johnstone followed in Odie Lowe's footsteps, returning to Vernon to coach the juniors.