Colorful Hockey History: The Belleville McFarlands
Aaron Bell is the information officer for the city of Belleville, Ontario. He is quite familiar with the city's amateur hockey history although its glory years came long before Bell was born.
In his book, MORE MACS MORE - Celebrating Hockey History: The Belleville McFarlands, he recreates the "Macs" 1958 capture of the Allan Cup, emblematic of senior hockey supremacy. This was followed by a most unlikely victory the next season at the World Championship of Hockey, held in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
For a brief period of time, the small city of Belleville, Ontario, won the hearts of Canada. In his foreword to the book, columnist and former Belleville Sports Hall of Fame president James Hurst, describes what it was like as a youngster to be at the city's Memorial Arena on game night. Any old time rink rat can appreciate his graphic first person descriptions of hockey night in Belleville.
This was during the six team NHL era, with a proportionate reduction of professional minor leagues as compared to today. Senior hockey was made up of journeymen NHL wannabes. local standouts and a handful of people who had a taste of NHL experience. The only players on the Macs to achieve any degree of success in the NHL were Al Dewsbury who had been with Detroit during the early fifties dynasty years, and Gordon "Red" Berenson, who made his mark after expansion.
Mac players who had brief NHL experience but lengthy minor league careers included Pete Conacher, Ike Hildebrand and Bep Guidolin. Team captain Floyd Crawford, is the father of Marc, Bob and Lou Crawford, all of whom played in the NHL.
Mr. Bell's book was timed for the fiftieth anniversary reunion of the Macs' World Championship, held in Belleville in 2009.
The book chronicles the Macs creation, at a time when senior hockey was the major pastime in the small towns across Canada. A senior "A" team in Belleville was the vision of Wren Blair, manager of the rival and very successful Whitby Dunlops. Blair wanted to see more teams in Ontario available to compete for the Allan Cup against presumed superior teams from Western Canada.
Belleville City Manager Drury Denyes assembled a team of "amateurs" from across Canada. He convinced Crawford, a former Montreal prospect who was past his hockey prime and working in the mines, to join the team as its captain for the inaugural 1956-57 season.
Harvey McFarland, local businessman and mayor of a neighboring town, became a major team sponsor, hence the team name "McFarlands."
Denyes then recruited Guidolin as player-coach and together they assembled a diversified cast to form a competitive Eastern Senior "A" team. The 1957-58 season was described, giving the true flavor of the sacrifices players made for their passion for hockey. What little money the players earned was often received in creative ways because technically they were amateurs.
The book tells the story of the long season, resulting in a league championship and an eventual come from behind dramatic upset of the Kelowna Packers for the Allan Cup. The victory was preceded and followed by three day train rides between Eastern and Western Canada.
Through archived news clippings and interviews with surviving team members and journalists, Mr. Bell provides unique details of the Allan Cup year and the following season. In 1958-59 the Macs went to Europe for what amounted to a fund-raising barnstorming tour to cover expenses - they received no government assistance for participating in the World Championships - followed by the tournament victory.
Although they actually lost the final game - their only loss in the entire Europe tour - they won the tournament on points. There were hard fought victories over teams from the United States and Russia.
For a short time, Belleville was the toast of Canada. Most of the players scattered to minor league careers elsewhere. The Macs soon had financial troubles amidst allegations that city officials in Belleville misused municipal funds to support the team. The team disbanded two years later.
For more information about the Belleville McFarlands go to www.bellevillemcfarlands.ca.
For a copy of the book contact James Hurst at email@example.com.