A Final Encore for the Great Roy Giesebrecht

Roy Giesebrecht had to be convinced to play one more season.  He had just turned 34 years of age and had been playing competitive hockey since he was a kid. The family business in Petawawa was thriving and as the oldest boy in the Giesebrecht family, he was ready to step away from the sport that had been such an important part of his life.

Giesebrecht was a household name in the Ottawa Valley.  The large family had produced several terrific hockey players but none better than Roy who in 1935 had carried the Pembroke Little Lumber Kings to the Eastern Canadian finals of the Memorial Cup playdowns. Now, as the fall of 1951 arrived with the opening of the new Pembroke Memorial Centre, Giesebrecht was nearing the end of his playing days, but there was pressure on him to suit up one more time for the Senior Lumber Kings.

It was almost ten years since Giesebrecht had walked away from playing professionally, saying goodbye to the Detroit Red Wings after the 1941-42 season to join Canada’s war effort in Europe.  When the war ended, he felt he was no longer in shape to continue playing in the National Hockey League, so he signed on with the Pembroke Senior Lumber Kings who were playing out of the aging Mackay Street Arena.

Giesebrecht had played three seasons with the Red Wings.  There were only six teams in the National Hockey League at the time, making Giesebrecht one of the top players in the world, but Red Wings General Manager Jack Adams was known to be notoriously thrifty and there wasn’t enough of a financial incentive for Giesebrecht to return to Detroit when his military service came to a close.

(Photo: Roy Giesebrecht while playing for the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League in the early 1940’s)

In 135 games in the NHL, Giesebrecht put up 78 points. In his final season he came within a whisker of winning a Stanley Cup when the Red Wings blew a three-game lead and fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games.  It was the first time in NHL history that a team had come back to win a playoff series after being down three games to none.

Now, as the Mackay Street Arena was boarded up and the PMC prepared to welcome the Montreal Canadiens in an exhibition game christening, Giesebrecht was thinking it was a good time for him to step aside from the game. He was still playing at a high level, but he wasn’t enjoying the long bus and train rides between games, and the family business needed his attention.

His brother-in-law, Cully Simon, was coaching the Senior Lumber Kings and still playing.  Simon was a couple of years younger than Giesebrecht and had also spent time in the NHL.  He knew how important Giesebrecht was to his team’s chances to challenge for an Allan Cup, the holy grail of senior hockey in Canada.

No doubt he had an accomplice in convincing Giesebrecht to stick with hockey for one more season. Art Bogart, the team’s general manager, had gone to great lengths to put together a top notch team for the opening season at the PMC, bringing in veterans like Hub Anslow and rookies like Lionel Barber, while also securing Roy’s brother Bruce who was recovering from a serious injury he had suffered in a car accident while playing in the United States.

(Photo: A banner that hangs in the Pembroke Memorial Centre celebrating the accomplishments of the 1951-52 Pembroke Senior Lumber Kings)

The team was good.  At one point they won 18 games in a row and cruised to an Ottawa Valley Senior Hockey League title. While Giesebrecht may have reluctantly agreed to play one more season, he didn’t show any disinterest in his effort.  In this final year with the Senior Lumber Kings, he led the team in scoring.  In 44 games he collected 27 goals, 44 assists and 71 points.  He added 21 points in 13 Allen Cup playoff games and then Giesebrecht hung up his skates and stick and retired from competitive hockey.

The fans who had come to love him couldn’t let him walk away without a proper send-off.  Prior to one of his final games in a Lumber Kings uniform on home ice, Giesebrecht was honoured before a game with the Jonquiere Aces in an Eastern Canadian Allan Cup quarter-final series.

On March 22, 1952 Giesebrecht stood at centre ice at the Pembroke Memorial Centre for what was dubbed Roy Giesebrecht Appreciation Night. The gifts kept coming.  There was a card table and chairs, a set of travelling bags, a radio, floor polishers, clothing, a new wallet containing cash and a special keepsake from the fans- a watch that had an engraved message on the back of it that read, “Presented to Roy Giesebrecht by Lumber Kings Fans-1952.”

(Photo: The scroll that was read and given to Roy Giesebrecht on March 22, 1952 as his hockey career was celebrated by fans of the Pembroke Senior Lumber Kings in one of the last games Roy played for the team. Courtesy of Jane Giesebrecht.)

The Senior Lumber Kings went on to defeat the Aces and also took out the Saint Francis Xavier X-Men before facing a younger Stratford team that ended their hopes of winning an Allan Cup.  Stratford knocked off Pembroke in five games, the only Pembroke win coming in game three when Giesebrecht scored a hat trick.

Giesebrecht’s final game in a Lumber King uniform would be a 6-4 loss in Stratford.  He would join his teammates on the train ride back to Pembroke to be welcomed by a boisterous crowd of more than 2,500 Lumber Kings fans, even though the train arrived after midnight.  It had been a wonderful first season for the Pembroke Memorial Centre and the Senior Lumber Kings team that had broken in the new arena.

Photo: Roy Giesebrecht’s parents and wife attended Roy Giesebrecht Night at the Pembroke Memorial Centre on March 22, 1952. Left to Right: Bertha and Eugene Giesebrecht and Teresa Giesebrecht. Courtesy of Jane Giesebrecht.)

Decades later as the PMC ages, the history of that season lingers inside the building that celebrated its 70th anniversary a few months ago.  On a wall in the rink there is a plaque that contains a picture of Roy Giesebrecht coupled with the statistics that showcase his remarkable career in hockey.  A banner noting the achievements of the 1951-52 Senior team hangs from the rafters and a picture of the club is placed near the Mackay Street Arena tribute wall.

The picture captures the era.  It is shot in black and white.  The players have large numbers on their jerseys, not the traditional crown that has become so familiar to Lumber Kings followers. Behind the players is wire, not-plexi glass and in the back row to the far right is Giesebrecht, smiling but knowing his place.  It was his last season.