They have been coming together for more than two decades. Long after their junior hockey careers ended, players who have worn the Pembroke Lumber Kings jersey have gathered for an annual alumni golf tournament that is mostly about celebrating great friendships that were formed through their time playing junior hockey in Pembroke.
Robb Wilson played with the Kings for three seasons in the late 1970’s. He’s been making the five-and-a-half hour drive from Paris, Ontario to participate in the tournament since it started 23 years ago. “The city of Pembroke and the Lumber Kings were a very important part of my life. Having made so many friends there and I still have lots of contact with them, makes it so enjoyable. I wouldn’t miss it,” says Wilson.
(Robb Wilson, who played three seasons with the Lumber Kings in the late 1970’s tees off on the first hole at the Pembroke Golf Club)
This year the tournament attracted 176 golfers, keeping the participants on the golf course for almost six hours, but nobody cared that it was a long afternoon. The sun was shining, the story telling was rich and the opportunity to re-connect with former teammates over a game of golf was fantastic.
(Members of the Pembroke Lumber Kings alumni who played with the team in the 1970’s. L to R: Mitch Brideau, Warnie Richardson, Dan Fridgen, Robb Wilson, Dave Jackson and Dale Wilson)
“That’s what its all about,” says Pat Hahn who has been the driving force behind organizing the tournament since its inception. “The guys really enjoy getting together every year. It’s a lot of fun and we all look forward to it,” says Hahn.
This year is special for Hahn and his teammates from the 1972-73 Lumber Kings team who made it to the Centennial Cup Final and iced what is arguably the greatest junior team Pembroke has ever assembled. Fifty years ago, Hahn was a goal scoring machine with 69 goals on a team that lost only four times in regulation all season. The Lumber Kings cruised to a league championship with star players like Tim Young and Rod Schutt in the line-up, two players that would go on to NHL careers.
Unlike today’s national championship tournament, the Lumber Kings had to plow through three best of seven series to make it to the national championship series against the Portage La Prairie Terriers, a series that was entirely played in Manitoba. The Terriers won the series four games to one, ending Pembroke’s hopes of being crowned the best junior A team in the country.
“We were beat up. It was tough getting to the Centennial Cup final and we ran out of gas,” reflected Randy Mohns as he and some of his teammates talked about the golden anniversary of that magical but disappointing end of their season, before teeing off in the golf tournament.
(Five players from the 1972-73 Eastern Canadian champion, Pembroke Lumber Kings team pose for a picture at the team’s annual alumni golf tournament. L to R: Pat Hahn, Terry Woermke, Tim Harrington, Randy Mohns, Murray Thrasher)
The players who participated in the tournament spanned more than 70 years of Kings hockey. The oldest former player to tee up was Romeo Levasseur who played in the late 1950’s and early sixties and is now 83 years old. He was joined by his brother Denis and his son, Robert, also former Lumber Kings.
(A family of Lumber Kings. L to R: Romeo Levasseur, his son Robert and younger brother, Denis Levasseur)
The Lumber Kings are a franchise that has won more championships that any other club in the Central Canada Hockey League. Since the modern era of junior hockey began in Pembroke in 1961, the club has won 14 championships, several Eastern Canadian titles and one national championship in 2011 when current Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe was behind the bench.
Over time, Pembroke has been a stepping stone for many great players who have gone on to professional or college hockey careers. Others have moved on from hockey or settled into recreational leagues, but the common thread of playing with the Lumber Kings has kept them united.
Every year they join together to re-live history on a golf course that is also celebrating a milestone this year. The Pembroke Golf Club is 100 years old, not quite as seasoned as Pembroke’s storied hockey teams. They started playing in 1893. Not surprisingly, Pembroke’s alumni network is well established in its most storied sport. The Lumber Kings alumni golf tournament is more proof that hockey still holds the trump card in Pembroke.