To understand how special it is to play for the Pembroke Lumber Kings, one only needs to attend the team’s alumni golf tournament once. Players who wore the red and white jerseys emblazoned with the well known Lumber Kings crown decades earlier, come from across the province for this annual get together to share stories of their time playing together in one of the greatest junior hockey markets in the country.
But this year, the tournament is in jeopardy of not happening, another event that has had to be be postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Scheduled for Friday, July 3 the tournament has been indefinitely delayed, but the former sniper who helped initiate the tournament more than 20 years ago is still hoping that maybe later this summer a modified tournament that respects physical distancing can still be played.
Pat Hahn had sweet hands when we played for the Kings. After a 28 point season in the 1971-72 campaign, Hahn busted out the following year when he scored 69 goals and 116 points for one of the best Lumber Kings teams in history. The 1972-73 squad was filled with talent, including future NHL players Tim Young and Rod Schutt, but the Kings fell just short of capturing the city’s first national championship, losing 4 games to 1 to the Portage la Prairie Terriers in the Centennial Cup final.
After his junior career ended, Hahn went on to play college hockey for four years in the United States. He then returned to the Ottawa Valley and continued to play in recreational leagues, always enjoying reminiscing about his junior days. He had stayed in touch with some of his former teammates and every once in a while the thought of having a reunion would be raised and eventually it happened in the form of a golf tournament.
The tournament started as a small affair, at the 9-hole Island Brae Golf Club, just across the Ottawa River from Pembroke, but as the participation of former players grew, the tournament moved to the Pembroke Golf Club, where a full 18 holes could more easily be played. It now attracts more than 100 golfers each July, many of whom have been there since day one.
Among the original group is Robb Wilson who has travelled from Southern Ontario to be part of the tournament every year. Like Hahn, Wilson was part of a Lumber Kings team that came within one series of winning a national title. Wilson played three seasons with the Kings, including the 1976-77 team coached by Bryan Murray, that fell to the Prince Albert Raiders in a sweep in the Centennial Cup Final. Unfortunately, Wilson suffered a shoulder injury in the first game of the series and wasn’t able to help his club, a heart breaking reality that still bothers him some 43 years later.
The 2011 alumni golf tournament drew the largest crowd the event has ever attracted as more than 160 golfers registered. Driven by the national championship won by the team earlier that spring in Camrose, Alberta, the RBC Cup was on display as players like Ben Reinhardt, Matthew Peca and Francis Dupuis participated, connecting a new and older generation of alumni who shared their Centennial Cup experiences, the more seasoned men lamenting that they had fallen short in their national championship dreams.
It has been more than 55 years since Pembroke had a senior hockey team, but the memories of that golden era of Lumber Kings hockey lives on through Lionel Barber, who holds the distinction of the only living alumnus who played on opening night at the Pembroke Memorial Centre in the fall of 1951. Barber, who is now in his 80’s and who was among the original tournament organizers, has continued to be a presence at the event, even though he has experienced serious health issues in recent years.
Barber says the idea of holding an alumni golf tournament was hatched when Pembroke hosted the 2000 Fred Page Cup tournament. Barber, Hahn and two other alumni, Randy Mohns who played with Hahn, and Bruce Giesebrecht, who played with Barber, were asked to pick stars at each of the tournament games. Barber told the Pembroke Observer in 2015, “So the four of us were sitting up in the press box and we decided that maybe someday we should have a golf tournament for the junior and senior Lumber Kings alumni. So, we got together and that’s how it started.”
While the primary purpose of the tournament is to bring the players together for a social gathering, it has also helped raise funds for various causes including the Pembroke Handi Bus and the Art Gallagher Memorial Bursary at Algonquin College’s Pembroke Campus. The bursary was set up to honour Gallagher’s memory, the long time radio voice of the Lumber Kings and a fixture at the alumni golf tournament until his passing a few years ago.
The pandemic has been tough on everyone and at the end of the day giving up the opportunity to play in the alumni golf tournament is a small sacrifice to make to protect the health of others, but it doesn’t mean that the former players won’t miss getting together for this annual event. With some good fortune, they won’t have to wait until 2021 to meet again, even if it does mean the normal handshakes and hugs will have to wait for another day.