The roster of the 1942-43 Royal Canadian Navy team of the Island Senior League contained a starry array of enlisted players that included eventual NHL stars.
One of the sporting perks of being the home of Canada’s West Coast naval fleet is the number of interesting and talented athletes from across the country who have been stationed in CFB Esquimalt and have played or performed here, from the likes of boxer Fred Desrosiers in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, to the many great Naden hockey teams.
Among the latter, the 1942-43 Royal Canadian Navy team of the Island Senior League will be commemorated Saturday night on its 80th anniversary. The Victoria Royals will don replica jerseys in honour of that team when they meet the Prince George Cougars in a Western Hockey League game this evening at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
According to a DND release from captain Jeff Klassen, CFB Esquimalt public affairs officer, the 1942-43 Navy team played in the Island Senior League while its players awaited their ship-out orders during the Second World War.
The roster contained a starry array of enlisted players that included eventual NHL MVP Hart Trophy winner and New York Rangers’ Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Chuck Rayner, Stanley Cup-champion and Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings defenceman Bob Goldham, later also a fine and insightful analyst on Hockey Night in Canada, and hometown Victoria hero Bernie Strongman, who scored the first goal in the old Memorial Arena in 1949 with Lester Patrick’s pro Victoria Cougars of the Pacific Coast Hockey League.
“There are many things I am proud of my father for, and his time with the Esquimalt Navy hockey team is high up there,” son Gordie Strongman said in a statement.
“It’s incredible to see a photo of my father in his youth and now, 80 years later, have the jersey he was wearing recreated.”
Gordie Strongman, CFB Esquimalt base commander Navy Captain J. Jeffrey Hutchinson and base chief and chief petty officer first class Al Darragh will conduct the ceremonial opening face-off Saturday on Armed Forces appreciation night.
Navy won the 1942-43 Island Senior League championship but it wasn’t easy as servicemen from across the country, some of them top athletes, descended on the Island to train during the war. According to Klassen, the Army team in the Island Senior League was loaded with Nick Metz of the Maple Leafs, Bill Carse of the Chicago Blackhawks and Joffre Desilets of the Montreal Canadiens.
A British Commonwealth Air Training Plan facility was based at Pat Bay and the RCAF’s Pat Bay Flyers featured NHLer Joe Krol from the New York Rangers and Brooklyn Americans. The Nanaimo Clippers had Dave MacKay of the Blackhawks and Larry Kwong, who became the first NHL player of Asian descent when he appeared with the Rangers.
The Victoria Daily Times wrote that the season was about to “pry off the lid on what promises to be one of the grandest puck-chasing campaigns in the history of the capital city.” The games were played at the old Willows Arena in Oak Bay, which burned down in 1944. But what didn’t turn to ashes was the memory of a remarkable hockey season played eight decades ago.