Former Pembroke Lumber Kings gather for annual Alumni Golf Tournament
Tina Peplinskie / Daily Observer : Former Pembroke Lumber Kings teammates (from left) Robb Wilson, Bill Wells and Al Nixon reconnected Friday at the team's annual alumni golf tournament. They played together during the 1976-77 season under coach Bryan Murray.
It was a day to renew old friendships and reminisce about their heyday of playing hockey with one of the most storied junior franchises in Canada.
On Friday, about 70 former members of the Pembroke Lumber Kings from throughout the decades dating back to the 1950s gathered at the Pembroke Golf Club for the 19th annual Alumni Golf Tournament. Overall the event attracted 140 golfers, including family and friends of the former players, the current coach and team owner Dale McTavish; Bill Wells, who returned to Pembroke for the first time in more than 40 years and 2011 national champion Matthew Peca, who recently signed a two-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
After missing last year's tournament Peca is happy he is back in the area this summer and able to attend. Although he arrived late, it didn't take long for people to approach him and offer their congratulations on his recent signing.
The 25-year-old Petawawa native admitted the past few days have been surreal, but it is starting to sink in that he has been signed by one of the oldest North American professional sports franchises.
After playing most of last season with the American Hockey League's Syracuse Crunch and being called up to the Tampa Bay Lightning for 10 games he knows the hard work it takes to land a regular spot in the NHL. He is continuing his training with a group in Arnprior that he has worked with for a number of years, which is like family.
“Nothing is guaranteed, so you have to put in the work in the summer, go to camp healthy and hope for the best,” Peca said.
As his agent and staff from Montreal continued talks during the five-day window which was allowed, and they got closer and closer he was confident a deal would happen. He was happy to be signed before the July 1free agent frenzy as he heard the deal was done before it was officially announced. He is looking forward to playing for such a historic franchise.
“The fans are incredible, it is a demanding market with a lot of pressure,” he said. “The community and city really rally around the team when it is playing well. I'm no stranger to that (from his days in Pembroke), but this is on a bigger scale.”
He has received an outpouring of support from friends and family, who are thrilled he will be playing for a Canadian team, especially his parents Ginette and Frank. Frank attended the golf tournament with his son and was sporting a Canadiens's hat and golf shirt.
The tournament was organized by Pat Hahn, who played two seasons with the Kings in the early '70s. He got the idea after attending a similar tournament for his college hockey team at RPI in upstate New York.
“It's nice to get people together who haven't seen each other for years and we have a lot of fun,” said Hahn.
He was pleased with the crowd on hand and looked forward to sharing stories and reconnecting.
“You have to give people a reason to get together otherwise it doesn't happen,” he added.
On Friday morning, Bill Wells walked into the Pembroke Memorial Centre for the first time in 42 years, and memories of the 1976-77 season came rushing back. That year he captained the Kings, which were coached by the late Bryan Murray that season, to the Centennial Cup final in Prince Albert, Sask. where the team lost four straight games.
“It was nice to see the rink again,” he said. “I like the Wall of Honour. They've really done a nice job. The kids have to be impressed when they get to play in that building.”
Although he lost touch with his former teammates over the years, it didn't take long to reconnect with Robb Wilson and Al Nixon when they arrived at the golf course.
“In the hockey world you never forget,” Wells said.
The reminiscing actually began Thursday night when he was able to reconnect with Dennis Stewart, who served as the Kings's equipment manager during Wells's time in Pembroke.
For McTavish, who played for Pembroke during the 1988-89 season, this is only the second time he has played in the tournament. He participated in the inaugural tournament which was held at the Island Brae Golf Club. He said it is nice to see the guys and be around people who are associated with the Lumber Kings.
“The history of the team has been great so it's nice for everyone to get together and network,” the coach said. “It's fun to reminisce about the times we had here in Pembroke.”