Blyth Bulldogs teams savour dual OMHA wins 25 years later
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
On March 25, a remarkable milestone was celebrated as the 1997-1998 Blyth Bulldogs U15 and U18 hockey teams gathered to mark the 25th anniversary of their respective Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) championship wins. The reunion saw a great turnout, with former players, coaches and parents in attendance. Many of the players who gathered at the Wingham Sportsman Association clubhouse hadn’t seen each other in the 25 years since their legendary wins, and everybody was in high spirits.
But the celebration wasn’t just for the players. Also in attendance were a number of people who had been part of the behind-the-scenes support system that was integral to both teams’ successes. There were parents who lived lives as nomads for a season, driving from arena to arena, coaches who imparted wisdom on their young wards, and arena workers who sharpened skates better than anybody had ever seen before. “I don’t think any of the parents missed anything,” recalled Marg Anderson. “It was a good group of kids, and a good group of parents.”
The speeches were short, but spirited. It was the year of the coin flip flip-flop, police escorts, bleached hair, French cultural exchange, and convict attacks. It was also the year of winning a lot of hockey games.
John Stewart, former manager of the U15 team, expressed his appreciation for the victories, noting that having two teams from the same community win the OMHA championships in the same year is a rare occurrence that is unlikely to be soon repeated. Stewart was pleased to see so many people at the reunion.
Cory Bragg, co-event co-ordinator and captain of the 1997-1998 U18 team, added that the reunion was an excellent opportunity to catch up with old teammates and reminisce. Bragg also spoke about the importance of hockey culture in small communities and emphasized that the arena is the heart of the community, saying “it really was home for us when we were playing the game… it’s good to have a bit of pride.” He expressed concern about North Huron Council’s recent contemplations about closing the arena in Blyth. The arena was a great source of pride for the community during that victorious season, and, based on the strong public outcry over the proposed cuts, it’s safe to say that Blyth’s arena pride is still alive and well.
Ryan Lee, co-event coordinator and goaltender for the 1997-1998 U15 team, praised the turnout and said it was heartening to see everyone come together to celebrate their shared achievement.
Tyler Stewart, captain of the 1997-1998 U15 team, echoed the sentiment, saying that it was great to see many former teammates and parents who played an essential role in supporting the team. He attributed the championship wins to hard work and positivity and emphasized that the victory was because of the team's determination. He joked about how the game has changed over the years. “You gotta remember what hockey was… the sticks were wooden, the two-line pass was a thing, and our goalies stood up - butterflies were still an insect.”
The reunion was also attended by the coaches of both teams. Don "Barney" Stewart, coach of the U15 team, described the experience of winning in 1998 as "Unbelievable!" He added that it was the result of small-town dedication and that the players' parents figuratively represented "half of the team." Wayne McDougall, coach of the U18 team, added jokingly, "It's unbelievable that we're still alive."
The event was a testament to the power of sport and community and a celebration of the bonds formed by athletes and fans alike. It served as a reminder that the memories of the past can be a source of inspiration for the future. Tyler summed up the season perfectly, saying, “In the end, we were just a bunch of kids playing the game that we loved, and that year we were better than everybody else.”