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More Than Hockey: Four 1971-72 Alumni Reunite and Reflect at Game Against Firebirds

Much of the Petes’ reputation hinges on their extensive list of alumni who have advanced beyond their junior career, making substantial impacts in professional hockey. Steve Yzerman, Chris Pronger, Jordan Staal and most recently Ryan Spooner are a short list of the players who have made serious waves in the NHL.

A team worthy of particular recognition throughout the club’s history, is the 1971-72 Petes. This group of players was coached by Roger Neilson and produced a 34-20-9 record, going on to win the OHA championship and earn a spot in the final game of the 54th Memorial Cup (the sole occasion Neilson made it to the national junior hockey championship). It was here that the Petes swept the tournament in the round robin, going directly to the finals where they were defeated by the the Cornwall Royals of the QMJHL in a heartbreaking 2-0 loss.

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Although the results were disappointing, the talent littering the team and careers pursued by the players in their time post-Petes, was was anything but. Neilson, of course, would go on to be the ninth coach ever to stand behind the bench for 1,000 NHL games, centre Ron Lalonde progressed to playing for the Washington Capitals, and Jimmy Jones spent two season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

On October 5th, during a win against the Flint Firebirds, a reunion of four notable alumni from this historic team unfolded. Doug Gibson, Bob Gainey, Bill Evo and Rick Chinnick sat in Suite 7, catching up and reflecting upon their journeys as Petes.

Gibson, a familiar face around Peterborough, spent three years with the Petes before being selected by the Bruins in the 1973 NHL Amateur draft. Gibson went on to rotate between the AHL and NHL until he evolved into a player-coach with the Hershey Bears. It was here that he earned a Calder Cup and won the Louis A.R. Pierre Memorial award for being the 1979-80 most outstanding coach in the AHL, as voted on by broadcasters and writers.                     doug-gibson-1976-32

In 2006, Gibson was hired as a pro scout by former teammate Bob Gainey for the Montreal Canadiens. Doug filled this role for 16 years in addition to being an amateur scout for the New York Islanders. Gibson cites playing hockey in Peterborough during his time in the OHL as reason for his career forging a successful path, “It was such a big part of our lives growing up, we developed into hockey players and the people we are off the ice.” The notion that the Petes shaped he and his teammates’ character off the ice is evident when Gibson humbly followed up with, “hockey has been very good to us,” and not the reverse.

Also in attendance at Thursday evening’s 1971-72 reunion was Hockey Hall of Famer, Bob Gainey. A Peterborough native as well, Gainey was required to play for the Petes since there was no draft during his time in the OHA. Gainey played two seasons with the Petes, followed by a short season with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs and fifteen seasons with the Montreal Canadiens. He made a seamless transition to the role of coaching, heading up the Minnesota North Stars and Dallas Stars, before returning to Montreal to serve as head coach during their 2005-06 and 2008-09 seasons. Gainey proceeded to become the franchise’s executive vice president and general manager from 2003 to 2010. Most recently, the Peterborough legend was named one of the ‘100 Greatest NHL Players’ in History,” at the 2017 All-Star Weekend.

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Gainey shared the same sentiment as Gibson in mediation of the Petes’ influence on his younger years, “I was going with the Petes from teenager to young adult. Then I started into a professional career, certainly the foundation of it was my time as a Petes player and the coaching and the support I had here.” He finished, exclaiming that the Petes and its city were synonymous with one another.

In addition to Gainey and Gibson, former Petes centre Bill Evo made an appearance during the game against the Firebirds. Evo began his junior career with said Memorial Cup finalists, continuing on to complete three seasons with the Petes. Bill was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft and Cincinnati Stingers in the WHA Amateur Draft, later graduating from the University of Western Ontario and earning his law degree from the University of Detroit Law School.

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His final position in the hockey world took place in 1996 when he was appointed as President of the Detroit Red Wings. Although the majority of his career saw time outside the rink, Bill thinks its vital to remain in contact with the franchise that laid the foundation for his future and introduced him to mentor Roger Neilson, “Its important for me, these are where my roots are, its not just about hockey, its about the leadership he created that, in turn, created intangible strength inside of me.”

Evo stresses the unity that the Petes organization fostered throughout the team, held key to their success, “We had a very close knit group. We spent all the time off the ice together, which in turn only generated more cohesiveness as a team.” Bill continued on by hoping that the current team understands the impassable opportunity they have growing into young adults while playing for the Petes, describing his three seasons in Peterborough as a “phenomenal,” time in his life.

The fourth member of the reunion was goal scoring machine Rick Chinnick, who clinched 137 points in his two seasons with the Petes. Rick was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft and New England Whalers in the 1973 WHA Amateur Draft. The majority of his career was spent with the New Haven Nighthawks in the AHL and Saginaw Gears in the IHL. Rick maintains that he made some good friends back in the 70s, citing Gainey and Gibson as two of the closest. The Pete alumnus when on to say, “I carried on working hard,” a trait that was ingrained in him and every other Pete that has cycled through the franchise. 

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Aside from the title of Memorial Cup Finalists, the Petes 1971-72 team exemplified the ideal hockey team with their outstanding record, a head coach who cemented himself as one of the best, and a group whose friendships were further highlighted by their work on the ice. Time has physically separated this group of men, however, their time as Petes has not only formed but propelled their friendships beyond their time spent in the rink, as Evo best summarized the Petes experience, “its more than just about hockey.”

The Petes next game at home is Thursday, October 26, when they will play the Saginaw Spirit at 7:05 pm. Game tickets are available starting at $8 through the Collins Barrow PMC Box Office, online, or by at phone at (705) 743-3561.

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