By Dan Rankin
Stratford’s rich tradition of hockey was profiled as a part of the “Rogers Hometown Hockey Tour” on CBC this past Sunday, and some St. Marys hockey players also got in on the fun.
For the pre-game show before Sunday’s showdown in Toronto between the Maple Leafs and Avalanche, from their temporary studio across from Stratford City Hall, hosts Ron MacLean and Tara Slone talked to such boosters of the city as outgoing anchor of The National, Peter Mansbridge, and acclaimed stage and screen actress Cynthia Dale.
During the intermissions of the game, which Toronto lost 3-1, they also spoke to Hall of Famer Lanny McDonald, took a tour of William Allman Memorial Arena with Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson, and interviewed Stratford’s own Tim Taylor, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Red Wings and Lightning.
Taylor, now Director of Player Development for the St. Louis Blues, talked about growing up in Stratford with his two brothers, who were also both drafted. “We grew up right beside Dufferin Arena and Andrew and Chris and I played road hockey every single day and night,” he said. “We had our own Stanley Cup, we sang the national anthem, and we had fights – many fights.”
Taylor said he was “forever grateful” and “proud to say I’m Tim Taylor from Stratford, Ontario.”
During the interview, Taylor was also asked about his daughter Brittany, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2010, around the time Stratford hosted Hockey Day in Canada, but has since recovered and completed schooling towards becoming an oncology nurse. He called it the “most scary time” he and his wife have gone through as parents. “We didn’t know how she was going to react, but never once did she say ‘why me?’,” he said. “Meeting those young kids in London hospital, she wanted to be a better person. She went out and gave talks to the young kids and inspired them, knowing that she went through it and they could deal with it as well.”
Taylor said that Wayne Gretzky was his idol when he was growing up, but since then he has a new one. “Idols are people you can look up to and you grab inspiration from,” he said. “From that day forward, Brittany Marie Taylor is an idol of mine.”
Taylor said that, for he and his brothers, Allman Arena “was Maple Leaf Gardens.”
“1,500 people would show up on a Friday night,” he said of the arena, first opened Dec. 15, 1924. “You wanted to be a part of that team.”
According to Mathieson, it’s the oldest continually operating arena in North America, and has hosted such greats as Howie Morenz and Wayne Gretzky (who scored his first goal there as a child).
MacLean also heaped some praise on the team that calls the Allman home, the Jr. B Warriors (formerly the Cullitons), pointing out how, for years, they “dominated the Midwest, and really the entire province of Ontario.” Stratford’s squad were Sutherland Cup Champions in 1977, 1978, 1986, 1990, 1995, 2003 and 2004. Over 30 former players have gone on to play in the NHL, including Taylor, Rob Blake, Chris Pronger, Eddie Olczyk and current Lincolns assistant coach Mark Bell.
Another Cullitons alumni member is NHL referee Kendrick Nicholson, of Milverton, who was working the Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday, MacLean pointed out.
As interesting as all that Stratford history was, the highlight of the night for many St. Marys viewers had to be when the broadcast cut to the Dunny’s Source for Sports St. Marys Atom Rock hockey team gathered in their jerseys near City Hall. Front and centre in the group was Colton Hawkins, whose story MacLean told on the broadcast. “He actually suffered a bad injury a harvesting accident,” the longtime Hockey Night in Canada host said. “He lost his leg below the knee in 2015, was fitted with a prosthetic replacement and did not miss a step. He’s still skating and doing great.”