Hockey history on show at MacBride

George Wright learned how to figure skate when he was seven, in the early 1960s. Whitehorse children mocked him - until he was skating circles around them on the hockey rink.

George Wright learned how to figure skate when he was seven, in the early 1960s.

Whitehorse children mocked him – until he was skating circles around them on the hockey rink.

Wright, who turns 51 next week, went on to play professional hockey, first in Canada, then in Europe.

He learned to speak French, Dutch and German. He speaks from experience when he explains the Dutch brew 187 different types of beer.

“There’s a whole world out there,” he said. “Being a hockey player, you can see it all.”

Wright is in Whitehorse this week, visiting from his current home in Colorado, to take in the Hockey Day in Canada events.

He’s especially interested in an exhibit at the MacBride Museum of Yukon History, where you can step down the stairs, and into the past, to see one century’s worth of Yukon hockey memorabilia. It includes a display case full of Wright’s wide assortment of embroidered hockey patches.

In 1974, he was sent to a hockey school in Edmonton, where a scout for the Red Deer Rustlers soon signed him up. It was his first junior team.

Two years later, in 1976 Wright joined the majors when he was signed by Kamloops’ Western Hockey League team, the Blazers. He had a great year, scoring 65 points that season.

Perhaps Wright’s finest moment on the ice was in 1977, when, while playing against the New Westminster Bruins, he faked out a young Barry Beck, who would go on to become a famed defenceman and brawler for the Colorado Rockies, New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings.

“I beat Barry one on one and scored an overtime win,” said Wright.

“He beat the living daylights out of me later, but he came up to me in the bar and shook my hand.”

But his career took a hit later that year, when Wright fractured his skull in a motorcycle accident.

Wright hung up his jersey, attended Humber College in Toronto and graduated with a degree in law and security administration.

Then he got a call from a friend, who explained that Europe was hungry for hockey players. “I just love adventure. So I took off.”

First he bounced around the United Kingdom, from Avamere, Scotland, to Blackpool and Southhampton in England.

Then he headed to Belgium, living in Geel and Brussels.

He worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, training kids and adults when he wasn’t playing professionally. It was fun, but exhausting.

He played games in France, Germany, Italy and Holland.

Wright liked European hockey. It played to his strength: skating. There, hockey rinks are four metres longer than in North America.

After skating there for so long, North American rinks now feel confined, like “a matchbox.”

But life kept changing. Wright met a lady. They moved to Leadville, Colorado. He still skates once or twice a week.

But he’s probably done with hockey.

“I think my days of that are over. I’ve just got to live on my dreams.”

Lots of other dreams are on display at MacBride. Naturally, a prominent place is given to the biggest dreamers of them all in the Yukon’s hockey history: the Dawson City Nuggets, who in 1905 travelled thousands of kilometres by foot, bike, dogsled, steamship and train to challenge the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup.

The Nuggets arrived in Ottawa exhausted. They pleaded, without success, for a day of rest. They got whupped in their first game, losing 9-2.

Then, in a bar one evening, the Nuggets made the mistake of mocking “one eyed” Frank McGee, an Ottawa player who lost vision in one eye as a young man, but remained a superb shooter.

The next match, the Nuggets suffered the most lopsided defeat in the history of the Stanley Cup, 23-2.

That’s largely thanks to McGee, who scored 14 points. It remains the highest number of goals scored in a playoff game.

Another showcase is reserved for the jerseys, trophies and hockey sticks of Jarrett Dueling and Bob House, two Yukoners who played in the Western Hockey League and, briefly, joined the ranks of the NHL.

Dueling played with the Kamloops Blazers and hoisted the Memorial Cup in 1992 and 1994. He went on to play a stint with the NHL’s New York Islanders.

House played for the Spokane Chiefs and the Brandon Wheat Kings. At 17, he was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks. But he was promptly sent to play for their farm team in Indianapolis. He later played hockey in Germany.

House trained relentlessly as a child in Whitehorse. The display describes how he would shoot up to 8,000 pucks in a week.

One day he broke a neighbour’s window – and the windshield of the same neighbour’s brand-new Cadillac. As the display explains, “his mom became pretty good at sweettalking the neighbours and his dad became pretty good at replacing windows.”

One black-and-white photograph captures what was Canada’s most northerly women’s hockey team in the turn of the 20th century, in Dawson City. Then, proper attire for female hockey players included a long wool skirt, sweater, hat and gloves.

If a player slipped, the male referee would be expected to help her to her feet.

Skip ahead to the 1980s and 1990s. The Yukon women’s hockey team started by winning a visiting BC AA championship – a first for the territory. And they kept on winning.

A year later they challenged Alaska at the Arctic Winter Games. The Americans were confident enough to have champagne cooling on ice. The Yukon women ended up drinking it, after winning a gruelling, four-hour match that stretched into the third period of overtime, with rightwinger Cheryl Rivest scoring the winning goal.

The women’s team went on to win three Arctic Winter Games and a Western Canada cup in the 1990s.

Some stories are still waiting to be told. One of the more curious items on display is a tarnished trophy issued sometime between the 1920s to 1940s by Taylor and Drury, Whitehorse’s general store, to the “most valuable and cleanest player.”

The trophy was found at the Whitehorse dump’s giveaway pile. It piques the curiousity of Leighann Chalykoff, MacBride’s collections researcher, who wonders who once owned the trophy, among other things.

“I wonder what cleanest player means? Does it mean nicest, or least smelly?”

The exhibit will continue until at least August. Afterwards, the museum hopes to find a permanent home for some collection items, perhaps at the Takhini Arena or the Canada Winter Games Centre.

“I think it’s something the community needs,” said Chalykoff. “We hope it’s something that’s going to grow and change and be important.”

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