Yukoners are mourning a hockey pioneer this week.
Jim Fowler, 73, died over the weekend after he slipped into the cold Marsh Lake water Sunday night.
He went out for a skate around 7:30 p.m. When he didn’t return home three hours later, his wife became concerned and search and rescue was called in, Yukon’s chief coroner Kirsten Macdonald said.
His body was found early Monday morning.
Macdonald said she believes Fowler accidently skated off the edge of the ice and into open water.
A portion of the ice appears to have cracked and floated away earlier in the day, she said.
“When he goes out at 7:30 and it’s pitch black – what I was told is that the ice had no snow on it. So there would be no way to distinguish between ice and water and I think he just went off the edge.”
When his body was found, his headlamp was still functioning and his skates were still on, she said.
Macdonald called what happened “awful.”
“They don’t come much better than (him) is what I’m hearing,” she said.
It’s a sentiment shared by the people who knew Fowler and remember him as a man who loved his community, loved the game of hockey and loved passing his enthusiasm on to other people.
Doug Graham was on the first team Fowler coached in the Yukon.
Graham said his 16-year-old self was always trying to emulate Fowler and the way he played on the ice.
Fowler had played on the powerful St. Mike’s hockey team in Toronto before he arrived in the territory in 1965.
“He was a rugged hockey player. He really was. And his skill was over the top. When he came here he probably was the best hockey player in Whitehorse,” Graham said.
“The quality of play in Whitehorse was elevated just having him here.”
Fowler took his love of the game off the ice as well.
He developed a hockey school for beginning players that he ran from 1969 to 1989.
He coached a variety of rep teams between 1965 and 1986.
In 1974 he was one of sixteen coaches from across Canada to attend the famed Canada/Russia hockey series in the former U.S.S.R., according to a bio written by Sport Yukon.
While he was there, he attended hockey clinics and seminars with Russian coaches and game officials.
He would eventually be inducted into the Sport Yukon Hall of Fame in 1990.
Fowler was one of the founding members of the Yukon Amateur Hockey Association in 1979.
Creating an official association allowed Yukon hockey players to take advantage of the benefits available through BC Hockey and Hockey Canada, Graham said.
That meant things like refereeing clinics and the player development events and coach training.
On top of that, it wasn’t until after the association was created that the territorial government was willing to help fund hockey programs or events outside the Yukon, Graham said.
“Up until then our parents did most of it.”
In the 1970s, the two friends were neighbours in Porter Creek. They would often talk hockey.
Graham said Fowler was very passionate about the need to teach kids hockey skills and not just put them out on the ice without any preparation.
The current crop of Yukon hockey players owe a lot to the legacy Fowler left behind, Graham said.
“The development we have in hockey in the territory now is due to that early training and that early development that he did.”
Fowler leaves behind a wife and two children.
Contact Ashley Joannou at