Rivals reunited

Wednesday night, the Dawson City Nuggets ended a 106-year-old dry spell. With less than 13 minutes left in the third period, Kevin Anderson slipped the puck past Senator goalie Gerry Armstrong to put the Klondikers on the scoreboard.

Wednesday night, the Dawson City Nuggets ended a 106-year-old dry spell.

With less than 13 minutes left in the third period, Kevin Anderson slipped the puck past Senator goalie Gerry Armstrong to put the Klondikers on the scoreboard.

Leaning into the glass of the Takhini Arena viewing gallery, Don Reddick saw the goal.

The historian’s arms shot up as he turned around and shared a hearty cheer with Earl McRae, an Ottawa Sun journalist.

The two greying gentlemen were watching the game, side-by-side, talking the whole time.

It’s the way it used to be, they said.

IN PICTURES:See more images from the game.

Reddick and McRae are experts on the rivalry that began in 1905.

Back then, the Senators’ Silver Seven was the greatest team of all time, said Reddick. And the Klondikers decided to travel to Ottawa to challenge them for the Stanley Cup.

The month-long trek by dog sled, boat and train ended in the greatest defeat of all time, said Reddick, laughing.

The teams played two games, and the combined score was 32-4.

In 1997, the wound had healed. The Nuggets decided it was time for a rematch.

A bunch of Yukoners recreated the month-long trek with a few exceptions: most of the dogsleds had been replaced with Ski-Doos and Reddick and McRae were invited to tag along.

“It was the most impossible conditions,” said McRae, recalling filing stories to his Ottawa paper by telephones nailed to pine trees.

Reddick was also writing everyday.

“In his little journal,” said McRae, chuckling.

That journal would later become Reddick’s book, The Trail Less Travelled.

“I got to live the story I wrote about,” he said, tapping the glossy paperback. “This became my game.”

But Reddick’s book, like the overall rivalry, extends far beyond the ice rink.

“A game is just a game,” said McRae. “A game is not a story.”

“It’s really about the guys,” said Reddick, pointing his arm across the upstairs viewing gallery that was full of older guys dressed in jerseys. “And it’s a credit to the Yukon.”

Every player who took that trek in ‘97 has at least one story to share: drunken rants about northern craziness, one fellow’s snowmobile mishap, which left only his touque poking out of a snowbank and frigid nights spent in tents with broken heaters at minus 38 Celsius.

The 5,000-kilometre trek showed these men the best and worst of each other, said both McRae and Reddick.

And, because of it, they formed a bond like no other.

And then there was the prize.

Unlike the 1905 challenge, the Stanley Cup was no longer up for grabs in 1997. Instead, $25,000 in donated Klondike gold was at stake.

But it was never really about the prize, said Reddick.

It was always about the rivalry.

“The beauty of ‘97 was there was a lot of trash-talk,” he said.

The mystique that cloaked the Northerners and captivated southern fans left the Senators nervous and thirsty to kick butt, he said.

And they did.

Now, 13 years after that 18-0 win, about half the 1997 Nuggets team and an even larger roster of Senators’ alumni faced off again.

But this time it was on northern ice.

“They didn’t endure 20 to 23 days of travel by various modes, including travel through the wilderness at freezing temperatures,” said Pat Hogan.

The Senators arrived in comfy airline seats and didn’t suffer a month of sleep deprivation, added Hogan, a former Nugget who is now the team’s general manager.

“They’re southern folk,” he said, grinning from beneath his black bowler hat. “It’s nice to see them up here and to show them our part of Canada and the Yukon hospitality. So we’ll take them on any terms and let them play on our ice.”

The games have always been pretty fair, with good players on both sides, he said.

The rivalry that began in 1905 was legitimate – it wasn’t just armchair hockey dreams, he said.

Many of the guys who made that first trek to Ottawa in 1905 had competed for the Stanley Cup before moving north to find gold, said Hogan.

“There were some good hockey players,” he said. “And they thought if they could win the Stanley Cup and bring it back to Dawson, no one would come and take it from them – no one else would make that trek.”

But this week the Senators came north.

In the first of the two-game Yukon series (the second took place in Dawson City on Thursday) they whupped the northern team 10 to 1.

“We don’t want to rub anyone’s noses in it, but we are the professionals,” said John Barrett, a Senator defenceman who also played the 1997 game.

“We’re just doing what we know how to do, what we were trained to do. We’re the ex-professional hockey players and we expect to win.

“But the guys in the other room, they’re the guys who put this whole thing together, they deserve all the credit. The best part is having a few beers and chatting it up after the game. We’ve become friends with a lot of them, over the years.”

This third installment of the rivalry is really about the reunion, said Bruce Duffee who played in ‘97. “That was the funnest game I ever played in my life,” he said, now sitting upstairs alongside Reddick and McRae. “We never gave up. It was an adventure the whole way.”

And it is one both Reddick and McRae expect will continue.

“I think in 100 years this is going to happen again,” said Reddick.

“And we’ll be there then too,” added McRae, laughing and slapping his old friend on the back.

Back at the dressing room, still in half his gear, John Flynn, Nugget captain – both in 2010 and 1997- echoed the sentiment.

“Maybe in another 100 years we might get two goals,” he said, laughing.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at