Kingston Midgets make it to national final in 1974
After 45 years, you might think that a squad of scrappy Kingston players - including two future NHLers - who made it to the final of a national championship before losing would have overcome their frustration and moved on.
You would be wrong.
In 1974, the Kingston Gurnsey Real Estate Midget team was playing the Verdun Maple Leafs in Oshawa in the deciding game of the first-ever Wrigley Cup Midget championship (now the Telus Cup). Kingston outshot Verdun by a large margin, but the scoreboard read 5-3 Verdun at the final buzzer.
"It was my first time getting to a final and not winning," says Ken Linseman, who was named MVP in the tournament. "It was heartbreaking to work so hard and get that close and come up empty. It definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth."
The former NHL star ranks it with two other career disappointments, calling it the trifecta. One was the 1981 Canada Cup where Canada had won every game in the tournament but was embarrassed in the final by the Soviet Union by a score of 8-1. The other was 1979-80 when the Philadelphia Flyers were undefeated in 35 consecutive games, a record in any professional sport. Linseman took the team scoring title and set a record for assists in the playoffs. The Flyers had a great playoff run, but lost 4-2 in the Stanley Cup final series to the New York Islanders.
"The Flyers season ended up as a total disappointment," says Linseman. "You have to win the last game you play."
In 1984, playing with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier in Edmonton, Linseman finally saw his name etched on the Cup. He scored the Cup-winning goal.
Even as a young Midget player, Linseman already had a reputation as an agitator, drawing reactions from the Wrigley Cup crowd in Oshawa. "The more noise in the arena and the more I got booed the better it was for me," he recalls. "It really got me moving."
The Kingston Midget team was a life-changing moment for some of the players. Bill Jenkins has gone onto a high-powered career as a corporate lawyer in Calgary, but still remembers playing hockey as a teenager on national television in that 1974 final.
"We were pretty pumped up," he said over the phone from Calgary. "Most of us had been on the Kingston Pee Wee team that won the North American Silver Stick tournament in 1971. We came up together as a team."
While Jenkins played a couple more years after that Midget final, he realized that education - not hockey - was the key to his future.
"Ken Linseman was already playing for the Birmingham Bulls in the WHA, while I was playing for the Saugeen-Maitland Hall intramural team at Western University," he jokes.
Kingstonian Rob Plumb was the second Kingston Midget player who made it to the NHL. After three years with the Kingston Canadians, he played with the Detroit Red Wings organization, including 14 games in the big league. His pro career spanned more than a decade, including several years in Switzerland.
Teammate Mike Simurda starred with the Kingston Canadians and was drafted in the second round by Philadelphia in 1978. He played a few years of minor pro before deciding to go back to school, eventually becoming a successful vice-president and portfolio manager with RBC Dominion Securities in Toronto.
The Midgets were coached by the legendary Dr. Gerry Wagar, who had previously shepherded Linseman and associates through the Pee Wee championship. Simurda calls Wagar an "inspirational figure" who, along with Mike's father Dr. Michael Simurda, was the driving force to bring the Kingston Canadians to town in 1973.
In those days, junior hockey was just about the only route to the NHL for aspiring young players. You didn't play university hockey if you wanted to make it to the big leagues.
"I remember my Dad took me out for a steak to Aunt Lucy's restaurant and he was concerned that I wasn't going to college," Simurda says. "The chances of making it to the NHL were slim. I was determined to play junior hockey, but in retrospect I probably should have gone the college route."
Jenkins believes the Midget experience gave him a path for the years ahead. "It was a great team to be on and we gave it our all in that final game. It taught me a lot about working together as a team, which has proved to be invaluable in my career and in life."