When Collingwood Ruled the OHA

When Collingwood ruled the OHA
Jonathon Jackson Media – Multimedia Journalist and Author
Originally published in OHA Blueline magazine in the spring of 2011.

Here is Mr. Jackson’s article:

For a brief time in the early 1950s, the town of Collingwood stood atop the Ontario hockey world.

The dynasty was short-lived, but it brought unprecedented glory to the community – six OHA championships in a four-year span, including four in a row by its Junior C team.

Collingwood had always been a noted hockey town and was known for its solid intermediate program that had won five OHA intermediate titles between 1910 and 1920, and the Intermediate A crown in 1939.

As the 1940s came to an end, the town’s minor hockey system was also beginning to bear fruit, with a juvenile team that went to the provincial final in 1948. The Cubs fell short, but they bounced back and went undefeated in 1948-49, capturing the OMHA Juvenile B championship in dominating fashion.

Most of the club was ready to move up to the junior ranks. The Collingwood Greenshirts were founded as a Junior B team in 1948-49, the town’s first junior entry in eight years, but they were eliminated from the group semifinal playoffs in that first campaign. The decision was made to drop to the Junior C level for 1949-50, although the Greenshirts would play in a mixed league of B and C teams during the regular season.

Graduating juveniles like Jim Barrett, Allan Morrill, Frank Dance, Barney Walmsley and Charlie Fryer joined up with Ron Randall, Bob Fryer and some other returning juniors, and the Greenshirts more than held their own with their B-level competition. They tied for first place in the group standings with Barrie, which went on to win the Sutherland Cup as OHA Junior B champions. Collingwood sailed to a title of its own, capping its season by downing Seaforth, Simcoe and then Aurora in the Junior C playoffs.

The summer of 1950 brought major upheaval and tragedy. The tragedy came in the form of a boating accident that claimed the lives of two Greenshirts, Tommy Cain and captain Ron Randall.

The upheaval was both behind the bench and on the ice. Former NHL defenceman and Collingwood native Jack Portland had coached the juniors in 1949-50 while also serving as player-coach of the intermediate Shipbuilders. But he was replaced in both roles by Eddie Bush, another local boy who had spent several years patrolling the defence for a number of pro hockey teams, including the Detroit Red Wings. Bush was notorious for his desire to attract attention to himself on and off the ice, but he knew his hockey.

“He was quite colourful. You knew when he was around, that’s for sure,” laughs Albert Walmsley, who was called up from the juveniles during the 1950 playoffs.

“He was a good coach. He was hard, but a lot of guys liked playing for him. He was great on conditioning. Sometimes at practice, we wouldn’t even touch the puck. So the guys were all in good shape and that pretty well carried us through.”

The Greenshirts didn’t miss a beat, soaring to the top of their group standings and roaring through another postseason, disposing of Newmarket in the OHA quarter-finals and Paris in the semifinals. The Paris series ended in embarrassing fashion for the challengers, with Collingwood taking the final game 21-3. The line of Jim Barrett, Allan Morrill and Frank Dance combined for 15 goals and 32 points, with Barrett notching a hat trick in only 17 seconds late in the third period.

“Allan was one of the best centremen, a great playmaker and a two-way hockey player,” says Charlie Fryer. “Jim was a heck of a winger and his job was from the blue line in. You would get the puck to him inside the opposing blue line and he would put it where it belonged. Frank was one of the best for digging the puck out of the corners and playmaking. They were a heck of a line.”

The final series against Port Hope was closer, but the Greenshirts took it 4-1 to repeat as OHA champions.

Some of the juniors, among them Barrett and Fryer, were called up to play for the Shipbuilders in their playoffs, which saw them edge Newmarket and sweep Parry Sound. Gananoque fell in the semifinals and then Collingwood disposed of Fort Erie 4-2 in the final to clinch its seventh Intermediate A crown, and the town’s second OHA title of 1951.

The next year was more of the same. The Greenshirts lost captain Barney Walmsley to age restrictions but they again topped their group standings with only one loss and were unbeaten in the playoffs, first sweeping Hanover and then romping through a four-game round-robin with Midland and Aurora.

A two-game semifinal sweep of Aurora followed, and then Ingersoll was brushed aside in the minimum four games. The 1952 Greenshirts not only completed the three-peat, they were eventually chosen the OHA’s Junior C Team of the Century. Albert Walmsley, Barney’s younger brother, and team captain Fryer represented them at the ceremony in Toronto.

Once again a number of juniors were elevated to the big club and they paid dividends. The Shipbuilders again eliminated Newmarket, Parry Sound and Gananoque in order. This time their final opponents were from Simcoe, and the Gunners went by the wayside in five games. For the second year in a row, Collingwood was a double OHA champion.

The 1952-53 season brought some more upheaval. The super line of Barrett-Morrill-Dance was broken up, with Dance graduating to the intermediates and Morrill being transferred out of town by his employer. Charlie Fryer was also now too old for junior but, with two intermediate titles already under his belt along with three Junior C medals, he joined his brother Bob full-time with the Shipbuilders. That team was missing a couple of important players, though, including Len Cook whose job had also taken him away.

Still, the brash Eddie Bush was confident. He came off a long suspension by the OHA as the postseason dawned and proclaimed the association would be hearing from him again when his teams came around to collect the trophies. But things didn’t turn out quite as planned, and tragedy again visited the Greenshirts.

They started their playoffs against Aurora but the series ended suddenly after a single game with the death of rookie defenceman Bob Gillies. He had been checked head-first into the boards by an Aurora player and he died on the way to a Toronto hospital. The series was cancelled and the grief-stricken Greenshirts were matched instead with Midland.

After getting past Midland, the team swept Parry Sound and Thorold and met Ingersoll again in the final. Collingwood gutted out a 4-1 series win, closing it out with an emotional 8-2 victory and giving the team its fourth consecutive OHA championship, a feat that remains unmatched to this day.

“It was a pretty sad time, very upsetting,” says Albert Walmsley, who, along with the late Jim Barrett, was the only man to play for all four Junior C championship clubs.

Barrett had just won his sixth OHA title in four years, having been called up for the two intermediate playoff runs, an achievement which certainly must also be unequalled. And now he was called upon again as the Shipbuilders tried to extend their own streak. A quarter-final win over Newmarket and a semifinal triumph over Lindsay set up a rematch against Simcoe, which now featured ex-Shipbuilder Len Cook on its roster. But this time the Gunners were too strong, overcoming a 2-1 series deficit to take the championship 4-2.

No one knew it at the time, but Collingwood’s dynasty was over.

The Greenshirts were finally knocked off in the spring of 1954 by longtime group rival Midland, which went on to capture the OHA championship. The Shipbuilders also went out early in the playoffs, and the team collapsed soon after. Eddie Bush left both organizations for a new job as coach of the Junior A Guelph Biltmores – he later won a Memorial Cup with the Hamilton Red Wings and eventually made it back to the NHL, briefly, as coach of the ill-fated Kansas City Scouts – and the other members of the Shipbuilders dispersed to other teams in the area.

The Junior C club was renamed the Bel-Airs and they rebounded in 1955, advancing to the OHA final, but were swept by their old foes from Ingersoll. Soon the Bel-Airs also were no more, as many of Collingwood’s talented youngsters were plucked away by Junior A and Junior B clubs around the province.

But the memories of those glory days remain for the surviving players. Fryer and Walmsley take a great deal of pride in the fact that their teams were almost entirely homegrown.

“It was quite an experience, and we were pretty well all hometown kids,” Fryer says, pointing out that many of Collingwood’s rivals had more than a few imports on their rosters.

The Collingwood Community Arena, where the Greenshirts and Shipbuilders played and won before capacity crowds, still stands in downtown Collingwood. Fittingly, it’s been renamed the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena in honour of the colourful player and coach who helped make it a thrilling place to watch a hockey game in the early 1950s.

About the author of this article
Jonathon Jackson has been an author, journalist and storyteller since 1992, working in print, broadcast, and online.
CLICK HERE to visit Jonathon Jackson’s website

Photographs courtesy Eddie Bush Memorial Arena

Drop by the downtown arena and have a look at the pictures of past hockey teams from all levels of play.

Collingwood Junior B Blues

In the 1970’s, the Collingwood Junior B Blues packed the Collingwood Community Arena and provided exciting playoff hockey including memorable series victories over the Owen Sound Greys. Jack Lynch who you may remember as the voice of the Ontario Travel Centre for many years, played for the Greys against the Blues one year and said the only reason Owen Sound didn’t advance was because of the incredible goaltending by Collingwood’s Ronnie Patterson. The Greys may not have advanced but Lynch went on to play in the NHL with the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings.

The Collingwood Junior B Blues won the Central Junior B Hockey League playoff championship in 1970 and 1971. In 1972, the team moved to the Mid-Ontario Junior B League where it won the league title. The Blues won that title again in 1975-76 and advanced through the Ontario playoffs including an exciting playoff series win over the Waterloo Siskins. The Blues made it to the Sutherland Cup provincial final against the St. Marys Lincolns of the Western Junior B Hockey League. St. Marys won the series 4-3.

The Collingwood Blues moved to Tier Two Junior A in 1976 and then withdrew one year later. Collingwood then moved back to Junior “C” Hockey with the Collingwood Glassmen and played in a league with Stayner, Maple, Shelburne, Bradford, Alliston and Schomberg.

In the 1980’s, Senior Hockey and the name “Shipbuilders” returned to Collingwood. While the team was good, the league struggled, and the Shipbuilders folded in 1987.

What’s next?

There is serious talk of Junior hockey returning to Collingwood for next season. We are working on a follow-up story.

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