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Steeltown rock stars

1973-74 hockey team heads list of Interlake Hall of Fame inductees

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Chuck Lefley played 407 games in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens and St. Louis Blues.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Chuck Lefley played 407 games in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens and St. Louis Blues. Photo Store

Forty years before his Selkirk Steelers hockey squad would be inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, Mike Chubey used to trudge a mile to the rink each practice day. Sun or snow, calm or chill.

"This sounds like an old time story," said Chubey, 59, "but that's just how it was.

"I would be out there tonight if I was a kid, and it's -27 below. I skated every night of the winter."

That season, 1973-74, those ice-cold nights paid off. The Steelers stormed the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, took the regionals, and won the Centennial Cup.

They were just the second team from Manitoba to take Junior A hockey's top national prize, and not one has done it since. Few who lived around Selkirk at that time could forget: the city's mayor, Larry Johansson, took his wife to a Steelers game that season on their first date. Wendell Koop, now the chair of the hall of fame's Interlake Induction Committee, remembers tagging along with his big brothers from Landmark to watch the Steelers play.

"It was just packed, just full," Koop said. "We were lucky to find a place to sit. The excitement was everyone talking about, 'these Steelers are going for a national championship.' Ever since then, the Selkirk Steelers have always stood out."

So you see, being a Selkirk Steeler in 1973 was sort of like being a rockstar of small-town prairie life.

"Hockey was the big thing," Chubey said. "It was the only real show in town. When I was a kid, I watched the guys that came before me, and I never missed a game. And for all the people in Selkirk, they never missed a game either. That place was jam-packed."

Rock

Oh, and the Steelers made the old Selkirk arena rock. They were a fresh-faced group, almost a quarter of them were rookies, and Chubey was one of only four defencemen. Under the expert coaching of George Dorman, they blazed through the MJHL, through the regional championships, and to the national prize beyond. They were young guns but they worked so hard, and when the final win came it was loaded with as much elation as relief.

"It was tough, but with everyone pushing us, we got the job done," Chubey said, speaking at a Selkirk Recreational Centre press conference. "Something like that doesn't sink in until months after. You're happy, but you don't realize the effort by everyone. Every player on the team helped in one way or another. You couldn't win without a team effort. That's the way that was."

That team effort is why, on May 24, the team will be among 10 Interlake builders and athletes inducted to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

But things change, and bonds once forged slowly come apart, and as a result the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame is still searching for some members of that Steelers team. Chubey is still close friends with some -- they were friends before the Steelers, and friends after it was done -- but a few others have drifted off to places unknown. Now, the induction committee is hoping the public can help track them all down.

There are other folks too that organizers are looking for, before the Interlake induction dinner kicks off in Selkirk on May 24.

Some of the 10 inductees are very much alive and well: PGA Tour golfer Glen Hnatiuk now lives in Florida, and volleyball coach Jim Schreyer is guiding the provincial under-20 team. Former Wesmen basketball star Cathy Holtmann is a doctoral student in New Brunswick, Gordon Fines is still boosting baseball leagues in Stonewall, and NHL veteran Chuck Lefley coaches hockey around Warren.

Others, though, have passed beyond, and their families are proving harder to track down. Longtime Detroit Red Wings coach, scout and GM Jim Skinner died in 2007, and a recent letter to his daughter came back return-to-sender. Longtime hockey booster Mervin Farmer died last year, and his wife will be at the hall of fame dinner, but the committee is still searching for relatives of Lorne "Boom Boom" Benson, a former Bomber fullback who died in B.C. last year.

Finally, the Hall of Fame is also hoping to locate family members of former Selkirk mayor and NHL Hall of Famer Harry "Pee Wee" Oliver.

"It is important, because it would mean the most to those relatives," said Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame heritage manager Rick Brownlee. "The actual family, and the pride they feel in their grandfather or father finally being recognized, and in essence being immortalized in Manitoba sports history, is nice to have."

For the families then, a sense of pride, and for the athletes a welcome reunion. The 1973-74 Selkirk Steelers team last gathered together in 2008, when they were added to the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. They were planning another reunion soon, a big one, one more chance to salute the fans and coaches and administrative staff who helped push them to glory.

Now, with the spring induction ceremony, they'll get the chance to write another epilogue to that winning story.

"At the time, you don't realize how much these people did for you," Chubey said. "We just came and played. They did all the work. It's a chance to thank the people that really deserve it."

 

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 12, 2013 D7

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