The first days of Winnipeg’s ‘old barn’

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/11/2021 (363 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In two December columns, Memories of Sport will look back at highlights from the first year of the old Winnipeg Arena. The facility, which cost $2 million to build, was located in the City’s West End, across from the old Winnipeg Stadium, which had opened in 1953.

With a rink that seated more than 9,000 that was considered one of the best in Canada, Winnipeg was a prime candidate for admission into the professional Western Hockey League (which was then one of the best professional leagues that wasn’t the NHL).

Backed by the Perrin family of Winnipeg, a team called Warriors became a member of the league for the 1955-56 season. Winnipeg played in the Prairie Division with teams from Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton and a new franchise in Regina. Partway through the season, the Regina team was moved to Brandon. The Coast Division consisted of three B.C. teams in Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster, along with a team in Seattle.

Winnipeg Free Press photo archiv The Winnipeg Arena, pictured here under construction in 1955, was home to the Winnipeg Warriors of the old Western Hockey League.

While the Warriors were not a farm team of an NHL franchise, an agreement was reached with both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens to supply some players.

The lineup for the team’s first game at the Arena on Oct. 18, 1955, against the Calgary Stampeders featured an interesting mix of players. Four Winnipeg products, captain Fred Shero, Mickey Keating, Danny Summers and Bashing Bill Burega, were the defencemen. The Canadiens’ system provided Winnipeg forwards Eddie (Spider) Mazur and Garry (Boomer) Blaine. The Maple Leafs contingent included Winnipeg’s Gary Aldcorn and the line of Brian and Barry Cullen and Hugh Barlow, a trio that had led the St. Catharines Teepees to the Canadian junior championship the previous season.

The opening game in front of 9,671 fans did not go well for coach Alf Pike’s squad as the Stamps knocked them off 5-2. Bill Shvetz, Gerry Couture, Dave Duke, Barrie Ross, and Carman’s Jimmy McFadden (a 2004 Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame inductee) had the Calgary goals. Barry Cullen and Mazur beat former Brandon Wheat King Ray Frederick in the Stamps net. The Warrior lineup was strengthened when former Chicago Black Hawks great Bill Mosienko played his first game for the team on Oct. 25.

The Arena was initially supposed to be the home rink for both the Winnipeg Monarchs and St. Boniface Canadiens of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, while the Winnipeg Barons would use the Olympic Rink in the North End as their home.

In the first junior game at the Arena on Nov. 9, the visiting Barons beat St. Boniface 5-2 in front of 300 fans. Bryan Derrett, whose future pro career included time with the Warriors, and Barry Leslie scored twice for the Barons and Brandon’s Bob Cornell notched one. Gerry Brisson and Claude Normandeau tallied for Canadiens.   

A few days later, in the first Arena game for the Monarchs, they battled the Canadiens to a 7-7 overtime draw. Bo McGregor, who later ran a well-known clothing store on Portage Avenue, gave the Monarchs a 7-6 lead in overtime (which was not sudden-death) but Barry Beatty tied it with four seconds left in the period. Bob Chorley led Monarchs with a hat trick while Smiley Krivak, Mickey Kaiser and Lloyd Orris had singles.

The Winnipeg Free Press reported that Ted Harris was solid on the Monarchs’ blueline. The St. Boniface marksmen were Normandeau, Bill Masterton, Ken Tresoor, Ray Brunel, Jean Gauthier, and Flin Flon product Phil Fafard. Harris, Masterton, Gauthier and Brisson, the latter for four games, later played in the NHL. Brunel spent three seasons with the Warriors.

The juniors attracted small crowds to the Arena and, on Dec. 22, only 23 adults and seven children showed up to watch the Monarchs and Barons. Staff determined that junior crowds were too small to justify opening the Arena so the MJHL was forced to reschedule the Monarchs and Canadiens games to the Olympic.

In my second column this month, other major events in the Arena such as the provincial men’s curling championship and professional wrestling will be highlighted, along with the Warriors winning the WHL championship.

T. Kent Morgan

T. Kent Morgan
Memories of Sport

Memories of Sport appears every second week in the Canstar Community News weeklies. Kent Morgan can be contacted at 204-489-6641 or email: sportsmemories@canstarnews.com

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