Galt Hornets 1963/64 The First Year in Review
As the fall of 1963 approached, the possibility of a season without Senior hockey in Galt seemed to be a very real possibility. The Galt Terriers, who enjoyed success for 4 seasons, suddenly found themselves in quite a bit of debt and were not preparred to operate.
By the end of August, the hockey picture still remained unclear as the September 10th deadline to ice a team, quickly approached. Behind the scenes however, a group hastily organized, were represented at the league meeting in Dundas by "Dubby" Duvall, Terrier forward Pete Kowalchuk and the man that helped organize the Terriers in 1959, Len Gaudette. Senior hockey in the city was saved!
The league itself was going through many changes as well. Along with the Terriers, other teams not returning that fall included, the Sarnia Rams, Kitchener Waterloo Tigers, and the Windsor Bulldogs & Chatham Maroons, who both bolted to the I.H.L. The revamped league would include teams from Guelph, Port Colborne, Oakville, Woodstock and Welland as well as the new Galt entry. With only six weeks until the season would start, a lot of work had to be done in a very short time. The team had no executive, no name, no players and no money, but that would all change very quickly.
Horace Bardwell was named as Galt's first president and he headed an executive of thirteen. A team name was next on the agenda, and the executive decided to run a contest to come up with a name. By October 5th, the team had a name, the Hornets. No winner was ever announced. There were only 2 names that received serious consideration, the other being Mustangs but it was abandoned because it was not a name normally associated with hockey. In keeping with the Hornet name, the team would sport black and yellow, the old uniforms of the KW Tigers.
As training camp got underway, the Hornets named Ivan Tennant, a veteran of Senior hockey and Allan Cup play, as the team's first (player) coach. The first players to be signed included Tennant, future NHL goalie Dave Dryden (brother of Ken Dryden), Joe Hogan and Pete Kowalchuk. With two weeks until the start of the season, Hornets new general Manager Len Gaudette boasted, that the Hornets had a team that would contend, finish a strong third and make the playoffs, after signing Ron Hergott to a contract. Hergott who had attended the training camp of the Boston Bruins, but decided to not to report to the Clinton Comets of the E.H.L. joined the Hornets. Hergott would prove to be a very important piece of the puzzle for years to come. Hergy as many knew him quickly gained the reputation for a great shot and was nicknamed the "Hornet Howitzer".
The season started on a warm day in October, versus their new rival the Guelph Regals. Ticket prices were $1.00 for adults, and $.50 for Seniors and Students. A season pass for all 20 home games went for $18.00! The ice for that first game was sloppy, with lots of water and fog developing as the game went on. As 1400 fans cheered their new heroes, a win seemed in their sights, but a goal with 8 seconds remaining by former Galt Terrier Lloyd Mercer, knotted the score at a final of 2-2. Ron Hergott scored the first Hornet goal and was off to a great season to remember. The Hornets and Regals, only in business for a short time, were already developing a very strong and heated rivalry. Both managers traded barbs at times, which only helped to further the intensity these two teams showed all season!
As the season went on, the Hornets played 2 exhibition games against the Syracuse Stars in early December. The Stars were a team mainly comprised of players from the old Bellville McFarlands senior team as well as players from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. They beat the Hornets 9-7 and 6-5 in a couple of really close games. This was indeed a feat as the Stars record from the start of the 1962/63 season was 60-2-2. That trip seemed to bring the team together and changed the fortunes of the Hornets as they would lose only once in their next 8 games. Goaltender Dave Dryden was a big part of the team's early success. His play was often called electrifying, dazzling and larcenous, as he displayed the form that would elevate him to a long career in the N.H.L. and W.H.A. "Without the Galt experience, I wouldn't have gone anywhere, I was made to feel important, enjoyed it thoroughly and got a heck of an education out of it."
In late December, the Hornets faced protest. Guelph and Port Colborne filed protest with the league after Hornet victories, claiming that Galt had used 2 illegal players (Larry Favero & Peter Restelli). Galt claimed they were released by Guelph and signed to intermediate cards with Preston, a Hornet affiliate. The league would uphold the protest and they ordered both games to replayed. In mid January, the Hornets once again made the trek to Syracuse to play the Stars, this time prevailing 7-4 and then gaining a 5-5 tie. As the season continued, Ron Hergott proved his worth leading the league in scoring with 14 goals in January with line mates Ron Brain and Jim Dahmer having great seasons. Dahmer, nicknamed "Chappie", a former KW Tiger. Dahmer, who was better known as a fast skating fore checking forward, scored 10 goals in January. Both Hergott and Dahmer would carry the hot hand right through the rest of the season.
Joe Hogan, Hornets Captain, would have a very steady successful season, proving why he was one of the most popular and best Hornets players to ever dawn the black and yellow. The Hornets would have a very good February, sporting a record of 9-3-2, and surprised everyone finishing the season in a tie for first place with the Woodstock A's. The A's took first based on their 26 wins to Galt's 25. The Hornets, who led the league in attendance, also had the league's top scorer and best goalie. Ron Hergott, showed why he was an all-star in junior with Niagara Falls, finishing the season with 42 goals, 39 assists for 81 points. He received the Eccelstone trophy for his efforts as leading scorer as well as the Dave Pinkney trophy for league M.V.P. He completed his trophy haul winning the Andy Bellemeer trophy, awarded to the hardest worker and player who gives his best consistently, voted on by league officials. Goalie Dave Dryden, led the league with a 3.61 goals against average, and took home the famed Turofsky trophy. Both players were named to the first all star team. Hornet coach Ivan Tennant was named coach of the year and first team all-star defenseman. Not bad for a team put together in 6 short weeks.
As the playoffs started, Galt played their arch rival from Guelph. With their best crowd of the season, Galt came out on top in game 1 by a 5-3 score. Bob Mader, who signed earlier in the season, made his debut scoring a goal an adding 4 assists, teaming well with forwards Carl Hatt and Ron Brain without benefit of practice. After a disappointing game 2 defeat of 7-3, Galt goalie Dave Dryden put in a stellar performance gaining his first shutout of the year and leading Galt to a game 3 win, 6-0. The Regals tough guy Keith Worrall, shadowed Ron Hergott effectively for the series holding Hergy off the score sheet for the most part. Many other Hornets would rise to the occasion however, including Bob Mader, Larry Pfaff and Ron Brain, who fired 3 goals in an 8-2 Galt victory in game 4. The Hornets took the series in game 5 before 2400 fans with Ron Hergott busting loose, scoring 3 times and adding an assist to seal the Regals fate.
Galt were definite underdogs heading into the league final against the Woodstock A's. Defense was the key in game 1 as the Hornets came out on top, 3-1. Galt blew a 3-0 lead midway through the second period in game 2 and fell 6-4. In game three, a late three goal rally in the third, gave the Hornets a 3-2 win and continued their unbeaten string to 20 games at the Galt Arena. However, that proved to be all the Hornets could muster for the remainder of the series as Woodstock played very good hockey throwing in some lucky bounces and ended the series in six games.
The Hornets first season definitely had to be viewed as a major success, as expectations were to make the playoffs but to make the finals was a huge accomplishment. Attendance for the regular season and playoffs was about 42,000, which was double what the Terriers had the season before. The Hornets turned a profit where the Terriers did not. Three factors in their success would be the increased fan support, a competitive team and a good economical operation, which included the share of the wealth formula, that the Hornets would follow for their entire existence. All Players shared equally in the profits. Many teams would come and go by not sticking to this thrifty system. The Hornets would head into year two holding their heads high!
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