As the Ottawa 67’s prepare to welcome junior hockey royalty back to the capital on October 20, there’s no place Bobby Smith would rather be.
In fact, the legendary former Barber Pole will be playing hooky from his job as majority owner of the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads to be in Ottawa for the next round of 67’s 50th Anniversary celebrations.
“It’s a really big thing, I’m missing a Mooseheads game in Montreal so I can be there,” the Stanley Cup-winning former member of the Minnesota North Stars and Montreal Canadiens said.
Smith was all of nine years old when the 67’s came to Ottawa, his first experience of what would become a lifelong relationship with the club, for which he still holds the league record for most points in a season, with 192. He recalls the arrival of a major junior team in Ottawa as a big deal.
“As a kid in Ottawa, it always seemed like major junior was something the guys from Toronto got to do,” Smith said. “But all of a sudden the 67’s had a team and there was a guy from Eastview (now Vanier) named Denis Potvin and he was the best junior hockey player in the world. Suddenly the whole bunch of us thought, wow, maybe this isn’t out of reach.”
The October 20 game will focus on the 1977-87 era, which included Ottawa’s first Memorial Cup Championship in 1984. The game will feature the unveiling of the next section of the Brian Kilrea Legacy Wall, $2 hot dogs and, of course, a visit from Smith.
Like the generations of 67’s fans like nine-year-old Bobby Smith, junior hockey at Lansdowne has always been a family affair. But back then, it was the only game in town, years before the NHL’s Senators would arrive on the scene.
“We’d take the bus down and watch these guys, it was the best hockey out there,” said Smith. “The second NHL game I was at, I played in. That’s how few of them I went to. My agent took me to one when I was 19 and the second NHL game I was at, I played in (against the defending Cup champion Habs at the Montreal Forum, no less).”
When he looks back at his playing days with the 67’s, a couple things come to mind for Smith.
“The first thing, for sure is winning the first Ontario League Championship for the 67’s,” said Smith. “My second year of junior was the most fun I had ever had playing hockey. I scored 24 goals my first year and was an OK third-line player. The next year it just clicked in; I scored 65 goals, was the top scorer in the league and I knew then I was going to be an NHL player. And we won the championship. When I look back at my years of junior and 15 years in the NHL, that was the year I enjoyed the most.”
As for another 67’s legend in Kilrea, he and Smith remain in touch. In fact, Kilrea had such an impact as Smith’s coach that he’s become the benchmark that Smith measures his Moosehead coaches against.
“Brian’s team at the end of February would beat his team in October by six or seven goals without changing a single player,” Smith said. “Every player improved, so the team improved, so I tell my coaches that’s what they’re judged against. You just get a little bit better every week and all of a sudden, when it really counts, you’re a really good team.”
He was always impressed by Kilrea’s “feel for the game” and way of explaining it, never resorting to “Xs and Os on a board”.
“He was a masterful coach and I would not have had a 15-year NHL career if I hadn’t had the opportunity to be part of his team.”
Tickets for the special October 20 67’s game against Oshawa and all 67’s games this season at the Arena at TD Place are available at Ottawa67s.com/Single-Game-Tickets, by calling 613.232.6767 or in person at The Box Office at TD Place. All minor hockey players part of the 67’s Prospect Program get in for FREE. For more information on the 67’s Prospect Program click here.