The 2013 inductees into the North Cowichan-Duncan Sports Wall of Fame are already connected by their Chemainus-Crofton roots.
All five newcomers onto the Wall, being honoured Saturday night at the Cowichan Golf and country Club, share regional status.
Hockey player Ron Andruff hails from Chemainus, the same as longtime baseball volunteer Larry Irving and media representative Don Bodger. It was also the home of the Chemainus Blues hockey team.
Ron (Sonny) Collinson brings the Crofton flavour to the proceedings, elected posthumously.
Andruff honed his craft in the Fuller Lake Minor Hockey Association and made his mark around the valley as one of a select few to make it to the National Hockey League.
After a sensational junior career that included stints in Kelowna and Flin Flon, he was picked in the World Hockey Association draft by the Winnipeg Jets and in the second round of the NHL draft by the Montreal Canadiens in 1973.
Being surrounded by such hockey greats as Yvon Cournoyer, Frank Mahovlich and Guy Lafleur in Montreal was an incredible experience for Andruff.
“Like all hockey-mad boys growing up, we all watched TV and I watched the Big M play up and down, patrolling the left wing for the Toronto Maple Leafs forever so it was a shock when he went to Montreal,’’ said Andruff via Skype.
“Of course, Henri Richard carried the great Richard tradition. Guy Lafleur, The Flower, was about 27 years old when I came along and had about a half a dozen years in the league. They were tremendous athletes.
“I can tell you, all of a sudden, in a blink I was going from a boy on the island to the Montreal Canadiens’ training camp and being a centreman between Frank and Guy Lafleur.
“It’s surreal, I think, is the only word I can say. These are phenomenal hockey players and, all of a sudden, you’re between them. It’s hard to realize the fact that you’re one of the team. It took a while to build some confidence. But I have to say it was one of the most extraordinary situations that any kid could ever have.’’
Blair Nicholson and Peter Brownlow appeared at a video interview to speak on behalf of Collinson, who died earlier this year. He’s already had one of the Crofton ball fields named after him and several community-minded volunteers spearheaded by Gerry Hurst stepped forward to have this honour bestowed upon him.
“His history will speak for itself,’’ said Nicholson. “If it wasn’t for his contribution to the sport, there’s a lot of kids that probably would not have played growing up.’’
“He kept us very busy,’’ added Brownlow. “He’d call practices every day. He’d have us up there rain or shine. We would start early in the year in late January, February to get us ready to compete in the season.’’
Like Collinson, Irving has devoted countless hours over a span of 40 years of service with the Chemainus and Duncan Baseball Associations.
“My dad started playing,’’ Irving said. “He was brought in here in the ‘30s to play for the longshoremen team here, then he went off to the military. When he came back, they started a baseball program for kids and that’s how I got started.’’
Irving not only coached but umpired and would even take out the rakes on a regular basis and groom the fields.
He coached with teams that enjoyed considerable success at various levels on Vancouver Island and throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“He was also a fan and a supporter of teams playing from the area that were going on in the playoffs,’’ wrote Mel Dorey in a support letter for Irving’s nomination. “At his own expense, he would show up and stay at places like Prince George, Trail, Surrey, Pendleton, Oregon and anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest.’’
The Chemainus Blues were cultural icons of their time after Fuller Lake Arena first opened, playing to packed crowds every night.
Getting the chance to watch live high-level hockey was a thrill for people who attended the games on a regular basis.
“I saw an opportunity with the new arena and I knew some players that weren’t playing senior hockey that could play senior hockey,’’ said original Blue Bob Wilson of the team’s beginnings.
“I came down and introduced myself to Earl O’Neill, who was the new manager of the new arena. We established a time that we could play if I could get a team together and I told him I would do that.
“Then I went to Labatts, Dick Fisher, to get some start-up money and they had previously been a sponsor in Nanaimo, but weren’t sponsoring up there anymore. I had to go visit some of the higher-ups in Vancouver and they agreed. They asked me what I was going to name the team and I said ‘The Blues.’ Well, that fit right in. They liked that.’’
The team was initially coached by the legendary Red Carr. Players Dave Griff, Peter Lemon, Spence Simmons, Woody Woodruff and others quickly became household names around town.
A limited number of $15 tickets were being offered for the induction ceremony. Check at the Cowichan Aquatic Centre or the North Cowichan Municipal Hall for availability.