There are collectors. And then there’s Ladysmith’s Ted Puska.
Puska, who turned 65 in January of this year, has been known to save everything known to man. It may drive his wife crazy at times, but his ability to hang onto things people wouldn’t even think about is especially poignant with the 50th anniversary of Fuller Lake Arena coming up.
A ceremony on July 1, 1968 with Gordie Howe present, marked the official opening of Fuller Lake Arena. It was an exciting time in the follow-up to the first hockey season that commenced with registration in September.
Puska was 15 at the time and playing in the Midget division. In digging through files of his amazing collection of paperwork, he found all sorts of memorabilia that are among the select few or only ones in existence.
Puska’s hording habit has resulted in a virtual museum of items that interested folks who grew up around at that time and remember spending so much of it around the arena are surely going to want to see.
Signing up for hockey when the arena came into being was a big deal in those days.
“I have got my dad’s receipt for signing me and my brother for $10 for the two of us,” noted Puska.
Yes, it cost them all of $4 each plus $1 each in mutual aid to play that first season.
Puska has a newspaper insert from the Cowichan Leader after that first season with photos of all 26 teams that were on the ice during a hectic 1968-69 season. Players came from a wide area between Ladysmith, south to Mill Bay and west to Lake Cowichan and beyond to join the association.
Collecting both valuable and unusual items started at the age of six for Puska with a Bobby Hull hockey card that’s still in remarkable shape, even if Hull himself isn’t.
“That was my card I got,” Puska recalled of the one that stuck with him.
After that, he got onto cutting out cards like Boston Red Sox’s Carl Yastrzemski from Post cereal boxes.
Puska just naturally added local folklore to his list after Fuller Lake opened.
“Who keeps their first public skating ticket?” he pondered.
You guessed it, Puska did. It cost 40 cents for him to skate and 50 cents for his dad to come along.
Puska even has his dad’s old skates from the 1940s and an original Fuller Lake Junior B Flyers jacket. He was part of the first Junior B squad to represent Fuller Lake that hit the ice in 1970.
During that first Midget house season in 1968, his dad was the manager of his McBride’s Service station team. “I got the receipts of all the 15 players on the team,” he indicated after registrations were paid.
Puska even recorded the Midget division standings that first season on a piece of paper he kept.
“Every goal I wrote down who got the goals and assists,” he added.
Great stuff you won’t find anywhere else.
The Midgets played a 30-game season in the beginning, with Beggs Brothers, Kinsmen, Wright’s Jewellers and Hearsey Transport making up the remainder of the sponsored squads.
Puska didn’t make it to the Gordie Howe ceremony and doesn’t remember much about it. Being July, “I was probably playing baseball,” he said.
Anyone who has photos or documentation of Howe’s visit, we’d love to see it.
There were so many highlights that first season, Puska doesn’t know where to begin. It included the classic Jamboree Day that packed fans into the rink all day plus “we had an all-star game halfway through the year,” he recalled.
“We played the Juveniles. We ended up winning the game and it got a little rough.”
An oldtimers game was part of the twin-bill between Cowichan and Port Alberni. The Alberni team included Nick Andruff, father of Ron, who eventually came to Chemainus and gained his claim to fame by playing in the National Hockey League.
Puska played two years of Midget and then right through his Junior B eligibility before doing some coaching.
“It doesn’t seem like 50 years,” he confessed. “I’m still thinking I’m in my 40s, not 60s.”
There will be many more stories later this year about the first season of hockey at the arena in the fall.
“It’s a big milestone for the whole town and the whole Valley really,” said Puska.