Bruins pay tribute to 3 Field Squadron
Military gave us our best hockey 40 years ago
Cornelia Naylor The Times, Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Before the Chilliwack Colts, before the Chiefs or the Bruins there was Chilliwack 3 Field Squadron.
Forty years ago, the best hockey in town was played by military engineers stationed at CFB Chilliwack.
Fans packed the old Coliseum to watch them, and their game highlights were the bread and butter of the local sports page.
"You couldn't get a seat in the place," said Carl Marsh - a retired military engineer and former player - describing the Coliseum on game days. "It was good for the town. It was good for everything."
Reinforced with a handful of civilians, the team played its regular season in the Western Amateur Hockey League (WAHL) giving as good as they got against tough teams from around the Lower Mainland.
The highlight of the team's few years in the local limelight, though, was winning the first ever Canadian Armed Forces Hockey Championships in 1968.
This Wednesday, the Chilliwack Bruins will pay tribute to that accomplishment during their Remembrance Day game against the Vancouver Giants by wearing Chilliwack 3 Field replica jerseys and observing a moment of silence for soldiers who serve our country in times of war and peace.
For Marsh, who retired in Chilliwack in 1982, hockey and the military went hand in hand.
"There were 13 in our family, nine boys," he said, remembering his coal mining roots in Glace Bay, N.S. "You couldn't afford all the skates and gear, so I never played hockey till I joined the forces."
Marsh, though, was a bit of an exception. Many of his Chilliwack 3 Field teammates had played high-level junior or college hockey.
"When they couldn't go any higher in junior, they would join the military," he said, "so there was well-trained hockey players."
It was a pattern repeated across the country, so when the Canadian military organized the first national armed forces hockey championship, competition between the newly unified branches of the Armed Forces was skilled and fierce.
Chilliwack beat out the navy from CFB Esquimalt and the air force from CFB Comox to represent B.C.
They came to the national championships at CFB Petawawa in Ontario as underdogs, slated to play a powerful Quebec team from CFB Bagotville.
"The military consisted of major units and minor units," said Marsh. "Chilliwack 3 Field was a minor unit because we only had 200 or 300 people, and we competed against Bagotville who had around a thousand."
The planets had aligned for Chilliwack in the late 1960s, though, and a lot of talented players were posted into the base right around that time.
Combined with the team's WAHL experience, that talent made the small base a force to reckon with, and the team blew through their first two games, 8-4 and 6-2.
At 12:38 in the third period the score was 2-2 in the final game against CFB Rockcliffe, when Marsh one-timed a shot off the face-off past the Rockcliffe goalie for what would prove to be the winning goal.
With one minute left, teammate Wayne Jones notched the insurance marker and was buried in a pile of jubilant 3 Field players.
The WAHL eventually folded in 1973, and when the Chilliwack Bruins decided to design replica jerseys, they had to work for old photographs since not one of the original wool jerseys of the Chilliwack 3 Field team could be found.
But a stack of scrapbooks is not all that's left of Marsh's love of hockey.
He went on to coach minor hockey in the area for 15 years, and he and his wife, Irene, have been Bruin fans since the beginning.
"Kids at this age, because of their dreams, you're getting 150 per cent out of every one of them," he said.
Marsh himself only stopped playing last season after taking an injury to his knee during a tournament.
"It took that long for someone to get a piece of me," he said.
- The Chilliwack 3 Field replica jerseys worn by the Bruins during Wednesday's game will be auctioned off on the concourse level in a silent auction that will close at the beginning of the third period.
© Chilliwack Times 2009