EDITOR’S NOTE: The following guest column by Steve Buist reflects on his days as a fledgling sportswriter whose first media job was covering the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. The award-winning Buist is a former Sault Star writer who is now an investigative reporter and feature writer at the Hamilton Spectator.
By Steve Buist
I was born in St. Joe’s Hospital not far from the centre of Hamilton’s downtown.
My dad grew up in a tiny house in the heart of Hamilton’s gritty north end and for the past 31 years, I’ve been employed by the Hamilton Spectator.
I can remember – barely – my dad taking me as a young boy to the old Barton Street barn in Hamilton to watch the Red Wings play and when I got home from church on Sunday mornings, I’d watch CHCH-TV’s re-broadcast of the Thursday night Red Wings’ game.
You’d think it would be easy to figure out which team I’m cheering for in this Ontario Hockey League championship series between the Hamilton Bulldogs and Soo Greyhounds.
Ahh, not so fast.
After I left the University of Guelph, my first job as a professional journalist was at the Sault Star, where I was handed the job of covering the Soo Greyhounds in 1983.
The world has changed a lot since then.
I was interviewed for that job over the phone by Bill Crawford, then the Star’s sports editor. He offered me the job and I had to go to an atlas – no such thing as Google or even home computers back then – to figure out where the Soo was on a map.
It didn’t take long, though, for me to feel at home and fall in love with the city. It certainly helped having the highest-profile beat at the newspaper. I’ve always told people that covering the Hounds in the Soo is like covering the Maple Leafs in Toronto.
Ten years after I had left the Soo, I’d return for a visit and attend a Greyhounds’ game as a fan and there would be people who’d stop me to say Hi, even though I didn’t know who they were. They just remembered I was the guy who covered the team once upon a time.
I was fortunate enough to cover the team when it was hugely successful. Terry Crisp was the coach, Sam McMaster the general manager, and Harry Wolfe was the radio voice of the Hounds in both Saults and Wawa, as he’d say.
Grinding it out on a bus for days on end to the furthest reaches of the province might not seem that appealing but for me, it was Heaven.
The four of us would play the card game hearts for hours on end but Crisp and McMaster were two of the most competitive people I’ve ever met – and I’m no slouch myself. And if one of them couldn’t win, all they cared was that the other didn’t win either. Plenty of swearing and plenty of card throwing as we rolled down the highway.
By the middle of my second season, I’d have this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach at the start of every road trip because I was so petrified of playing cards with them. (You have to remember, I was only about 25 at the time, not much older than the players themselves.)
Finally, during one trip, I snapped.
I stood up and started yelling that I couldn’t take the pressure of playing cards with them and getting screamed at by one or the other. I told them I was never playing cards with them again. I can remember they looked at me dumbfounded. The pressure cooker had popped its top. But I stuck to my guns – I never played cards again on the bus.
I can remember one early road trip – it might have been the first one I was ever on – and we were on our way from Cornwall after a game, I think, back to the hotel in Kingston.
Crisp leaned around his seat and whispered to me something like “What you’re about to hear stays on the bus, OK?” I had no idea what he was talking about and just said “Sure.”
He got out of his seat and started walking up and down the aisle. He launched into a foaming, frothing tirade that scared even me – and I was just the reporter. I pulled a magazine out of my bag and pretended to read it.
Wherever Crisp stopped in the aisle, he’d look at the player closest to him and launch into a screaming fit about some deficiency in that player’s performance. No one was spared. I was afraid he’d stop next to me and yell at me for using an adverb improperly or not having the right tense on a verb.
Eventually, he ran out of steam and sat down. And then I went to change my underwear.
That season, ’83-84, and the following one when the Greyhounds went to the Memorial Cup, were easy to cover as a reporter because the team was so successful. And really, those teams were stacked with great players – Rick Tocchet, Wayne Groulx, Chris Felix, Steve Graves, Jeff Beukeboom, Bob Probert, Graeme Bonar, hometown boy Mike Oliverio.
And the memories.
There was the night London Knights coach Don Boyd was so enraged with his team’s performance at Memorial Gardens that he didn’t let his players change out of their uniforms. They filed onto the bus in full equipment with their street shoes on. “If they’re going to play like peewees, I’m going to treat them like peewees,” he told me.
There was the time I went into the Hounds’ office half an hour before a game and no one was there scarfing down the doughnuts, which was odd. I asked the lone person in the office what was going on and she nodded toward the ice.
I poked my head out and there was a full-scale brawl in progress between all of the members of the Hounds and the North Bay Centennials. One of the Greyounds – Chris Brant, I think – had one unfortunate North Bay player pinned on the Centennials’ bench and all I could see was Brant’s arm pumping up and down like a piston.
There was the infamous time at Hamilton’s Mountain Arena, when the Hounds’ game against the Hamilton Steelhawks erupted in an on-ice riot that was sickening to watch. The rumour is both teams were banished from Global’s Game of the Week because of that display.
So many memories. So many stories. So much fun.
Which is why it’s pretty easy for me when it comes to my rooting interest in this OHL final.
Hound Power. Love that red and white.