Flashback: Centennial years

Randy Russon
November 16, 2016

It was North Bay’s first Ontario Hockey League team, arriving from Niagara Falls in 1982 only to leave for Saginaw 20 years later.

And while the OHL returned to North Bay in 2013 when the Battalion relocated from Brampton, the Centennials to this day remain a revered and iconic brand among a legion of faithful followers who have not forgotten the glory days under legendary coach-general manager Bert Templeton.

Named in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the railroad in North Bay, the Centennials were an immediate hit after owner Reg Quinn moved his Niagara Falls Flyers to the Gateway City.

The Centennials debuted with a 44-win, 91-point season in 1982-1983 under the aforementioned Templeton, who would enjoy a spectacular 12-year run in North Bay that included a cult-figure status within the hockey-mad town of 54,000 residents.

The Centennials won back-to-back Emms Division titles in 1986 and 1987 and the OHL was wildly-popular in North Bay with fans flocking to Memorial Gardens and team pennants on display throughout the town.

Under Templeton, the Centennials three times came within a Game 7 victory of advancing to the Memorial Cup tournament — twice losing to the Paul Theriault-coached Oshawa Generals and once to the Ted Nolan-coached Soo Greyhounds — before winning the OHL crown in 1994 with a thrilling championship-series win over the erstwhile Detroit Jr. Wings.

For his efforts, Templeton was awarded both the OHL and Canadian Hockey League coach of the year awards in 1994 but when owner John Hopper would not give his esteemed bench boss a raise on a proposed new contract, a parting of ways resulted.

The departure of Templeton in 1994 signaled the beginning of bad times for the Centennials, on the ice and at the gate.

Over the next eight seasons under three different coaches — none of whom could hold a candle to the late Templeton — the Centennials would have a winning record only twice while never winning a playoff series and missing the playoffs all together three different times.

While Templeton was the undeniable face of the franchise during his 12 years in North Bay, a number of players became star attractions while wearing the black-and-gold of the Centennials.

To be sure, the list of Centennials alumni reads like a virtual who’s who of OHL standouts, many of whom would go on to play in the National Hockey League.

Alphabetically, here is a sample collection of notable players who were standouts during their OHL days in North Bay.

Shawn Antoski, Alex Auld, Drake Berehowsky, Ron Bertrand, Paul Bissonnette, Dennis (the Menace) Bonvie, Brad Brown, Adam Burt, Jason Firth, Paul Gillis, Trevor Halverson, Mike Hartman, Derian Hatcher, Kevin Hatcher, Mark Hatcher, Bill Houlder, Nick Kypreos, Bob LaForest, Mark LaForest, Mark Major, Andrew McBain, Dave McLlwain, Ron Meighan, Chris Neil, John Purves, John Reid, Lenny Soccio, John Spoltore, Derek Switzer, Chris Thorburn, Darren Turcotte, Carmine Vani, Kevin Vescio, Vitali Yachmenev et al.

While no coach was able to come close to matching Templeton’s success during the days of the Centennials, the current OHL team in North Bay has no slouch of its own behind the bench.

Like Templeton before him, Battalion coach Stan Butler ranks high on the list of all-time winning coaches in the OHL.

What you think about “Flashback: Centennial years”

    1. It’s a shame how the Centennials treated him in the end after winning coach of the year in 1994-95. He deserves a raise in renegotiating his contract. Barrie ended up hiring him and drafting Brad Brown in the expansion draft. If Bert Templeton were to get the raise, the Centennials would have been had more winning seasons and the team would have remained in North Bay, and not in Saginaw. It’s partly attendance that moved the team there.

  1. Rob Davison, the late Steve Mondador (500 games in NHL) and although he wasn’t exactly a star and he didn’t go on to play in the NHL, powassan voodoo coach Scott Wray played a couple seasons and was very solid player who contributed

  2. The version I heard was that rather than a raise, Templeton had requested a percentage of the team but Hopper said no. These were two alpha males who couldn’t seem to find a compromise and North Bay fans ended up the losers. The second nail in the Centennials coffin was in 2000-2001 when then owner Ted Thomson proposed to build a new 5000-seat arena near the city’s waterfront. North Bay council shot it down even though Thomson didn’t ask the city for a dime. It would have been privately owned and funded, When that project failed, the club was doomed.

    1. Never knew the owner wanted the arena at the Waterfront. It would have been amazing to see it there tho and if approved the Centennials would still be thriving.

  3. Kevin Vescio should be included in the list great D man. Played the first 4 years and still lives in North Bay and supports the community.

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