I was in Grade 5 at Holy Angels elementary school, having just turned 10 years of age on October 25, 1962. And two days after turning 10 — October 27, 1962 — as a birthday present, my dad took me to the first ever game in Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League history as the Soo Greyhounds played host to the Espanola Eagles.
I would quickly became a big fan of the Greyhounds and the league itself. And if my dad didn’t take me to future games of that 1962-1963 inaugural season, my older sister Judy or one of the older kids in our Maple Street neighbourhood would.
I do believe it was during that ’62-63 season that I first aspired to be a sports writer and/or sports broadcaster when I got older.
Anyway, David Harrison, who is now the legendary historian for the NOJHL and still sharp as a tack at age 80, had an involvement with the league even back then as an Espanola-based sports writer for the Sudbury Star.
Besides the aforementioned Soo Greyhounds and Espanola Eagles, other initial members of the NOJHL back then were the Michigan Soo Realtors, Sudbury Wolves, Garson-Falconbridge Native Sons and North Bay Trappers.
At any rate, the venerable Harrison recalls being a part of the new league’s first official meeting on July 29, 1962 at the old Espanola Hotel.
“The league would become a success in most places, as prior to 1962, there had been only juvenile hockey,” recalled Harrison, on the early days of the NOJHL.
As previously noted, the debut season began on Saturday, October 27, 1962 at Memorial Gardens as the hometown Greyhounds played Espanola in front of a crowd of spectators that included my dad and me.
According to Harrison, the game was scoreless through two periods of play, due in large part by the goaltending of the Soo’s Tony Esposito as the eventual Hockey Hall of Fame inductee kept his side in it.
Early in the final frame, the Greyhounds’ George Kosteniuk notched the first goal in NOJHL history, 1:40 into the third period, as he beat Eagles netminder Steve Dubowsky.
The Eagles would finally solve Esposito, just over two minutes later, on a Terry Thompson effort.
However, Bobby Orazietti collected the game-winner for the Soo with 8:25 remaining as he banged in the rebound off a Jean Louis Thivierge shot — and the Hounds skated away with the 2-1 win to collect the first triumph in league play.
Backed by the stellar play of ‘Tony O’, the Greyhounds went on finish in first place, winning 11 straight down the stretch to finish six points ahead of Espanola over the course of the 40-game regular season schedule.
Esposito played in all 40 regular season games for the Soo and finished with 28 wins, one tie and 11 losses with a 2.60 goals-against average and four shutouts, according to Harrison’s statistical history book.
However, in the playoffs, the Soo was upset by North Bay in a semi-final series that went the distance, with the visiting Trappers taking the finale, 4-2, in front of a packed house of over 4,200 fans at the old Memorial Gardens.
The other league semi-final was a rough and tumble affair that eventually saw Espanola dispatch Garson-Falconbridge.
In the first league final, it proved to be all Espanola as the Eagles — coached by the legendary Red McCarthy — swept North Bay in four straight games to win the first-ever NOJHL championship.
’62-63 NOJHL AWARD WINNERS
Regular season, first place: Soo Greyhounds
Playoff champion: Espanola Eagles
Most valuable player: Ron Allain, Espanola Eagles
Best goals against average: Tony Esposito, Soo Greyhounds
Leading scorer: Ron Allain, Espanola Eagles
Rookie of the year: Rollie King, Michigan Soo Realtors
Coach of the year: Red McCarthy, Espanola Eagles