(EDITOR’S NOTE: With the Ontario Hockey League poised to return to Brantford for the 2023-2024 season by way of relocation of the Hamilton Bulldogs, we revert to a timeless flashback from 40 or so years ago.)
To be sure, this did not fall into the one hit wonder category. Rather, these were classic hits that kept on playing. Dressed in the vintage, full-length Cooperall uniforms of the early 1980s, the Brantford Alexanders and Soo Greyhounds faced off in three successive OHL playoff seasons.
And while the Soo upended Brantford in all three playoff years — 1982, 1983 and 1984 — the Alexanders earned ‘A’ grades while falling to Hound power, and a song of the same name.
The OHL was a 14 and then a 15 member league back then and the Soo and Brantford were part of the Emms Division, which would go from seven to eight teams. Playoffs were different back then as well.
Not only were first round byes in place but games could end in ties as there was no shootout or overtime. And instead of having best of five or best of seven series, they were six or eight point sets, depending on the round. Thus, for an example, an eight-point series, if it went the distance, would be determined by an eighth and deciding game.
The Soo and Brantford never went to an eighth game in any of the playoff sets of 1982, 1983 and 1984. But one of the series went seven games and another was a six match set that featured no less than four ties.
All these years later, I remember all three series vividly.
In fact, the initial 1982 series between the Greyhounds and Alexanders came about just a few months after I had first joined the Sault This Week as a sportswriter in February of that year following a ho hum, full-time broadcasting career that had started in 1975.
The first playoff series between the Greyhounds and Alexanders was an improbable one. The Greyhounds had finished in second place in the Emms Division with 83 points from a record of 40-25-3 and were expected to make quick work of the Alexanders, who had placed a distant fifth with 52 points from a 25-41-2 mark.
But fresh from a stunning first round playoff upset of the London Knights, who had finished 21 points ahead of the Alexanders during that 1981-1982 regular season, Brantford went gunning for the big boys from the Soo in the second round. And the Alexanders, backed by the stellar goal-tending of Darren Cossar, came within a 3-2 loss in Game 7 of pulling off the big upset.
Two games in the series ended in a tie before the Hounds finally shook off the Alexanders with the 3-2 home-ice victory that included a considerable air of nervousness among Memorial Gardens faithful. Indeed, the Soo narrowly took the series eight points to six while getting a mighty scare from the Alexanders.
Next up, the 1982-1983 campaign, the Greyhounds again had a much better team as evidenced by a first place finish in the division from 97 points and a record of 48-21-1 compared to the no. 4 seed Alexanders who had put up 71 points from a 34-33-3 showing.
The teams would again meet in the second round of the playoffs and while the Soo won the series eight points to two, the games were rather close.
The series began with back to back ties — 1-1 and 4-4 scores — before the Greyhounds won three straight games by margins of 4-2, 6-3 and 1-0 to take the series eight points to two and eliminate the pesky Alexanders, who were held in by the heroic goal-tending of pint sized puck-stopper Allan Bester.
The 5-foot-7, 155 pound Bester, who had been an afterthought of a 16th round pick by Brantford at the 1981 OHL priority selections draft, would eventually go on to play in more than 220 NHL games, the majority of which were for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Up next was the 1983-1984 season. And Brantford would finish in second place in the division during the regular season with a record of 39-28-3 for 81 points, just ahead of third place Soo, which garnered 80 points from a 38-28-4 mark.
Once again, the teams would meet in the second round of the playoffs. And once again, the Greyhounds would come out ahead.
This time, the Hounds would prevail despite only winning two games. That’s right, four of the six games would end in ties and the Soo would add 5-1 and 6-3 victories to take the series eight points to four and send Brantford packing once again.
Actually, the Hounds would send the Alexanders packing for good. The ’83-84 season would end the Alexanders six-year run in Brantford as the franchise would move to Hamilton for the 1984-1985 campaign and the team would be re-named the Steelhawks.
For guys like me and long-time, to this day, Greyhound super fan Chris Sierzputowski, the three straight playoff sets against the Alexanders were three of the most exciting in the Soo’s OHL history.
Meanwhile, there are takeaways from the Soo-Brantford playoff showdowns of 1982, 1983 and 1984 that remain in my memory bank all these years later.
• As the Greyhounds were led by Sam McMaster as general manager and Terry Crisp as coach, Dave Draper was a one-man band in Brantford as the Alexanders coach and GM.
And while McMaster and Crisp were known for their theatrics and showy ways, Draper was a quiet, reserved gentleman with somewhat of a stern nature. In fact, splashy sportswriter Steve Buist, who was on the Greyhounds beat for the Sault Star back then, referred to Draper as ‘Dour Dave.’
McMaster, though, and Crisp, were just the opposite.
Still the most successful GM in Greyhound history over any five year period with 227 regular season wins, one OHL championship and two other trips to the league finals (from 1980 to 1985), McMaster, on the other hand, was thought of by some as a poor loser.
Never meeting a microphone he didn’t like, McMaster would take to the airwaves of CKCY Radio following a Greyhound loss to voice his displeasure with anyone from the referees to the tactics of the Alexanders to some of what I wrote in the sports pages of Sault This Week.
Like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, McMaster would whine and bitch — and he would do so in a high-pitched voice that could rival a shrill soprano singer.
Crisp wasn’t a squawker a la McMaster.
But the crackerjack coach who was known as ‘Crispy’ was a treat to watch behind the Greyhound bench as a fiery, red-headed pecker with a vocabulary that would make a sailor blush.
All in all, as I liked and respected Draper and found him good to deal with despite his somewhat aloof manner, I also had admiration for McMaster and Crisp, even though I wasn’t particularly fond of either of them at the time.
• As a writer, I had favourite skaters from both teams back then, ones that included forwards Wayne Groulx, Kevin Conway, Steve Graves, Terry Tait, Mike Lococco, (a young) Graeme Bonar, Pat Lahey, Jim Aldred and top defenseman Chris Felix of the Greyhounds. And from Brantford were the likes of front-liners Len Hachborn, Mike Millar, Jason Lafreniere, Bob Probert, Shayne Corson, Rick Goodfellow and all-around defenseman Tyler Verhaeghe — along with my favourite Alexander in Gary Corbiere, a hard-nosed left winger and local lad from Batchewana First Nation.
Of particular note were the fighting, fearless ways of Aldred and Goodfellow, who were both good-sized wingers.
Over two years of playoff sets, Aldred and Goodfellow scrapped with each other at least four or five times.
In one series, in back to back games, the two had a pair of dandy tussles.
Goodfellow won the first one, cuffing Aldred up the side of the head a few times before actually pulling a chunk of hair from Jungle Jim’s scalp.
Aldred would return the favour the next game, however, soundly boxing Goodfellow’s ears before knocking rugged Rick’s block off with a combination left-right hook to the chops.
Call it a rabid rivalry for the ages.
Call them vintage OHL playoff matches from a day when there were certainly a lot more characters in the league than there are now.
I just call them classic Hounds v. Alexanders from a memorable time that stands still.