It was 1974 — 40 years ago now — and I was a season away from making my debut as a paid, part-time member of the Sault Ste. Marie sports media with radio station CKCY.
Just before that, it was as a journalism student at Sault College in 1974-1975 that I managed to get a few articles published in the local weekly then known as Shopper News, which became Sault This Week.
Figuring that the easy thing to do would be to write about the local major junior hockey team, the Soo Greyhounds, I decided instead to pen my first story about a visiting team that intrigued me with a style of play that combined skill and rough-house tactics.
Somewhat nervous and a bit unsure of what approach to take, I showed up at a Greyhounds game on a Friday night at Memorial Gardens, intent on doing a feature story on the opponent of the night, the Hamilton Fincups.
The Fincups, besides featuring the high-scoring likes of Dale McCourt, Danny Shearer and Joe Contini, were a feared team led by tough guy forward Dave Norris and a trio of bad-boy defencemen by names of Tony Horvath, Ron Roscoe and Mike Fedorko.
Bert Templeton, who would become an Ontario Hockey League coaching legend, was the no-nonsense, rookie bench boss of the Fincups beginning with that ’74-75 season.
I had heard that Templeton was a gruff, intimidating individual with a glare and a demeanour that was not for the faint of heart.
Undaunted, I mustered up what youthful courage I had, walked up to Templeton outside the visitors dressing room at the old Gardens and introduced myself.
“What do you want?” he barked.
I told him I was a journalism student and wanted to write a story on “big, bad Bert and the fighting Fincups” for the local weekly.
Bert smiled, looked me straight in the eye, shook my hand and said “okay.”
I became rather infatuated with Bert and the Fincups over the team’s four-year existence which included the 1976 Memorial Cup championship, two other trips to the OHL finals and a loss in Game 8 of the semi-finals in their only other season.
I guess you can say that as a would-be sportswriter, the Hamilton Fincups were my first OHL love. (In fact, to this day, I still have a souvenir Fincups hockey puck that I bought 40 years ago.)
As mentioned, the Fincups lived to play only four OHL seasons — three in Hamilton, another in St. Catharines — before becoming the Brantford Alexanders, who became the Hamilton Steelhawks, who became the Niagara Falls Thunder, who are now the Erie Otters.
To be sure, while the Fincups were only around for four years, they made their mark in OHL history with a Memorial Cup championship and successive regular-season point-totals of 83, 94, 105 and 76.
As well, no less than 21 players who wore the Fincups jersey over those four years made it to the NHL. Of those 21, no less than five players were first-round picks to the NHL — McCourt, Ric Seiling, Al Secord, Tim Coulis and Willie Huber.
Interestingly, tough-guy winger Coulis was acquired by the Fincups from the Greyhounds. Just as interestingly, the Fincups dealt aforementioned tough guy Horvath to the Greyhounds in a separate trade.
At any rate, while the Fincups lasted only four OHL seasons, their first coach — and my first interview — Templeton went on to coach for another 20-plus OHL seasons with the Niagara Falls Flyers, North Bay Centennials, Barrie Colts and Sudbury Wolves before dying in 2003 at age 63 from kidney cancer.
Being the time-honoured — if I may say — junior hockey sportswriter and sportscaster that I remain to this day, I often think of my old buddy Bert and the erstwhile Hamilton Fincups.
And with the start of another junior hockey season just around the corner, I thought I would tell you a bit about the first OHL team and coach that I became really attached to as a wet-behind-the-ears scribe.
PHOTO: In just their second OHL season, the Hamilton Fincups won the 1976 Memorial Cup.