Shinny Dreams, or: What Exactly is a Corvair?

One morning last week, I awoke as usual to the early morning sounds of Dalian, China: the loudspeakers outside the daycare playing random happy tunes (“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is good to go at any time), the dook dook of high heels on concrete, the air horns of the endless dump trucks that move the remains of mountains to help build chic residential addresses where before there was only sea. I woke up, though, thinking about the Caledonia Corvairs.

It must have been the accidental browse through my down-home weekly newspaper’s on-line presence the previous day. The Corvairs are the Junior hockey club in that small southern Ontario town, and they are celebrating their fiftieth year. That was evidently more than enough to send me into a nostalgic spin.

In my childhood winters, Friday nights were the Corvairs for me. Those armoured young men were my heroes. Their matching blue helmets – most of their pitiable opponents wore a hodge-podge of variously coloured buckets – and padded pants framed the distinctive white home jerseys, with royal trim and a diagonal spelling of that unusual nickname. They wear the same cascading “CORVAIRS” logo today, and they have it to themselves. The name? It came from the new team’s main sponsor, a Chevy dealership, when the Corvair was a hot new Motortrend Car of the Year in 1961, though by the team’s first provincial championship in 1969, its namesake was already in the automotive scrapheap. At some point, while the car was still in production, I was one of the little tykes ankling about during the intermission of a Corvair game, intoxicated by sharing the same ice and those millions of spectators with the big boys!

That old barn, now two generations of arenas past, was where we once jammed 1700 human sardines, many wedged tightly along roof beams, for playoff games against the evil Delhi Rockets. Later, the sainted blue and white overcame the rough, unshaven brutes of northern Ontario mining towns like Bobcaygeon and Bancroft to win a Junior ‘D’ – there is no lower classification – provincial championship. In a characteristic Caledonia celebration, those Corvair men and their mentors rode about the town on the volunteer fire department’s two pumpers, and we all dreamed of the day when we might do the same.

Janie Archer was my age. She lived just down Sutherland Street. I hadn’t much time for Miss Archer, but I was more respectful of her than I was of most girls: her big brother Doug was a hardrock defenceman, maybe the Corvairs’ captain. Or maybe it was Bob Moerschfelder, a clever, corner-mucking centre wearing black horn-rimmed glasses long before the Hansen Brothers. These were heroes, closer and more real to me than Gordie Howe and Jean Beliveau, and they were so brave, so fast, so big.

In my 20s, though, I played fast-pitch softball with another of the giants, a much-loved, pugnacious defender named Gord Young. I was surprised to find that he was, in that sport as well, a blue-collar grinder of quite modest athletic gifts, and stood not much more than 5’8” on skates. Gosh! Did that mean that the towering John Winegard – from a Ford-dealing family that became a key supporter of the club – with his upright skating and heads-up passing, was no giant, either? It turned out that he was not the prototype for Zdeno Chara, and his toothy grin in team photos soared above the rest of the smiles because he was the only six-footer in the bunch.

By 1973, the Corvairs had vaulted to Junior C and had another championship season, led by their fine coach, ‘Ches’ Martindale. He was my neighbour and a team founder, and his son was one of my Sutherland Street hockey buddies. Along with Ches and the usual collection of hard-working plumbers and ploughboys were two special talents. One was Donny Edwards, a small but nimble goaltender – what a glove hand that guy had! – who went on to join his uncle Roy as the only guys from my town to reach the Promised Land: a career in the National Hockey League. The other was older, a neighbourhood multi-sport legend called Joe Timson – what a shot that man had – who for reasons usual and unusual topped out at Junior C in that final season, his last as a junior. I was 15 that year. My own goaltending exploits were over, but I watched Edwards with envy and fascination and Joe with wonder and, well, pride, if a skinny sports geek can be proud of the older star from across the street.

Memory is a funny thing, but it seems to me that Joe scored 50 goals that year, the sacred achievement of the hockey sharpshooter, in the playoffs alone. Most of the provincial playdown games were the same, in my mind. In every win, Edwards “stood on his head” and stopped 90 shots, Timson scored all three and the Corvairs won 3-2 in overtime. The incredible, so-dumb-you-could-never-invent-it  finale to that trophy-hoisting season was a euphoric home win, I’ll never forget it: 6-0, another shutout by Donny Edwards, and Joe Timson scored all six goals before one blade of his aging skates snapped with minutes to play. Call Hollywood! (Could it really have happened that way? I swear that it did.) Edwards vaulted up the Canadian hockey ladder to the big-time. (Well, to Buffalo and Calgary, but that means the world to Canadians!) My friend Joe, the home-grown superstar, was done. He still lives in Caledonia, and I hope the Corvairs remember him well when they do their remembering.

Happy anniversary, then, to the mighty Corvairs of yesteryear and the astonishingly young, rather ordinary-looking players and management of today. And hey, since this is China, I “wish you a Merry Christmas”, too.

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