Steve Walker’s parents wanted him to take the scholarship route and play NCAA Division 1 hockey. A teenager, growing up in Stayner back then, Walker had his heart set on playing in the Ontario Hockey League after being drafted in 1990 by the Owen Sound Platers (now Attack) in the fifth round.
Walker’s dad let his son make the decision and he joined the Platers for 16 games that season and nine the next. The talented forward wasn’t happy though. He wanted to leave the team and come home, but was hesitant to tell his dad. After mustering up the courage, Walker was soon back in his old high school when the Jr. B Barrie Colts came calling. He wasn’t sure, at first, after his experience with the Platers, but soon Walker was a member of the Colts.
Twenty-five years later, Walker looks back fondly on the decision to come to Barrie. He would go on to set Central Ontario Junior Hockey League records with 75 goals and 151 points in 48 games while helping the Colts win a Sutherland Cup title, emblematic of Junior ‘B’ supremacy in the province.
“Coming to Barrie couldn’t have worked out better for me,” recalled the 45-year-old, at the Colts’ 25th anniversary celebration, held in early June at the Braestone farm of team owner Jamie Massie.
Surrounded by most of his former teammates, coaches, owners, staff and their families on what Walker calls a special night, the now retired professional player was feeling much of the same camaraderie he felt when he first walked through the dressing room door 25 years ago.
“A lot of the guys haven’t changed,” said Walker, who spent four seasons in the International Hockey League and 11 years with the Berlin Polar Bears in Germany’s DEL (Deutsche Eishockey Liga), before hanging his skates in 2010-11. “You pick up right where you left off with the guys. There’s the connection that you shared a championship and, obviously, it was a great experience for all of us. It’s nice to kind of walk back through those memories together. A lot of stuff is forgotten and something is brought up and you have a laugh about it. It rekindles that old emotion of playing with these guys.”
The 1992-93 Colts were a powerhouse. A year after finishing 37-1-4, head coach Alec Ovenden and his coaching staff guided the team, led by Walker and long-time New Jersey Devils star John Madden, to an undefeated 47-0-1 record. Standing alongside co-owners Dr. Bruce MacNicol and Denis Galbraith before a 25th anniversary team photo, Massie poked fun at Ovenden during his speech.
“I just want to know what happened with that one game (tie),” Massie shouted, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
A much smaller city then, the Colts were front and centre in Barrie and always in the news during their remarkable run.
“The season was unbelievable to win the Ontario championship, but I think what was most important, which really hit me emotionally, is just what great men they have become and what great community leaders they have become” said Massie, who along with MacNicol and Galbraith bought the struggling Jr. B franchise from the Barrie Minor Hockey Association.
“You look at Mike Peron with the little twin (four-year-old) boys,” he added. “They’re the cutest kids on the planet. To me, that was what Colts hockey was really about. It was developing these great young men, at the time, that would be great men who would contribute. I think our philosophy has really proven out, because here we are 25 years later and we really do have great men. Great leaders of our community with great families.”
Not including exhibition games that season against the Wexford Raiders, Barrie’s first loss that season would actually come in the opening game of the playoffs against Orillia. The rival Terriers upset Barrie, 6-5.
“We all took a step back,” recalled winger Jason Cameron.
Cameron asked his coach during the anniversary celebration about that loss and Ovenden told him that no words were needed and he knew his team would do what needed to be done.
“We weren’t going to fall short that year,” said Cameron, whom, along with his wife Jennifer make up Team Cameron as sales representatives with EXIT Lifestyle Realty. “We knew what was expected of us. We swept (Orillia) in the next four.”
As the playoffs went on, the stronger Barrie got, eventually sweeping Hamilton in the semifinals and, then, Kitchener in the Sutherland Cup final. Walker calls his triple-overtime winning goal against Hamilton the “icing on the cake” for him personally, but the highlight of his hockey career was sweeping Kitchener in the finals to complete a remarkable season.
“That championship series was our easiest series for us,” he said. “Nothing against Kitchener, but we had been through so much that nothing was going to stop us.”
The Barrie Arena had long lineups around the old barn, as fans jammed the now torn-down rink once located on Dunlop Street. Crowds were as big there as they are now for the OHL Barrie Colts at the Molson Centre. Linemates Joey Rockbrune, Cameron and Peron remember playing road hockey outside the rink, before games, to loosen up and were taken back with fans waiting in long lines to get in.
“I love that old barn,” Cameron said. “It was amazing to play there. As much as we caught their attention, they got our attention by showing up in droves. We were excited to play for them. It was the highlight of my hockey career.”
Anyone who attended the games back then will remember Peron’s Pit, a group of fans who came to every game to cheer the feisty centre on with signs and t-shirts spelling out Peron’s Pit.
“My seven-year-old son (Andrew) was the R in Peron’s Pit,” Massie said, with a chuckle. “I remember it well.”
From the potent top line of Madden between Walker and Patrick Armatage, to the likes of Kevin Hastings, Scott McIntyre and captain Chris Emerton on the point, the Colts dominated.
“We broke every record as far as goals for and goals against,” Walker said. “The power play came up and it was the next line up. It was very team oriented.”
When it comes to saying what put the team over the top, to almost a man, the Colts talk about the addition of bruising forward John Kovacs. Having spent three seasons with the Laval Titan in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the rugged forward could score and made sure to keep the competition honest.
When the Brampton Capitals wanted to intimidate the Colts, Barrie barely shrugged in a four-game sweep.
For Massie, Barrie is the best place in the world and embodies the spirit of Canadians in so many different ways. He believes the Jr. ‘B’ Colts were really a beacon of that spirit and remains proud of each and every one of them. He’s also hoping they can do this again and celebrate the team’s 50th anniversary.
“They were good to each other and they were lions,” he said. “They fought like lions and they stood up for each other. We had a lot of laughs. It’s family and that’s who they are.”
In the photo, members of the 1992-93 Sutherland Cup champion Barrie Colts team, during a 25th anniversary celebration of the team’s title win. Terry Wilson photo