1968-69 Navy Vets win OHA Championship
The 1968-69 Woodstock Navy Vets had a new look to start the season. Don Izzard Senior, who had guided the team's fortunes over their first two seasons in the league, was replaced by a veteran star of the" OHA hockey ranks.
Ted Power had played and starred for many years in the Ontario Hockey Association Sr. A and B ranks. He was a respected hockey man from the old school. His patience, experience and savvy would be a guiding light for the Vets, in this, their first great season.
New on the scene as players for the team's third season in the league included goaltender Cam Roberts and skaters Jack Starr, Tim Doyle, Bill Thomas, AI Harmer, Andy Jarzebiak, Jim Wilks and Jim Wilkins. Returning vets included netminder Ken Kitching and Gene and Dave McLaren, Brian "Butch" Shelton, Don Jones, Pat Sobeski, Brian Morland and Paul Dunn.
The team played in a league which included the Grimsby Peach Kings, who boasted future NHLer Dennis Ververgaert in their lineup, Simcoe Charters, Dundas, Ingersoll and Paris.
The Vets got off to an incredible start as they won seven and tied one of their first eight games while firing an average of 48 shots a game at opposition netminders. In an early season game against Ingersoll, there was a hint of how things might go in the future. The game was tied I-I after regulation time. It stayed that way until, with just five seconds to play in the extra session, Marlands' star Al Lockhart broke away and went in all alone on Vets' goalie Ken Kitching. Kitching robbed him and the game ended tied.
It has been said that some are born to greatness, while others have greatness thrust upon them. The Woodstock Navy Vets of the 1968-69 season seemed to be a combination of the two, spiced up with just enough luck and good breaks, to make them "destiny's darlings".
Two more players were to arrive on the scene that would cement the team's character and talent base.
Scott Seagrist, an imposing forward with a great natural talent for scoring and leadership, had graduated from the Vets and gone on to see Jr. A action with Oshawa Generals, Niagara Falls Flyers and London Knights. He decided to come home and joined the Vets just prior to Christmas. .
Likewise, although by a very different route, came standout defenceman Don Carter. Carter had been playing with the Jr. A London Knights in the early part of the season. In a freak accident, a game official had skated on his hand and he had sat out about a month and a half. Rather than rejoin the Knights after he had recovered, Carter chose also to return home and finish the season with the contending Navy Vets.
In some cases where players return from a higher level of hockey to Jr. C teams in their home town, there can be instances of selfish play, falling outs between teammates or between these more skilled players and Jr. C coaches. This was not the case at all with the Vets.
Both Seagrist and Carter lent stability, maturity and expertise to the team that so often is lacking at the Jr. C level.
In any case, the Vets went on to enjoy their finest season to date. They won the league's regular season title. Then, with Carter joining the team for playoffs, they eliminated a pesky Ingersoll team in the first round of the playoffs. Ingersoll had led by a two games to one margin, prompting some to expect a fall by the Navy Vets. However, Woodstock rebounded to win the series in six games.
The league championship series saw the Vets handle Dundas to wear the league crown once again, their second in just three years' existence.
In the OHA quarter finals, Dresden Kings fell before the Vets' juggernaut. That put them into the provincial semi-finals against New Hamburg. This time the Hahns, perennially strong, were no match for the swift-skating, free-wheeling Vets. The series was won by Woodstock in five games, the last ending in a 5-1 score for the Navy Vets.
These victories set up the Vets' ultimate challenge for the OHA Jr. C championship, a level they had sought since Day One.
The only thing standing between them and the title was a team from Oakville called the Blades and a nimble netminder named Ted Lenssen.
Lenssen, a 16-year-old, was the brilliant light of a low-scoring and hard-fought series. He went on to get some playing time in the National Hockey League, appearing briefly with Washington Capitals in the mid-70s.
After battling furiously through six games in this best-of-seven championship series on even terms, it came time for a showdown in Game 7 at Woodstock's Perry Street Arena. Although much of the credit for the three Oakville wins had to be given to Lenssen, the pressure-packed seventh game was up in the air for anyone to grab. That's why it ranks as another of the top 10 games the Vets have ever played. Some may say that it was the team's finest hour.
The seventh game of any OHA championship series has to be seen as a momentous encounter. This clash between Oakville and Woodstock would surpass everyone's preconceived notions. It was a masterpiece of tension, skill and, for Navy Vets' fans, success.
The game remained scoreless after the first 20 minutes of play. It looked like Lenssen might be too hot for the Vets to handle. They had outshot the Blades 11-3 in that first stanza.
Gene McLaren got the scoring started at the 4:45 mark of the second period. Shelton and Thomas assisted and it looked, just maybe, like the Vets might come through after all.
However, Oakville got the equalizer when they made it 1-all with 2:27 left in the frame. The Vets failed to fold though, and Don Jones fired his 53rd goal of the season from Al Harmer with only 49 seconds left on the clock in the middle stanza. It was all the momentum that the Navy Vets would need on this night.
Ken Kitching was out-playing Lenssen in the Vets' net and, heading to the third it looked like Woodstock's defence would carry the day. They had allowed just 13 shots in the first 40 minutes of play. When Gene McLaren got his second of the game at 11:50 of the third, it looked like an insurance marker had been scored. Just 32 seconds later, the Blades changed everyone's thinking when Paul Perras scored to get them back within a goal at 3-2. However, neither goalie gave up anything else and the Vets had their championship. Kitching had risen to the occasion and stopped 19 of 21 shots, including a trio of breakaways. When time ran out, Gene McLaren was seen stickhandling the puck away from the Blades for the final 15 seconds of play.
After that it was celebration time, showers for anyone close enough to get dunked and a ride on a fire truck through the early spring night and the streets of Woodstock.
Some Scoring Exploits
Pat Sobeski 3G (Dec.26)
Don Jones 3G , G.McLaren 5A (16-2 Win vs Paris)
Jim Wilkins 4G , John Luckman 3G (13-1 Win at Paris)
50TH ANNIVERSARY !!
(NOTE: ORIGINAL DATE WAS CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER
AND RE-SCHEDULED TO Jan.24)