TBJHL: 1955-56

Port Arthur North Stars standout goaltender Bruce Gamble makes a save in Abbott Cup western Canadian Junior Final action in April of 1956 versus the Regina Pats. Photo credit: Regina Leader-Post

TBJHL semiinal
Fort William Hurricanes vs. Port Arthur North Stars

Game 1: North Stars 5 Hurricanes 3
Game 2: Hurricanes 6 North Stars 1
Game 3: North Stars 3 Hurricanes 2
Game 4: North Stars 4 Hurricanes 3

Port Arthur wins best-of-five series 3-1


Fort William Canadiens vs. Port Arthur North Stars

Game 1: Canadiens 6 North Stars 3 (@ Fort William)
Game 2: North Stars 4 Canadiens 1 (@ Port Arthur)
Game 3: North Stars 3 Canadiens 2 (@ Fort William)
Game 4: North Stars 5 Canadiens 3 (@ Port Arthur)
Game 5: North Stars 4 Canadiens 1 (@ Fort William)

Port Arthur wins best-of-seven series 4-1

Western semifinal
Port Arthur North Stars vs. St. Boniface Canadiens

Game 1: North Stars 6 Canadiens 3 (@ Winnipeg)
Game 2:
Canadiens 6 North Stars 3 (@ Winnipeg)
Game 3:
North Stars 3 Canadiens 2 (@ Winnipeg)
Game 4:
North Stars 6 Canadiens 3 (@ Port Arthur)
Game 5:
Canadiens 4 North Stars 2 (@ Port Arthur)
Game 6:
North Stars 9 Canadiens 1 (@ Port Arthur)

Port Arthur wins best-of-seven series 4-2

Western Canadian Abbott Cup Final
Port Arthur North Stars vs. Regina Pats

Game 1: North Stars 8 Pats 4
Game 2: North Stars 4 Pats 1
Game 3: Pats 9 North Stars 4
Game 4: Pats 7 North Stars 2
Game 5: North Stars 4 Pats 2
Game 6: Pats 6 North Stars 3
Game 7: Pats 5 North Stars 4

Regina wins best-of-seven series 4-3

NOTE: Regina went on to lose four games to none, with one tie, in the 1956 Memorial Cup Final to the Toronto Marlboros.

By Tom Annelin / HockeyThunderBay.com

UNDOUBTEDLY hockey in the local junior ranks during the mid-1950s offered plenty of skill, physicality, defensive prowess, as well as excellent goaltending.

Coached by Mickey Hennessy, the three-time defending Thunder Bay Junior Hockey League champion Fort William Canadiens, were once again favourites to win in all in 1955-56.

However, the crosstown rival Port Arthur North Stars had other ideas as to who would hoist the TBJHL championship trophy at season’s end.

Guiding the North Stars fortunes behind the bench was Jack (Baldy) James, who also proved to equally as adept in coaching Fort William’s highly successful football program.

Despite only allowing a league-low 89 goals-against, Port Arthur would finish in second spot in the three-team loop, with the Canadiens ending up in first, while the Fort William Hurricanes were a distant third.

By being No. 1, it earned the local Habs a berth right to the TBJHL final while the North Stars and Hurricanes would vie to see who would join them, following a best-of-five semifinal.

There, Port Arthur got off to a solid start with a 5-3 triumph, only to see the upstart Herks respond with a convincing 6-1 victory to even the series at 1-1.

Tightly contested from there, the North-side squad pulled out a narrow 3-2 decision to go back in front, then finished things off with yet another close contest, winning 4-3, to earn their way to the final and book a date with the front-running Canadiens.

Hennessy’s rested Fort William club came out with a purpose in their quest for a fourth consecutive TBJHL crown as they won 6-3 to commence the best-of-seven meeting.

The league’s leading point-getter, in Johnny (Kayo) Kowalchuk, helped pace the Canadiens’ attack with a pair of tallies, with teammate Gary Olney also finding the back of the net twice.

Chipping in with singles were Johnny Soychak and Roger Sawicki.

Getting the Port Arthur goals were Lucien Bouchard, Albert (Bud) Whitney and Patrick (Paddy) Ginnell.

Taking over from there, buoyed by the stalwart netminding of 17-year-old Bruce Gamble, the future NHLer was all but unbeatable the rest of the series.

Evening the get together at a win apiece on home ice, Gamble gave up an early marker to Kowalchuk, but held the Fort at bay from there.

Stuart McNeill, John Harpell, Bob Darcis and Bouchard converted for the Ports in a 4-1 triumph.

Unstoppable from there, the North Stars skated away with wins of 3-2, 5-3 and 4-1 to claim local junior supremacy.

Heading out on the Memorial Cup trail, Port Arthur earned themselves a date with the St. Boniface Canadiens, the Jr. champions of Manitoba.

Travelling to Winnipeg to commence the best-of-seven set, Bouchard bagged the first goal of the series, 77 seconds into the proceedings, to send the Stars on their way to a 6-3 win.

Also connecting for Port Arthur were Harpell, Ginnell, Les Hunt, Henry Akervill and Kowalchuk, who was a pick-up from Fort William, following the TBJHL final.

Also added to the line-up from the local Canadiens were Soychak and Pat Murro.

Answering in Game 2, the Canadiens came to life and skated away with a 6-3 victory of their own, despite markers from the North Stars’ Danny Moon, Bouchard and Kowalchuk.

Finishing up the Winnipeg-portion of the series, the brilliance of Gamble between the pipes, backstopped his side to a narrow 3-2 come from behind triumph.

Riding the heroics from their goaltender, the North Stars countered from a pair of one-goal deficits to prevail, as they saw McNeill pot a pair, including notching the game-winner with 7:22 remaining in regulation.

The high-scoring Kowalchuk continued his offensive prowess with the other tally.

Heading home for the rest of the series, a sold out throng of 4,000 stuffed into the old Port Arthur Arena witnessed a 6-3 decision for the hosts.

Once again, Kowalchuk was the catalyst up front, as he scored twice, while Soychak, McNeill, Darcis and Ginnell chipped in with singles.

Staving off elimination in Game 5, St. Boniface saw survive, off a 4-2 decision in extra time, backed by Bill Masterton’s two tallies, including the eventual difference maker, early in OT.

McNeill and Whitney scored for Port Arthur in defeat in front of 3,000-plus spectators.

The North Stars bounced back after that by crushing the Canadiens 9-1 in the finale to take the set in six games.

A McNeill hat trick boosted the attack that also saw Darcis strike twice in the romp, with Soychak, Kowalchak, Moon and Whitney also adding markers.

The outcome put Port Arthur into the western Canadian Jr. final for the first time in eight years when the fabled West End Bruins won it and went on to capture the 1948 Memorial Cup.

The North Stars opponent in 1956 were the defending Abbott Cup western champs, the Regina Pats, who proved to be no slouch.

Beginning on home ice, it was a big night for the North Stars’ Darcis as he fired the trigger four times as part of an 8-4 pasting of the Pats.

The Fort William combo of Soychak and Kowalchuk also connected, as did Bouchard and Whitney for coach James’ squad.

Going up 2-0 in the series, Port Arthur’s Gamble was solid once more, making 28 saves in a 4-1 victory.

Three straight goals, coming off the sticks of Ginnell, Kowalchuk and Bob Ferguson put the Stars nicely ahead, before Regina got one back midway through the contest.

However, Bouchard put the game away early in the final frame.

Heading to Saskatchewan for the rest of the match-up, the Pats proved to be a formidable foe on the prairies.

A boisterous crowd of 4,762 jammed into the Regina Stadium were in full voice as they saw their team get back into the series with a convincing 9-4 victory in a penalty-filled affair.

Darcis potted a pair in defeat for Port Arthur, which also saw Kowalchuk and Whitney convert.

Despite the blowout, Gamble was once again recognized for his stellar play, holding off the likes of Pats’ star forwards, Murray Balfour and Bill Hicke, who later went on to lengthy NHL careers.

Proving why they were the reigning western Jr. title holders, Regina came right back with another solid effort in clipping the Stars 7-2, with Ginnell and Moon scoring in the loss.

Getting injured defenceman Bill Pytyck back in their line-up bolstered Port Arthur’s chances in Game 5, while Gamble certainly did his part, making 40 stops, including a half-dozen saves of the spectacular variety from point-blank range, lifted them to a 4-2 result and a 3-2 series lead.

Darcis, Kowalchuk, Harpell and Whitney provided the markers in the win.

Regina came back with a 6-3 triumph after that to send the match-up to a seventh and deciding game in a contest that saw Soychak get two, and Darcis add one in the loss.

Game 7 saw the North Stars get off to a dream start as they took a 2-0 lead after one period of play, courtesy of Whitney and Moon.

McNeill and Darcis added later tallies after the Pats had responded to knot the affair at 3-3 after two and 4-4 following regulation.

However, a heart-breaking end to their season, which saw Port Arthur never trail in the series until Regina rookie centre Murray Massier scored on the power play, 4:52 into overtime, to see them repeat as western Canadian winners, becoming the first team to ever do so.

The Pats did go on to get crowned by the vaunted Toronto Marlboros who earned a second of back-to-back Memorial Cup titles.

Despite the difficult defeat, Gamble’s efforts in net continually drew praise from western scribes covering the series, saying his contributions gave the North Stars every chance to win throughout.

Arguably the game’s first star in every match-up Gamble went on to average 35 saves a night, seeing 124 attempts fired his way in the final three games alone.

Now some 67 years later, we can look back at the 1955-56 Port Arthur North Stars as being a solid junior hockey side that provided local fans with the benefit of watching quality action on the ice, night in and night out.