Local Men With Great Vision
It’s hard to believe, but this year marks the 37th Anniversary for the Thunder Bay Men’s Major League of Curling, now sponsored by Tbaytel. The league has changed sponsors over the three decades but many of the faces involved in competitive curling loop have remained consistent. Rick Lang, Art Lappalainen, Al Hackner, Brian Adams Sr, and Scott Henderson to name a few. The Labatt’s Men’s Major League opened play on Wednesday, October 26, 8pm in 1976 at the Thunder Bay Country Club. Ironically, it was delayed one week because the ice was not ready, similar to this 2008 season. 12 rinks were involved in the opening season. The format called for a round robin with games played every Wednesday night at 8pm. As a result Wednesday nights became the competitive curling night in Thunder Bay.
The league was born in the summer of 1976 and came on the heels of Thunder Bay’s first major cash spiel, the Pinewood Mercury Grand Prix of Curling , which had been organized five years earlier in 1971 and held every fall at the Port Arthur Curling Club. The idea for the league came out of Manitoba, which had already formed an Association of competitive curlers. A group of local competitive curlers which included Larry Pineau, Bill Tetley, Harvey Cochrane, and Len Tremblay had decided to form the league to better prepare local teams for Brier competition. Manitoba was considered the hotbed of competitive curling and to compete we would have to develop on the same level.
The league needed a major sponsor and went to Labatt’s Brewery. Labatt’s rep Gordie Kyle was active in competitive curling circles and a happy marriage was formed that lasted 16 years. Curling like golf was considered a gentleman’s game, but being a gentleman meant abiding by the rules. To run the league effectively, the league executive enlisted the venerable Neil Duncan as it’s first commissioner. Duncan’s enthusiasum and knowledge ensured enforcement of the rules which resulted in fines for improper dress and conduct on the ice. This winter Neil will celebrate is 100th birthday and we continue to run the league in similar fashion abiding by the same conduct and rules as they did during that opening season. Today, Brian Mallon is our commissioner and does a fantastic job.
Bill Tetley, the 1975 Brier Champ, according to the Chronicle Journal article on Tuesday, October 26, 1976, headed the formable list of skips for the inaugural campaign. Others notably listed included Rick Lang’s Northern Ontario rink back in tact, Scott Hamilton and Larry Pineau.
The Tetley rink with onetime Canadian School Boy Champ, Tom Tod at third, Pete McCallum, no stranger to curling at second and Harvey Cochrane , who had won the North Western Ontario consuls two years previous at lead, claimed the inaugural league title. Tetley defeated the youngest team in the league, Doug Smith in the best of three final. Smith, runner up in the 1971 High School Championship had Dick Henderson at third, Art Lappalainen at second and Alf Childs at lead. Smith won the opening game 9-4, with the veteran Tetley crew squaring things up with a 9-5 victory to setup the showdown in game three.
Game three went right down to the wire. Tied at 5, Tetley went into the 10th end without the hammer. Tetley’s first rock was a perfect draw around a guard almost to the button. Smith missed a takeout with his first stone and the experienced Tetley put up another perfect guard biting the 12 foot. Smith went after that stone for the double kill. The end result, Tetley stole one for the dramatic 6-5 victory.
(Article quotes taken from the 1995/1996 Major League Program)