It’s the spring of 1968.
Carl Marsh and some of his 3-Field Squadron teammates are in the stands in a frigid rink in Petawawa, ON.
On the ice, another hockey team is doing line rushes.
Up and back
Up and back.
Up and back.
CFB Rockcliffe has the ice for two hours and they use every minute.
Their boys are winded grabbing water at the bench, and the Chilliwack boys just shake their heads.
When it’s their time to hit the ice, they only use 45 minutes.
Some casual line rushes. A little passing and shooting and off to relax.
They are watched from the stands by another opponent, and Marsh hears the disparaging remarks.
“What are these guys doing?”
“What a joke.”
Going into the first-ever Canadian Armed Forces Hockey Championship, 3-Field was a nobody from nowhere.
Picked from a unit of 250-300 men, going up against bases of 5000-7000 men, they were seen as an oddity — a team that would be quickly dispatched and sent back to the sticks.
“They never expected us to win it,” said Max Brennan, one of the key forwards on the team. “They didn’t think we’d come close to them. But the thing is, we weren’t their calibre. We were stronger than all of them.”
The core of their team came from the 3-Field Western Amateur Hockey League team, which snapped up every good player that came through town, and 3-Field had been getting better and better each year.
They would have been even more formidable had they been able to bring their full contingent. But because they were travelling to a military tournament, they couldn’t bring civilians.
Ten of their regulars had to stay home, and even coach Orv Litchfield had to step aside.
The roster was augmented with servicemen from a nearby base in Aldergrove, including Wally Grant.
“We weren’t familiar with Wally at all, but he was good,” Brennan said. “He didn’t like playing with me and Boots (Don Boutilier) though because we passed the puck between the two of us all the time.”
3-Field knew they had the talent to spare, with guys like Brennan, Boutilier, Marsh, Wayne Jones, John Healie and team captain Bob Fiddler.
Doug ‘Smokey’ Grossart was in his early 1940s, a rock on defence who acted as a player-coach.
Jones was a talented rushing defencemen, helping to get the puck up ice time after time.
Manager Gus Collins and trainer Butch Goodey always made sure they were well prepared, and the team proved their worth as they steamrolled their way through a zone qualifier in Comox.
3-Field brought two goalies to Petawawa. Larry Anderson was a butterfly style netminder.
Larry Jensen played more of a stand-up style, and the team interchanged them effectively to throw off opponents.
What 3-Field lacked was depth.
The big bases could roll three or four lines, while 3-Field played most of the time with two lines and four defencemen.
But after 3-Field bombed CFB Bagotville 8-4 in their opening game, everyone knew the Westerners were no joke.
Brennan had four goals.
And if any doubt remained after that, it dissipated after 3-Field pummeled the pre-tournament favourite Trenton Flyers.
The final score was 6-2.
“A guy from Trenton told us afterwards, ‘You guys just won the cup,’” Brennan said.
Another pre-tourney favourite had already been sent packing by someone else, leaving 3-Field to face CFB Rockcliffe in the final. The score was close (4-2), but the ice was heavily tilted in 3-Field’s favour.
“The reason the score against Rockcliffe was close was because of their goalie, and we were losing that one 1-0 after two periods,” Brennan said. “Sheez! We were in their zone the entire time, but we couldn’t score on that guy!”
“Rockcliffe gave us a real hard time, and it was still 2-2 around the 12 minute mark of the third period,” added Marsh, who scored the winning goal.
Not one of the team’s biggest guns, Marsh never scored a bigger goal.
“There was a faceoff in Rockcliffe’s end, and Bob (Fiddler) re-arranged me a bit,” Marsh said. “The puck came back pretty fast and I raised my stick. They thought I was going to let it through to Jones, who was behind me, but I caught the goalie off-guard with a shot that he didn’t see.”
Jones iced it a few minutes later and the title was 3-Field’s.
The team may have won again had the unit not been scattered the year after.
Brennan, Grossart and several of the stalwarts were posted out, gutting the team.
“If we could have kept it together, we would have won it year after year, I know,” Brennan said. “The stars lined up for one year.”
Few people truly appreciated the gravity of 3-Field’s achievement at the time, and over time they slowly faded from memory.
But the Western Hockey League Bruins honoured the team a few years back, and now the spotlight shines on them again.
Marsh will be at Prospera Centre Saturday night.
So will Grossart, who’s 91 years old now.
Gus Collins is traveling down from Lone Butte and Don Fiddler is making the trip to represent his brother.
It promises to be a special night.
“Who’d have thought that anyone would remember us 46 years after we did this,” Marsh marvelled. “Someone thought to nominate us and I think that’s really great.”