Ontario South Down: A Hockey David vs. Goliath
The Ontario South Selects was a spring/summer ice hockey team in the mid to late ’80’s. The team was made up of the biggest and best 1973 born players in Southern Ontario compiled and coached by Mike Rice.
The entire 1989 summer roster was highly touted for the 1990 Ontario Hockey League draft and in that summer, the team had gone undefeated in various tournaments from Windsor to Toronto.
ONTARIO SOUTH SELECTS
Ontario South was a summer hockey team put together by Mike Rice that combined many of the biggest and best 1973 born players in the southern Ontario region. The team first came on my radar when I was about 13 or 14 years old as I had heard my friend Ed Novacco had been asked to play for them in the summer of ’87. Ed was the only player from Chatham asked that first summer, and I thought to myself that it would be pretty cool to get asked to play on that team. Best players my age? Yep, I wanted to be one.
I never did get asked or contacted to play for them, but over the next few summers I had heard of different friends, peers and opponents being asked and playing summer hockey for Ontario South. Names like Matt Haley, Rob Konecny Adam Pauwels, Ritch Schaafsma and a bunch of the boys from rival Windsor Club 240 like Alex Stojanov, Aaron Dark and Ryan Pawlukall played for them, just to name a few. It was common knowledge that Ontario South was the best of the best in the region and in the summer of ’88 two more of my buddies Kevin Barnard and Perry Pappas got asked to join the team.
Could anyone take down Ontario South?
AUGUST OF ’89
With Eddie and Perry being on the team in 1989, I had heard all about the summer that Ontario South was having. Going to all the top summer tournaments, against all the best teams and players and not losing a game. Their most recent story was about going up to Toronto and putting a beating on some of the best teams up there. Eddie and Perry had just come off their first season’s with the Dresden Jr. C Kings, and at 16 years-old, I was hoping to advance to junior the coming fall.
I had just completed a tough lacrosse season and was unwinding before starting my training for the upcoming junior tryouts.
I will never forget that August Saturday afternoon in 1989 when the phone rang as I was watching a Jays game;
“Hey Dwight, it’s Ivan Warriner here, wondering if you would be interested in playing some hockey.”
Blenheim’s Ivan Warriner was one of the best. most respected hockey men in the area in the 70’s and 80’s. He had been involved with the Golden Acres Hockey School, that I had attended and worked at in the previous years, and I was friends with his son Todd. Ivan was putting a team together to play in the Belle River Summer Classic, a tournament hosted by Ontario South. Ivan remembers;
“Well, because of Todd, I was coaching a younger team in that up coming Belle River Summer Classic tournament, so I thought why not put a team in the older group as well. I knew you and your family from previous years, so I thought I would give you a call.”
In my view, Ontario South was the best 15 or 20 hockey players my age in the area. Ivan’s team was going to have the next best 15 give or take a few. I had never been contacted to play with Ontario South, but….
now I was going to get my chance to beat them.
ONTARIO SOUTH WAS THE HEAVY FAVORITE TO WIN THE BELLE RIVER SUMMER CLASSIC.
In researching this story, I was unable to track down coach Mike Rice, but was able to narrow down the ’89 roster through various sources ;
’89 ONTARIO SOUTH SELECTS ROSTER: Ed Novacco, Perry Pappas, Todd Wetzel, Bill Weir, Alex Stojanov, Ryan Pawluk, Aaron Dark, Jarret Wills, Bryan Dunn, Mike Baxter, Greg Gorski, Craig Dundas, Glen MacKinnon, Mike Harkes, Jamie Marshall, Brad Spry, Dan Tanevski and Rich Gallace
I had faced all of these guys against various teams and had played with a few of them too. They were a huge team. In the late 80’s and 90’s the game was going BIG. I didn’t necessarily believe BIG was better, but Eric Lindros was hockey’s poster boy for future prospects and the best ’73 born player in the world. Many of these guys would get drafted the next season and go on to play in the Ontario Hockey League.
Ivan’s roster was not quite as big and rough but I thought it was equally as talented and actually had more talent and skill than Ontario South. There was no question we were a lot smaller in size. We had a few players who had already played junior C as well; The team was called the Lambton-Kent Lakers and we wore the green, white and yellow Wallaceburg Lakers Jr. C team jerseys
LAMBTON KENT LAKERS ROSTER: Ryan Kelly, Dan Gardiner, Ritch Schaafsma, Scott Bacik, Adam Pauwels, Dan Degurse, Dave Vellinga, Chad Imeson, Shadd Smith, Randy Hachey, Sean Smith, Todd Warriner, Jeff Fancy and Dwight Wakabayashi.
I contacted some people on both sides of the game for memories and comments from this showdown;
“I remember Ontario South was supposed to cake walk in that tournament. They hadn’t lost a game all summer and had just come back from Toronto where they won a big tournament.”
“I remember that tournament well. Obviously, I had my own motivations to do well in that tournament and against Ontario South in particular.”
“I definitely think we were huge underdogs going in to that tournament. Ontario South was loaded with the TOP players in the region. For us, we had to get to the finals to face Ontario South and there was no guarantee we would get there.”
“We were just a bunch of hungry guys who knew if we listened to Ivan, we would do alright”
“I don’t remember too much about that tourney aside from the fact that Dad wouldn’t let me play with you older guys until the playoff round and finals.”
Our roster did have underage ringer and future Olympian and NHLer Todd Warriner, and I recall he remarkably played in both age brackets of the Belle River Classic that weekend.
SHAZZY and BASS
My favorite memory of that tournament was playing on a line with two Blenheim boys Ritch Schaafsma (Shazzy) and Scott Bacik. (Bass) It was my first time playing with players on the same creative level as I was and we clicked right away. It took some nudging from the coach though;
“I remember the first and only thing I had to say to you at the start of that tournament. ‘Dwight, if you pass it to Ritchie and Scotty, they will give it back. You looked at me like this light bulb had turned on in your head. LOL”
Ritchie Schaafsma is now the Vice President of corporate development for General Motors China. He currently lives in Shanghai with his wife of 17 years Annetta and has two kids; son Sebastien (16) and daughter Sophia (14). He still plays in a men’s league in China with many expats from various countries around the globe. The highlight of Schaafsma’s hockey now being that he is on the same team as his son Sebastien.
Schaafsma remembers the tournament well;
“On a personal note, I remember relishing the underdog role. I had played for Ontario South Selects in the past and not been invited back. I always played my best hockey when I felt I had something to prove.
I thought the group that Ivan put together was made up of small town boys who refused to be outworked and followed instructions from our coaches.”
In the era before cell phones and social media, it was tough to track down scores, highlights and stats but Shazzy, Bass and I lit up that tournament from the get go. I will never forget that because you always wonder how you measure up against the best of the best. Our line, along with Ryan Kelly and Dan Gardiner up front led an onslaught of tic-tac-toe quick strike offence throughout the tournament. Our D was led by Randy Hachey, Dave Vellinga and another underage star Shadd Smith. Our goalie Jeff Fancy was unbeatable.
We picked up and executed Ivan’s game plan and system and got through the prelims without losing a game. This set up the showdown that all of us wanted from the start. A chance to beat Ontario South.
“It was the going to be the highest calibre hockey game I had ever played, and I wanted to beat Ontario South bad.”
ONTARIO SOUTH SELECTS vs. LAMBTON KENT LAKERS
“The size difference between the two teams was noticeable. Ontario South took that game lightly. They came out running around trying to kill you guys, and before they knew it, they were down 2-0 and never recovered.”
“They came out really undisciplined and we were up two or three goals before the end of the first period. I remember I was impressed with the smaller town guys like Sean Smith and Randy Hachey. They had never played against guys like this before.”
“I remember playing on a line with Warriner, and he batted one in out of mid air.”
“Ivan told me to shut down Todd Wetzel. I followed him around the whole game and he didn’t do anything.”
“I remember playing in the finals and they had a really big team. Remember I was just a young kid, but I wanted to play against the big guys.”
“We were just hungrier than they were. We played Ivan’s system to perfection. I remember they were really pissed off that we were even there.”
“I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember our team was really well coached and I was picked as the MVP so that’s probably why I remember. LOL”
How Did David defeat Goliath?
Contrary to the 1970’s and 1990’s era of hockey, size isn’t everything. Fast forward to the game in 2018, and the Lambton Kent Lakers would have been the favorites with skill, smarts, coaching and work ethic as the keys to victory.
Ritch Schaafsma explains;
“I definitely think we were the underdogs going into it, and the Ontario South Selects were loaded with the TOP end players from the region. I was surprised we were able to compete let alone win.
The keys to our victory had been instilled in us from a young age by phenomenal coaches such as Ivan and Mick Gray who focused on 3 things: skills development, playing as a team and working as hard as you could. Those lessons have served me through my years of playing hockey and carried my professional career!”
I have a few memories of that game that stick in my head until today.
- I got nailed in the open ice for the hardest hit I had taken in my life. I think it was delivered by either Glen MacKinnon or Craig Dundas but I popped right back up and was not hurt by it at all. It was clean, I was carrying the puck with my head down a bit.
- In thousands of high-level hockey games where I was the smallest guy on the ice I have been hit hard only four times that I remember. In this game by Glen MacKinnon, twice in Great Lakes Jr C. once each by veterans Tim Cox and Dave Maine and once in the B.C. Junior B. by Colin Robie. Enjoy the admission boys!
- I scored a goal. The third goal in fact, on a rebound in front of the net. Two behemoth defencemen on either side of me too slow to respond to a rebound and I pounced on it. The game result ended up 5-2 so I ended up with the game winning goal.
- Teammate Todd Warriner was the best player in that game. I had played with him a few times and against him a few times by then and he was the best player on the ice every time.
- Lambton Kent Laker goalie Jeff Fancy was the Most Valuable Player in the game and the tournament.
- I played one hockey game in my entire life against my buddies Ed Novacco and Perry Pappas and I scored a goal and beat them in the game.
FINAL – Lambton Kent Lakers 5 – Ontario South Selects 2
ONTARIO SOUTH DOWN!
Footnote: I say this game had the top 30 players in it “give or take a few” because in my opinion, there were some notable ’73 born players missing from this game for various reasons players who belonged in this game include: Kevin Barnard, Paul Tewkesbury, Roy Carr, Todd Karnas, Jeff Gates, Matt Haley, Rob Konecny.
SIX DEGREES OF THE NHL
- LKL forward Todd Warriner was selected 4th overall in the 1992 NHL entry draft by the Quebec Nordiques and went on to a very solid NHL and professional career.
- OSS forward Alex Stojanov was selected 6th overall in the 1991 NHL entry draft by the Vancouver Canucks. He was later traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Markus Naslund.
- In 1996, OSS forward Perry Pappas went on to play an exhibition game in the NHL for the Vancouver Canucks. Detailed in my biography of Pappas called “The Toughest Guy In Here”
- LKL linemate Ritch Schaafsma and I also played on a line in the 1989 Ontario Under- 17 tryout camp with Ridgetown native Rob Konecny as our center. Rob’s son Travis is currently in the NHL playing for the Philadelphia Flyers.