LEGENDS: PLAYER GALEN HEADAlthough Galen Head’s hockey adventures took place in six different cities in North America, the most interesting and extensive chapters of his hockey history took place in two cities, Grande Prairie, Alberta and Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
When Galen was six, the Grande Prairie Memorial Arena was familiar turf. His Dad was manager of the arena and Galen all but lived there. The arena was the context for epic battles between the Grande Prairie Athletics and rivals such as the Hythe Mustangs and the Ft. St. John Flyers. However at age six it was not the battles on the ice that captured Galen’s imagination, it was the rink rats. As soon as he was strong enough to push a scraper, he joined the prestigious Grande Prairie Memorial Arena rink rat fraternity. It was in the atmosphere of the Memorial Arena in Grande Prairie where Galen developed his basic skating and hockey skills but it was not organized hockey.There is only so much hockey one can learn without organized competition. Like sand paper that is needed to polish a surface or a grindstone to sharpen a knife – the rough edges of competition polish and sharpen one’s skills. Galen’s competitive spirit motivated him to move beyond the comfort of the Memorial Arena into the world of minor hockey and the outdoor twin rinks of the Bear Creek Flats where he learned to be part of a team and duel with opponents. Along with his friends and brother Gerald, Galen played through the various levels of minor hockey at the twin rinks until he was sixteen.
In 1986, Galen Head then retired from a professional hockey career and living in Johnstown Pennsylvania was interviewed about his memories of playing minor hockey at the Bear Creek Flats. He recalls a skid shack equipped with a wood burning pot bellied stove that was positioned between the rinks. “We would go into the shack when we came off the ice and the coach would run in saying it was time for a line change and we’d go back onto the ice.” He went on to say, “What I remember the most was the awful cold weather. I remember going out with our helmets on and our toques underneath to keep from freezing. Probably the best days I ever had.” It was in the setting of the twin rinks on the Bear Creek Flats, with its cracked and rippled natural ice that Galen acquired the essential tools of the hockey trade that gave him his professional career.
At age sixteen Galen was recruited to play for the senior Grande Prairie Athletics (the As). Playing with and against mature men in the South Peace Hockey League his playing ability was raised to another level. At the end of his first season, Galen received front-page coverage in the Tribune announcing that he had won Rookie of the Year Honors for the 1963-64 SPHL season. This brought him to the attention of the Edmonton Oil Kings and in the middle of the 1964-65 hockey season Galen played his last game in an A’s jersey and became an Edmonton Oil King. Throughout his tenure with the Kings, he was a complete player and steadily improved. He was with the Oil Kings when they defeated Bobby Orr’s team, the Oshawa Generals to win the Memorial Cup. His performance with the Kings culminated in the 1966-67 season with a remarkable record of 50 goals and 42 assists for a total of 92 points in 56 games 18% of the team’s total goals.
Galen’s success with the Oil Kings equipped him with the confidence he needed to pursue a career in hockey. Galen’s bid for a professional hockey career in 1967 landed him in Pennsylvania where he joined the Johnstown Jets and Johnstown quickly embraced him as one of their own. In the midst of his first season with the Jets he scored 53 goals and earned 105 points in 70 games. Based on his rookie season performance as a Jet Detroit called him up to play in a game against Toronto. The following season he was assigned to play with Detroit’s number one farm team, the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles where a serious early season injury likely thwarted his aspirations to play in the NHL.
However, there was a good fit between Galen and Johnstown. Like Grande Prairie Johnstown enjoyed “rugged, rough and tumble” hockey and there he met and married Gracie. In the 1976 playoffs during Galen’s last season as a player, the Jets and their opponents, the Buffalo Norsemen, were involved in a legendary pre-game brawl reminiscent of scenes in the movie Slap Shot. It was a decisive fifth game in the playoff series that ended without a shot being fired on goal. The opposition refused to return to the ice after the brawl and forfeited the game. That night the standing room only fans in Johnstown saw a fight but no game and after the fight, two police officers and their canine dogs escorted the Norsemen from the arena.
There is something prophetic about this incident as later that year Universal Studios filmed the movie Slap Shot in Johnstown. Galen was captain of the team that inspired the movie, games were filmed in the Johnstown Memorial Arena and the infamous Hanson brothers were members of the 1976 Jets squad. Galen’s wife, Gracie played Pam, one of the player’s wives, and she reports that she still receives a cheque every time the movie is played on TV.
According to a Johnstown sports historian, “Head’s 308 goals rank third all-time in Johnstown history and his 601 points rank fourth. He also had 293 assists, sixth all-time. For eight seasons and 561 games # 8 was the Johnstown number one ambassador on the ice. Galen Head, the prolific scorer, team leader, gentleman, and all-around good guy, represented the Jets as a star player, team captain, and player coach.”
During his retirement Galen organized a high school hockey program that won several state championship competitions, he was a volunteer coach with the Jets and he and his wife established a hockey scholarship program to commemorate the life of their son who was killed in an automobile accident. In 2003 Galen’s #8 jersey was retired and he was inducted into the Johnstown Hockey Hall of Fame and the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame. He is recognized in 2010 as a Grande Prairie Hockey Legend.