Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Grand Prairie Legends : Galen Head, Johnstown Jets

The Grand Prairie Storm of the AJHL have honored Grand Prairie native and Johnstown Jets' star Galen Head on their website as a Grand Prairie Legend.


Although 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.

Where Are They Now? - Danny Sullivan, Goalie, Roanoke Valley Rebels

Netminder Danny Sullivan backstopped the Roanoke Valley Rebels to the EHL Playoff Finals in 1972-73. The photo to the right shows Sullivan with the Philadelphia Fireirds of the NAHL. Here's an article from the December 8, Kimberley (BC) Daily Bulletin on Sullivan's return home.
Dan Sully Sullivan returns to Kimberley

Carolyn Grant photo
Dan Sullivan gives Bob Misuraca a trim.

There is a new barber in Kimberley. Actually, Dan Sullivan, who recently opened his barber shop next to the Grub Stake Diner (in the Royal Bank Plaza), has been a barber in Nelson for 10 years.

Sully was born and raised here in Kimberley and left to pursue a professional hockey career as a goal tender for the Roanoke Rebels in the Eastern Hockey League. After stops in Charlotte, North Carolina, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, Dan ended his career in Nelson for the Maple Leafs (WIHL) after the 1978 season.

A quick Bio: Growing up here in Kimberley, Sully was a minor hockey phenom as a forward. At 15, Danny put the pads on for the first time, backstopping the Kimberley Juveniles to the BC Championship when they defeated Summerland in the final. Kimberley was coached by Gerry Barre and Bob McDonald.

Sully played senior hockey in Cranbrook for the Royals and the Spokane Jets before turning pro in 1972.

He became a certified golf instructor under Moe Norman, teaching the method "natural golf" in Spokane on weekends while barbering 5 days a week in Nelson.

Kimberley has been down to 1 barbershop since Bill Dubé moved his shop to Summerland 8 years ago. Cranbrook has 2 barbershops and now Kimberley balances things a bit with the addition of Sully's Barber Shop.

Dan's wife Sandra, is a Kimberley girl and is enjoying being back in the area. Their 13 years old granddaughter Antonia is quite the skiing enthusiast and likes the fact that her great grandmother Kay Sullivan lives here in Kimberley. I remember Danny learned to ski on a $20.00 pair of Thunderbirds, when season ski passes were $30. How times have changed! On a personal note, I roomed with Sully in 1966 when he was playing Junior Hockey for the Burnaby Lakers.

Why is the Spectrum's demise unremarked upon?

Last month we lost an Eastern Hockey League arena, the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The Charlotte Checkers played the Jersey Devils there on December 28, 1972. There were a lot of articles about the Spectrum's demise. This article by Frank Fitzpatrick of the Philadelphia Inquirer from November 16 cuts to the heart of why some arenas stay forever, and other classic landmarks like the Spectrum are short-lived victims of the wrecking ball.

Posted on Tue, Nov. 16, 2010
Why is the Spectrum's demise unremarked upon?

In eight days, when a four-ton wrecking ball begins to pummel it like a Broad Street Bully, the Spectrum, a landmark arena that launched a sporting renaissance in Philadelphia, will crumble into oblivion after months of pre-demolition ballyhoo but almost no opposition.

Its impending demise points out something contradictory about this sports-mad city: No matter how rich their history, Philadelphia venues such as Convention Hall, Connie Mack Stadium, Municipal Stadium, the old Arena, and now the Spectrum seem to be expendable in a way that more historically authentic or architecturally appealing structures often are not.

While threats to old and ornate buildings or to prized works of art (remember the battles that kept Thomas Eakins' The Gross Clinic and Maxfield Parrish's Dream Garden in Philadelphia?) frequently ignite fruitful outrage, the disappearances of these urban sports palaces rarely has.


"I'm not quite sure," said Scott Doyle, director of grants and state historical markers for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. "But there has been no concerted efforts that we're aware of to preserve the Spectrum. And there weren't any when Municipal/JFK Stadium came down, either."

Perhaps it's because of their disposable nature. In sports, after all, the old traditionally yields to the younger and sleeker. Connie Mack Stadium was replaced by Veterans Stadium, which gave way to Citizens Bank Park. The Spectrum followed Convention Hall, before its own demise was guaranteed by the CoreStates Center (now the Wells Fargo Center).

"A lot of it comes down to money," said Philadelphia-based urban planner Sandy Sorlien. "We love the Spectrum and places like that for what took place inside. But it's a pretty unremarkable building and if it were preserved, would it attract a lot of tourists? Probably not. It's almost always cheaper to tear down and start over."

Or it could be, as Sorlien suggested, the fact that many of Philadelphia's venues - Municipal Stadium, the Spectrum and, to a lesser extent, Convention Hall - weren't located in neighborhoods, which eliminated one potential group of supporters.

No one loves them

What makes this passivity even more surprising is that these ballparks and arenas have had broad civic connections. What Philadelphian, for example, never attended a game, concert or ice show at the Spectrum? What local fan hasn't heard his or her father talk about Shibe Park (later Connie Mack) or the Army-Navy game at Municipal Stadium?

Author Bruce Kuklick, in his 1991 history To Every Thing a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia, notes how this abandonment of sporting venues could be construed as a generation "squandering its heritage and demolishing places where the public past is manifest."

It's not like there isn't precedent for sports-preservation efforts. Groups aimed at saving prized sports venues have risen elsewhere.

In Pittsburgh, there recently were several well-organized, but failed, efforts to save the longtime home of the NHL's Penguins, Mellon Arena.

"And there certainly have been more significant events at the Spectrum than at Mellon," Doyle said.

At the University of Maryland, alumni and others have made it known they want historic Cole Field House preserved. And a community church came forward to save Los Angeles' Forum.

But not in Philadelphia.

"No one loves these buildings," Sorlien said. "It might be a different story if they were located in a neighborhood, like Wrigley Field" is in Chicago.

In 2007, the proposed demolition of two neglected North Broad Street buildings whose only noteworthy features appeared to be their grimy facades inflamed the city's preservation community. The outcry, which nonetheless failed to save the structures, was in marked contrast to the near-silence that just two years earlier met the end of Convention Hall.

That 74-year-old West Philadelphia arena, which had hosted four historic political conventions; a Beatles concert; speeches by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Pope John Paul II, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela; legendary hoops duels between Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell; and decades of sporting events and graduations, also disappeared with hardly a whimper of protest.

And though it's now recalled wistfully as a green cathedral, a martyr to modernity, the abandoned Connie Mack Stadium had become such a hazardous eyesore that North Philadelphia neighbors begged city officials to tear it down. Finally, in the spring of 1976, after demonstrators blocked Lehigh Avenue, Mayor Frank Rizzo gave the unsentimental order to "tear the . . . thing down!"

The Arena, at 45th and Market, and Municipal Stadium, where Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney fought once and Army and Navy battled innumerable times, suffered similarly inglorious and surprisingly unremarked-upon fates.

"The Spectrum and some of these other places aren't the kinds of beautiful buildings you would normally think about preserving," Sorlien said. "What's special about them is what took place inside, what lives on in memories. And the reminders of those kind of things can be transferred to another site."

Think of Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies' Wall of Fame from the Vet and the statue of Connie Mack from outside the stadium named in his honor have been relocated.

Not around for long

Whether or not you believe the Spectrum deserves to die, it did have a surprisingly short life.

When it opened in the fall of 1967, the new home of the 76ers and Flyers helped lend a sheen of respectability to those franchises, each of which would embark on eras of great success within a decade.

Of the arenas in the then-12-team NBA at the close of the 1967-68 season, eight, not counting the Spectrum, still exist, including the fourth Madison Square Garden, which opened in February 1968.

Detroit's Cobo Arena, Cincinnati Gardens, the Baltimore Civic Center, the Forum, San Francisco's Cow Palace, the Seattle Center Coliseum, and the San Diego Sports Arena have all lost their major tenants, but have been refitted for continued use.

And the only three circa 1967-68 NBA buildings to have been demolished since then were all at least 34 years older than the Spectrum - the 1928 Boston Garden, the 1929 Chicago Stadium, and the 1934 Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis.

"I'm not certain about all of them, but a majority of those were located in downtowns or in neighborhoods, where it's easier to come up with another use," Sorlien said.

One place in Philadelphia, however, where a sports past has been preserved is the Blue Horizon, the 1865 edifice on North Broad that has been a boxing mecca since 1961. While it still features fight cards, the venue also hosts weddings and parties.

Another example is the University of Pennsylvania, where Franklin Field and the Palestra, two aging but legendary venues, are not only still in existence but continue to be used by the school's athletes.

That could have changed 20 years ago, according to Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky, when there were discussions about tearing down Franklin Field, now 115 years old.

"They had to decide whether to spend tens of millions to make sustainable changes or tear it down," Bilsky said. "Princeton, at about that same time, was faced with a similar decision about Princeton Stadium.

"Princeton decided to tear it down and build a new stadium, but Penn said, 'No, we've got to do what it takes to keep Franklin Field.' " The Palestra, built of brick and steel in six months during 1927, is a solid enough structure "to last millions of years," Bilsky said.

"The challenge is keeping it maintained and adding certain amenities from time to time," he said. "I can't imagine anyone ever suggesting that we tear down the Palestra. Not without going through all kinds of committees here."