Now in its 41st season, the NAPE Black Horse Hockey League is still chugging along … and for good reason.
Executive member Bob Royle says the reasons the league has lasted so long is simple.
“It's fun, but not too competitive,” said Royle, who looks after the league’s stats. “We control any dirty play. If any player starts to look dangerous, he’s gone.”
The NAPE Black Horse league, one of the longest-running recreation hockey leagues in the province — if not its most senior rec hockey circuit — operates with a referee, a timekeeper, team jerseys and post-game refreshments. Rosters go through an overhaul every year, so as not to have the same players and the same squads each hockey season.
“Everybody gets to know everybody,” Royle said, “and it’s not overly competitive. I have had guys tell me they don’t have to worry about getting hurt.”
Thanks to former president Kevin Dicks, Royle said, the league abandoned body checking in the 1980s, although players are still permitted to take slapshots.
“I didn’t play high school or university, but this is a rec league with a bit of competition… a step higher than a scrap game,” he said.
The players’ ages ranges anywhere between their 20s up to their 60s, although most are between 30-40 years. And, although the hockey league bears the name of the union, eligibility is not restricted to union members.
The league has included some well-known players over the years, including Doug Squires from the Feildians and St. John’s Capitals of the 1960s, Erik Seaward and Doug Atkinson from the 1970s Caps and Tony Cuomo from the Corner Brook and Mount Pearl senior teams of the 80s.
Royle also points out the league , with the assistance of Molson Brewery, has raised thousands of dollars for various charities over the years.
“We’ve sponsored a family for Christmas and made donations to the Bliss Murphy Centre. Over the past 10 years, we estimate (the league has donated) about $4,000,” he said.
The NAPE Black Horse Recreation Hockey League was formed after a meeting in the Department of Health, East Block, Confederation Building in the Fall of 1971.
The Newfoundland Government Employees Association Branch 9 was later changed to the Newfoundland Association Of Public Employees (NAPE) Local 7104 Hockey league.
Leo McCann was a member of the original committee, which also included Doug Evans, Cyril Galway, Nick Murphy, Arnold Greene, Max Osmond, Ron Fardy, Everett Morris and John Boland. He remembers how it all started.
“We had a team which played in the Civil Service league, but there were so many people interested, we figured that, for about the same cost, we could form our own league and give a game to about 60 or 70 players,” said McCann, now 72.
The league has had up to five teams and began playing out of Memorial Stadium. It now consists of teams nicknamed Black Horse, Dominion, Canadian Light and Canadian playing games Sundays at Feildian Gardens and Mondays at Mile One Centre.
McCann, who played in the NAPE league up to the age of 55, said part of the fun was listening to everyone in the Confederation Building cafeteria talk about the games the next day.
“And when you’d pick up a phone to talk to someone in another department during work, you could put a face to the name,” McCann said.
As for the 59-year-old Royle, he says he will play until he can’t anymore, “or I’m the slowest in the league.
“And then I’ll coach.”