Ex-Petes fill NHL benches

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

When the puck drops on the OHL final tomorrow night at the John Labatt Centre, you can be sure various prominent members of the "Peterborough Mafia" will be paying close attention.

That's what NHL coach Ken Hitchcock -- then in Dallas -- dubbed the seemingly endless stream of hockey players and coaches who use Peterborough as a springboard for their careers. When he made the comment, longtime NHL analyst and ex-Peterborough head coach Gary Green remembers Hitchcock spotting former Petes Bob Gainey and Doug Jarvis in the same room.

"Not many hockey games get played any more without a Petes connection," Green, a Tillsonburg native, said yesterday from Toronto.

Players? No major junior team has churned out more than Peterborough. Just for starters, there are guys such as Chris Pronger, Mike Ricci and Eric Staal.

Coaches? Scotty Bowman, Mike Keenan and Roger Neilson all cut their teeth with the Petes.

"It was considered an honour to play for Peterborough. It meant something to the players," said Hockey News writer Mike Brophy, who covered the Petes for 13 years. "The Petes were a well-run organization that would create a yearly budget and pretty much stick to it. They weren't like some teams that would buy you a leather jacket and a sports car for your dad to get you to play for them."

This London-Peterborough showdown pits the hottest against the historic among OHL outfits. With their winning ways, bottomless pockets and big crowds at the John Labatt Centre, the Knights are gunning for a second league title after winning their first crown last season.

The Petes are in their 13th league final and have already won it eight times. But for all that OHL success, the teams are still knotted up in Memorial Cup victories at one apiece.

London, of course, won last year. Peterborough's lone Cup came with Green as coach in 1979.

A season later, the Petes made it back to the Cup under Keenan, but the players were accused of conspiring to throw a round-robin game to set up a final contest against Cornwall, instead of tournament host Regina.

Peterborough got Cornwall but lost the championship in overtime. Irate Regina fans pelted the ice with eggs, debris -- and according to Brophy -- a live chicken.

During the zaniness, Brophy ran up to a police officer standing around to ask if he was going to do anything about the scene.

"He said, 'Shut up or I'll arrest you,' " Brophy said.

Green, who had left the organization but was at those games scouting for Washington, gets upset when anyone blames Peterborough or Keenan for the incident. He felt the result was an inevitable product of a bad Cup format that put the Petes in an impossible position.

"It was a nothing game and I've seen enough of Canadian hockey players to know that when there's nothing to play for, you're probably going to lose," Green said. "I've seen Canada lose to Kazakhstan in situations like that."

Conspiracy theorists would note Peterborough hasn't won a Memorial Cup in its three trips back since that 1980 debacle.

The Petes were first named the TPTs (Toronto-Peterborough Transit) before adopting the familiar Petes nickname. They hope their 50th anniversary celebration this season brings that 26-year Memorial Cup losing streak to an end.

London and Peterborough play only twice a year these days, but there have been memorable battles.

The last time the Knights and Petes met in the playoffs was in the second round in 1973, with Peterborough prevailing nine points to four in the old first-to-reach-eight points format.

In recent years, Brophy recalls a lengthy buildup to a Tie Domi-Louie DeBrusk scrap that never happened because the Knights' fighter was hurt. With the Peterborough Memorial Centre packed, Domi skated onto the ice and raised his arms in frustration after noticing DeBrusk wasn't in the lineup.

The Knights almost had Petes fingerprints all over them when Green's Stadium Consultants International, which made a bid to design the JLC in 2000, was part of a group with first right of refusal to purchase the hockey club from the Tarry family.

Green and friends didn't exercise their right and the team ended up going to the Hunters, who have turned it into a successful business. "It was a competitive time," London co-owner Mark Hunter said. "It was hit-and-miss there for a while."

"The Hunters owe me a beer," said Green, who might travel to the arena he helped pave the way for tomorrow for Game 1 of the Knights-Petes series.

Though the Petes have the storied history, they're not afraid to borrow from the newly successful kids on the block. Petes GM Jeff Twohey, a longtime friend of Mark Hunter, liked the way the Knights honoured former stars with pictures on their banners in the rafters. The Petes are incorporating that same touch in their arena.

PETES COACHES

Ted (Teeder) Kennedy, 1957-58

Scotty Bowman, 1958-61

Neil Burke, 1961-62

Frank Mario, 1962-65

Roger Bedard, 1965-66

Roger Neilson, 1966-76

Gary Young, 1976-77

Gary Green, 1977-79

Mike Keenan, 1979-80

Dave Dryden, 1980-81

Dick Todd, 1981-93

Dave MacQueen, 1993-96

Brian Drumm, 1996-97

Jeff Twohey, 1997-98

Rick Allain, 1998-2004

Dick Todd, 2004-present


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