A blast from the past

JOHN SHORT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

Memories are made of this:

* Al Hamilton, always a terrific skater, moving to join old friends during a nifty pre-game ceremony.

* Hamilton and former defence partner Bob Falkenberg standing side by side, grinning at the camera as they did so many times during the old Oil Kings glory days of the 1960s.

* Bill Bucyk, the first oldtimer to be introduced, getting a warm ovation that had little do with the fact that his brother Johnny, also a long-ago Oil King, went on to become a Hockey Hall of Famer.

* Vic Mah, deeply involved with the Oil Kings since their earliest times, getting the loudest ovation of all when son Stanley escorted him to centre ice for the ceremoial opening faceoff.

All of the veterans introduced at Rexall Place last night before the new-look Oil Kings made their Western Hockey League return have been saying virtually the same thing for several weeks -- but what else would you expect.

"Sure, it's great that junior hockey is back in Edmonton," former goaltender Larry Hendricks told an old friend before the puck dropped last night.

"It's too bad that the game (at the major junior level) ever went away."

To the credit of all the old Oil Kings -- including former Edmonton Oilers player and assistant general manager Bruce MacGregor, who had a solid NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers -- there was no public criticism of the Brian Shaw and Ed Chynoweth regimes that led junior hockey out of this city and ultimately kept it away for far too long.

"No doubt, this is a great place for junior hockey," said Wayne Meier, who got his start with Bill Hunter's Oil Kings about 40 years ago and now scouts Western Canada for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He predicted the new team will be stronger than expected on the blue-line but should have trouble making the playoffs, as most expansion franchises do.

"There's no way to compare this organization with the ones that Shaw and Chynoweth operated," he added, with a nod to the parent Edmonton Oilers organization.

"These guys know what they're doing.

"I've seen more promotion of hockey in the last couple of weeks this time around than I saw in the entire time that Shaw and Chynoweth were here."

Meier had no difficulty recognizing - and explaining -how thoroughly times have changed.

"Before, any promotion that was done had to be free or almost free," said the man instrumental in finding Hendrick and goaltending partner Doug Soetaert along with top defenceman Tom Bladon and others for the powerhouse Oil Kings that Hunter operated.

Meier probably put his finger on the biggest change from then to now with one off-hand comment: "In those days (silver collection), you could get into the old Gardens for a nickel."

Those days are gone, but early response made it clear the reborn Oil Kings are likely to have new heroes before long.


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