During 10 years with the club, he brought a lot of talented hockey players to St. Marys
(Part 1 of a two-week feature)
By Pat Payton
It’s been well documented that St. Marys Lincolns have won two All-Ontario championships in their long, rich and storied history in Jr. ‘B’ hockey.
Veteran Lincs teams hoisted the Sutherland Cup in 1962-63 and again in 1975-76.
The General Manager of the ‘75-76 club was Mike Brogden. He’s still a fixture at Lincolns’ home games and he also sits on the team’s Alumni committee. Brogden has often said how important the Lincs are to the town. They’re an organization that’s helped put the Stonetown on the map.
Brogden served as Lincolns’ GM for 10 seasons, starting in the late 1960s and finishing up following the 1976-77 season. He’s a man who brought a lot of talented young hockey players to town. And the record shows that he got the better of many deals in the process, too.
Prior to becoming the Lincs’ GM, Brogden coached the Byron Midgets and they often played the Cement Midgets from St. Marys in tournaments.
“In Byron, I had good teams,” he said in a recent interview with the Independent. “I had players such as Andy Spruce and Rob Ramage, a bunch of kids who went on to play Jr. ‘A’ and later in the pros. When we played St. Marys, I always had our guys revved up. If there was a team we wanted to beat, it was St. Marys because it was my home town,” Brogden recalled with a laugh.
Ferris Stewart was the Lincolns’ coach at the time (1968). It was at a tournament that Stewart asked Brogden if he’d be interested in becoming the GM in St. Marys. “We lived in London at the time, and I told him we were moving back to St. Marys,” he remembers. “Ferris told me that he didn’t have a manager at the time, and I told him that I was interested.”
Brogden worked with Stewart for about a season and a half, and then the Lincs made a coaching change and brought in Barry Hearn midway through the 1969-70 season.
“It was approaching Christmas and we were in last place,” he said. “We made no changes and Barry got that team into the playoffs. He turned that season right around.”
Special relationship with Hearn
Brogden described his relationship with Hearn as a “special” one. Before they were the Lincs’ coach and GM tandem, they were boyhood friends and teammates.
“I grew up at Barry’s, that’s where it all started,” Brogden said. “I knew Barry since the time we were in grade school in the early 1950s. We were both Eastwarders. In the summertime, we would have a ball team that played teams from the Northward and Southward. Whenever they formed a team, we were both on the Eastward team. Then later as teenagers, we hung around together in the same circles.”
During seven seasons together with the Lincolns, Hearn and Brogden enjoyed a lot of success. They guided St. Marys teams to two Western League titles (1971-72 and ‘75-76) and they also finished second and third and fourth three times. The ‘71-72 team reached the Sutherland Cup final, losing to the Markham Waxers, and the ‘75-76 team captured the provincial title on a spring night in Collingwood.
Two St. Marys teams (1970-71 and 1973-74) also represented their league at the Ontario Winter Games (in Toronto and Thunder Bay) over that stretch.
Brogden remembers re-acquiring goalie Dennis Thorpe out of the Quebec Major Junior League just in time for the ‘73-74 Winter Games over the Christmas holidays. Lincs finished second to Oakville Blades that year.
Overall, it was quite a run for Hearn and Brogden. Their record as coach and manager is unmatched in club history.
“Barry and I saw players exactly the same,” Brogden said. “If he said he needed a defenceman, and I could find one and bring him in, I knew that he would make the team. We thought the same when it came to players.
“What I always looked for when I scouted was, could the kid skate? That’s the first thing I looked for. And when I went and scouted a player, I always looked for who was making him look good, too. You looked for the kid who knew how to play hockey.”
Brogden recalled a story about going to Windsor to scout prospects. All the ‘bird dogs’ were there to watch Rick Kehoe, but he went to watch Jari Stromberg, who was Midget-age but playing Juvenile hockey.
“Jari scored two or three goals, and I wished he hadn’t because I knew he was going to attract attention from the other scouts,” Brogden said. “Afterwards, I was the only scout that went over and talked to him.” The next season, the big centreman was in St. Marys.
The following summer, Brogden travelled to Windsor to re-sign Stromberg for another season. During that trip, he spotted a kid named Jerry Badiuk playing ball hockey in Amherstburg. With Stromberg’s endorsement, the GM recruited the 16-year-old defenceman.
“I thought if he’s as good on the ice with a puck as he is with a tennis ball, we really have something here,” the GM recalled. “Once we got rolling, we signed as many players in the summer as we did at training camp.”
After two years with the Lincs, Stromberg accepted a Division 1 scholarship at Brown University, an Ivy League school in Providence, Rhode Island. Badiuk played just one season in St. Marys, and then joined the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. After three seasons in Kitchener, the Atlanta Flames’ draft pick went on to play several years of minor pro in the U.S.
Spotted Fifield in Belleville
Another player Brogden recruited was a teenager named Rick Fifield. Brogden was on the road working for Richardsons Foods and was in Belleville at a tournament.
“I think I was looking at (defenceman) Dave Jack because he was from that area and I saw this player for the Eastend Boys Club from Montreal,” Brogden recalled. “I invited Rick to camp the next year, and he said, ‘yes, I will come down.’”
Brogden said Fifield, a pure goal-scorer, had a knack for getting open. “I knew Rick had a sharp eye, and he knew where the net was. He also knew how to get in the open, and I don’t know how he managed to do it. He was the same when he was a kid, too.
“Rick is absolutely one of the best players and goal scorers I ever brought to town.”
Fifield collected 400 points in a stellar, four-year Jr. ‘B’ career. He fired at least 18 hat tricks, and that probably doesn’t include the six goals and two assists he clicked for in a 9-8 playoff loss to Sarnia. It was Fifield’s final game as a Lincoln, and what a way to go out.
Another feather in Brogden’s cap was getting Jack Valiquette’s name on a card. The 6 ft., 2 inch centre played on a line with Fifield during the 1972-73 season.
Valiquette, the younger brother of former Lincoln Pat Valiquette, hailed from Aylmer and was much sought after by area Jr. ‘B’ teams. In a trip to Aylmer, the Lincs’ GM managed to persuade the 16-year-old Valiquette to come to St. Marys. “Everybody was after Jack; he was the best there was around here,” he remembers.
First overall OHL draft pick
Valiquette had an outstanding season with the Lincs, collecting 47 goals and 88 points in 42 games. The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds selected him first overall in the 1973 Ontario Hockey League draft, and Valiquette proved it wasn’t a fluke. Playing on a line with Charlie Simmer and Cary Farelli, he led the entire OHL in scoring in 1973-74 with 63 goals and 135 points.
In the 1974 NHL draft, Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Valiquette in the first round, 13th overall. After two seasons with the Central League’s Oklahoma City Blazers, he played six full seasons in the NHL – three with Toronto and three with the Colorado Rockies.
Brogden, however, didn’t always get every player he wanted.
“It didn’t seem to matter where you were, everybody had heard about the Lincolns and where they were,” he said. “But some players didn’t realize it was a town of just 4,000 people and our rink (on Water Street) had a small ice surface.
“I had kids come to town and never get on the ice. They’d say, ‘I’m not playing here.’ If a kid came down from Toronto and if they were good they’d have an ego . . . especially the kids from the big cities.”
(See Part 2 of the Brogden interview in next week’s Independent)