To many alum of Augustana Campus, 1974/75 was a magical year. That was the year the Camrose Lutheran College’s Vikings hockey team made history, not only for the college but for Camrose as well. Considered the underdogs, the team won the first Canadian Colleges Athletic Association hockey championships and paved the way for the international tournament, the Viking Cup.
|The Vikings hockey team in 1974/75.|
As the events unfolded in 1974/75, those involved didn’t necessarily see that they were making history. In their eyes, they were simply playing hockey. It was a shared vision by General Manager LeRoy Johnson and Coach Joe Voytechek that led to an amazing year for the college.
It’s 34 years later and the impact of those events have hit home for many of the players. On June 13, 2009, the team was inducted into the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame, reinforcing the pride many feel about their accomplishments that year.
As Team Captain, Bill Andreassen said when speaking on behalf of the team at the induction banquet, “Hockey players in small town Alberta don’t expect to be recognized in any kind of Hall of Fame.”
The recognition becomes more remarkable when you consider that none of the 1974/75 team members are professional hockey players. “We have a group here of farmers, civil servants, a number of pastors, teachers, lawyers, tradesmen, businessmen,” says Andreassen. Not to mention that the team came from a much smaller school than most of its national competitors, and early articles written about the team weren’t too supportive of their scoring abilities.
So, how did a team from a school of only 390 go on to win a national championship and play a Christmas season in Europe?
It probably started with LeRoy Johnson’s recruitment efforts and a determination to bring the team to Europe. “We’re impressed with what he’s done over the years,” says Tom Gould, who played centre for the team. “He and Joe had a profound influence on our lives.”
To realize his vision, Johnson arranged for the team to play exhibition games to raise money. He also had the support of the Vikings Promotions Committee that planned events and raffles. The committee included one person that sticks in the minds of a few players – Rudy Swanson, Camrose’s Mayor at the time. “Rudy was the biggest Viking who wasn’t a Viking,” says Gould. Swanson is remembered as a tireless supporter of the team, who also accompanied them on the European tour.
The trip to Europe paved the way for the Viking Cup, held in Camrose. Teams from Sweden, Finland, the United States, and Norway participated in the tournament. The inclusion of teams from behind the so-called ‘Iron Curtain,’ like the former Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union was almost unheard of during the 70s and 80s.
Gould also notes Coach Joe Voytechek’s vision for them from the beginning with his speech to them at their first practice, “Joe walked into the room and said, ‘Gentlemen, my name is Joe Voytechek. We’re going to Sydney, Nova Scotia to compete in the first CCAA championships and we’re going to win.’ He had it in his head to go there from day one.”
Certainly, Voytechek’s disciplined program and mentoring of the team members contributed to their success. He’s remembered by Russ Shandro, who played leftwing, as a leader, “when he spoke, you listened.”
Gould also remembers Voytechek’s comments after practices and games, “He had this notebook with a CLC Vikings logo sticker on
The 1974-75 Vikings hockey team today.
it. He’d come up to us and say ‘Gentlemen, you’re good but not that good.’ He’d then open the notebook and tell us how we needed to improve.” This was a standard phrase for the group until they won the championships and Joe rewarded them by stating, “Gentlemen, you’re that good.”
Supporting the team in other ways were the Athletics Supporters, a student-led brass band who played at every game. “They would play the first 7 bars of Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple to get everyone pumped up. It became our theme song,” says Shandro. Dave Lefsrud, the trombone player with the band, joined the team in Red Deer for the induction ceremony.
There was also Udo Johansen, a local resident of legendary size who dressed in Viking garb at the games.”It was a boost for the players and intimidating for the other team,” remembers Shandro.
Gould describes their home games as “loud and boisterous. There was an ambience to those games.”
Another non-player who made an impression is Vi Furman, a cafeteria staff member. She made such an impression that Shandro and Gould invited her to join them the night of the Hall of Fame banquet.
To Shandro, there were many people involved in their success, “40 years later, we’re the benefactors but there were a lot of people who play into this. It isn’t just 20 guys on the ice. There are volunteers I’ll never know the names of, that I never met, who contributed.”
Of course, one can’t forget the determination and focus of the players themselves. As Shandro says, “We were playing our best. I had no gas left in the tank after playing. I gave it my all. In the mind of an athlete, that spot on the team is yours and yours only.” He continues, “As I get older, you do acknowledge that you missed out on some stuff with friends because you were playing. You make sacrifices. And it’s always fun when you’re winning.”
For Gould, that year, especially the European tour, “was great for me personally. I grew a lot on that trip as a player.”
While both Gould and Shandro remember their own hits and misses, their memories of that time include their teammates successes and accomplishments as much as their own, such as Dennis Dunn being named Most Valuable Player at the CCAA championships and numerous other tales of their teammates’ achievements.
The emphasis on the team was fostered during that time and it is as present today as it was then. The relationships between the players also remains, supporting each other in times of need and celebrating at reunions. Some maintain contact with each other as much as possible, even 34 years later.
When looking at what made that year such a success for the team, the CLC and Camrose community spirit and support played a big role. It was magical for those who lived through that year because so many people believed in the team and its success. It encompassed more than just the team and engaged a community in a common cause and celebration.
To see photos of the team at the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame, please visit the photo gallery.