On a team 50 years ago that featured scoring stars like the late Wayne Dye, Lawrence Quechuk, John Price and Jack Marsh, it was the Vernon Essos’ captain, defenceman Bob Mayer, a strong, silent type, who was named the most valuable player of the B.C. Junior Hockey League in 1969-‘70.
Mayer, who led the Essos to the first of what now stands as a league-best 12 BCJHL championships in 1969-70, died Aug. 14 of cancer at age 69.
That season, Mayer scored 22 goals and added 41 assists for 63 points, fifth in team scoring and top-10 in the then-seven team league.
“He played the power play, defended well, worked harder than anybody and led the practices,” said Quechuk.
“He was quiet, but he was a leader by example,” added Essos teammate Jim Inglis who, along with goalie Ed Forslund, grew up with Mayer on 17th Street on Vernon’s East Hill.
“It was a lot nicer playing with him than against him,” said Forslund, who won a BCJHL championship the year before with the Victoria Cougars. “I’ve played goal my whole life and in all of the years I played, Bob had the hardest shot. That’s all we did as kids was play road hockey under the street lights. He’d take shots at me, I’d take shots at him.”
For Quechuk, the Vernon News beautifully captured the way Mayer played: “Since Mayer’s first year of junior, he has been playing outstanding hockey. His defensive moves are impressive and his hard slap shot from the blue line brings applause from fans in every rink he plays.”
Born June 8, 1950 in New Westminster, Mayer and his family moved to Lumby for one year before settling in on East Hill. He played three seasons for the Essos, 1967-‘68, ‘68-‘69 and ‘69-‘70, his MVP season. The Essos made it to the Western Canadian final in 1970, losing in six games to Saskatchewan’s Weyburn Red Wings.
“We had Wayne and Lawrence scoring goals, but Bob scored a lot from the back end,” said Inglis. “To have the kind of season he did was awesome. The power play was his specialty. When the puck went back to him, you knew something good was going to happen.”
Mayer joined Forslund as an overage player in Victoria in 1970-71 (Coast teams could play with overage players, Interior teams could not, said Quechuk), then tried out unsuccessfully for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks.
He tried his luck in the minor pros, in Des Moines, Iowa, but came back to Canada, as Inglis said, because “the money wasn’t very good.” He played some senior hockey in Port Alberni and Cranbrook before returning home to Vernon, where he worked as a carpenter, including a 25-year career with the Vernon School District.
“As an observer, Bob was a great defender. If you tried to get between him and the boards, you usually paid a price,” said Graydon Brown, who played lacrosse with Mayer on the Vernon Labatts Blues, a pre-cursor to the three-time Canadian Senior B champion Vernon Tigers, in the late ‘60s-early ‘70s. Mayer impressed Brown with his lacrosse abilities.
“He played three full years with the Blues and he could score.”
Sitting in with his dad’s former teammates was son Chris, who hadn’t heard a lot of the stories being bandied about in a conference room.
“He was a very good dad,” said Chris. “He always took us to sports, he provided for us and he was quiet. He fathered like he captained the Essos: he would tell us to not show all of our cards; never show everything so you can surprise some people when they come out.”
Mayer is survived by sons Chris and Ryan (Krystal), two grandchildren and two brothers. He was predeceased by his wife, Brenda, and sister Donna.
A celebration of life for Mayer will be held Saturday, Sept. 7, from 2-4 p.m. at the Schubert Centre.