They were a team that had six players, including a defenceman, with 60 or more points. A goalie who didn’t start the post-season then went on an amazing roll. A team with the “perfect coach” for them and a general manager that loved the players.
The Vernon Essos of 1969-70 won the first of what is now a franchise- and league-best 12 B.C. Hockey League championships 50 years ago and a number of players from that team that called the Vernon Civic Arena home remember the title vividly.
The late Wayne Dye – son of general manager Vern Dye and voted Vernon’s athlete of the 20th century – led the team in scoring with 38 goals and 46 assists for 84 points, five better than Quesnel import Lawrence Quechuck, retired and living in Vernon. John (Wire) Price 0f Cranbook and Don Manson of Revelstoke tied for third with 68 points.
The team captain, Vernon’s Bob Mayer, who died in 2019, was fifth in scoring with 63 points and was named league MVP. Jack Marsh of Quesnel (35-25-60) rounded out the 60-point club on the Essos, who finished first in the seven-team league (Kelowna Buckaroos, Penticton Broncos, Kamloops Rockets, Victoria Cougars, Vancouver Centennials, New Westminster Royals) with a 32-12-4 record.
The Essos played the Centennials in the league semifinals. After dropping the first two games at the Civic, the Essos rebounded, winning four games to three with a 6-2 victory in Game 7 at home to advance to the championship best-of-seven against the Cougars.
Marsh scored the series- and championship-winning goal in Victoria in Game 6.
“It was just a great bunch of guys,” said Marsh, now 70, taking a snow shovelling break from his home in Quesnel, reflecting on that championship squad. He returned after his junior career to play senior hockey for, and later coached, the storied Quesnel Kangaroos, a squad that won seven straight provincial senior titles in the 1980s.
Marsh worked for the City of Quesnel for 37 years, retiring as director of public works. He and Quechuck were classmates in elementary school, and Marsh also brought to Vernon younger brother Jim, a stalwart on the Essos’ blueline.
‘“We had a lot of good hockey players and we all got along well,” said Marsh. “We worked hard, we had tough guys like Bob Craig (from Surrey, whose brother, Dale, was also on the squad) and we had guys who could score like Wayne, Lawrence, Wire and myself.”
The team had two goalies in Salmon Arm’s Gord Mackintosh and Gary Osborne of Kamloops. Mackintosh, who along with partner Roy Sakaki ran the Enderby and Salmon Arm hockey schools for three decades, started the playoffs against Vancouver.
He gave up a soft goal in Game 1, and when the Cents scored on a 200-foot shot in Game 2, head coach Odie Lowe pulled Mackintosh in favour of Osborne.
“I never saw the ice again,” laughed Mackintosh, retired from a career with the B.C. Liquor Stores. He and Osborne both live in Salmon Arm. “Gary was absolutely amazing. He was unconscious. He’s one of the big reasons why we won the league.”
After winning the BCHL title, the Essos then played the Weyburn Red Wings of Saskatchewan for the Western Canadian championship. Vernon won the first two games before capacity crowds at the Civic but then lost four straight in Saskatchewan.
“It was a great club and we went on a long playoff run. I remember playing 15 games in 20 days,” said Price, who was scouted by coach Odie Lowe’s brother in his native Cranbrook. Price played some senior hockey with his hometown Cranbrook Royals and with the Kangaroos in Quesnel when his job with Inland Kenworth took him to the Cariboo. Price retired from Kenworth in Vernon, where he still resides.
Mayer scored 22 goals and added 41 assists and was the silent leader of the Essos.
“He played the power play, defended well, worked harder than anybody and led the practices,” said Quechuck in a 2019 interview after Mayer’s death.
“He was quiet, but he was a leader by example,” said Essos teammate Jim Inglis who played several games with the Essos in the championship year along with fellow Vernon Junior B call-up Bruce Ritchie.
Melding the players into a championship squad was 1956 Vernon Canadians Allan Cup winner Odie Lowe, as head coach, along with general manager Vern Dye. Lowe, now in his 90s, still lives in Vernon. Dye passed away in 2004. Off the ice, the players would hang out together at Vern’s Pool Hall on 30th Avenue.
“Every player had respect for Odie and Vern,” said Price. “They took very good care of us. They were like second fathers to us.”
Other players on the first Vernon junior hockey championship squad included Barry Bleakley, Bill Owens, Dale Pentland, Al Wahlstrom, Gord Merritt, Gordon Osinchuk and Ken Warner. Vernon’s Jock Worth was the team trainer.