Father Bauer and the Great Experiment: The Genesis of Canadian Olympic Hockey

Father Bauer and the Great Experiment: The Genesis of Canadian Olympic Hockey


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A pioneering and beloved Canadian legend comes to life

Father David Bauer changed lives — at the rink, in the classroom, and at the pulpit. Bauer’s dream created the first truly national Canadian hockey team. In 1963, that unique group represented Canada abroad and were committed to both country and to Father Bauer. Whether shepherding the hockey program at St. Michael’s College in Toronto or the men’s national team out of the University of British Columbia, Bauer was both spiritual leader and trailblazer.

Through exhaustive research and countless interviews, author Greg Oliver explores a Canadian icon, the teams that he put on the ice, and the rocky, almost unfathomable years of the 1970s when Canada didn’t play international hockey. Finally, for the first time ever, the whole story of Father Bauer’s critical importance to Canada’s game is told in the rich detail it deserves, and a beloved icon is celebrated for his contributions to our nation’s sporting history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781770412491
Publisher: ECW Press
Publication date: 04/11/2017
Pages: 300
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

A writer, editor, and stay-at-home dad, Greg Oliver has written extensively about hockey and professional wrestling. Recent books include Blue Lines, Goal Lines, & Bottom Lines; Don’t Call Me Goon; The Goaltenders’ Union; Written in Blue & White; and Duck with the Puck. A member of the Society for International Hockey Research, Greg lives in Toronto, Ontario, with his wife and son. Learn more at OliverBooks.ca. Jim Gregory is a vice-president with the NHL and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007.

Read an Excerpt

Father Bauer and the Great Experiment

The Genesis of Canadian Olympic Hockey

By Greg Oliver


Copyright © 2017 Greg Oliver
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77041-249-1



It was always about something more than hockey. The public and the press may have focused on the end results — a couple of bronze medals in Olympic and World Championship play, a win in the hometown Centennial tournament, spirited and fair play, and a whole lot of heartache — but for Father Bauer, his dream, his Great Experiment, was about both education and his country. Hockey was merely a means to an end, a pathway to patriotism and to a better life.

At a sportsman's dinner in Medicine Hat, Alberta, in April 1966, Father David Bauer quoted American senator Robert F. Kennedy, who once said, "Part of a nation's prestige is won at the Olympic Games." He then shared his own thoughts on what that meant. "Our biggest problem is the task of making Canadians out of all of us," said Bauer. "We have to start someplace and we have to help our own Canadian athletes."

The Canadian Dream, if you will, was always a part of David Bauer, reinforced as it was by his brother Ray representing Canada (as a part of the Sudbury Wolves) at the 1949 World Championships, and then another brother, NHL great Bobby Bauer, coaching the Canadian hockey teams at the 1956 and 1960 Olympics.

It was a vision that he shared with the ultimate patriot, Monsignor Athol Murray of Notre Dame College in tiny Wilcox, Saskatchewan. "God, Canada, and hockey. Not necessarily in that order," was his mantra. The chain-smoking, salty-mouthed Murray is often credited with inspiring Bauer with the idea of an Olympic team made up of students, but that is not the case. Murray and Bauer didn't become truly acquainted until after the team was formed in 1962, but that doesn't mean he didn't play a major role.

Barry MacKenzie, the national team defender, spent 22 years working at Notre Dame College after hockey, but first met Pere Murray in Father Bauer's dressing room. "We were playing against the Saskatchewan Senior All-Stars in Regina and Father Dave said, 'Guys, I want you to meet this guy. This guy is from Notre Dame, he's a passionate Canadian; he might sound a little bit off-colour when he comes in here.' Sure enough, Pere Murray delivered as promised — "somebody you couldn't help but remember." He also put his money where his heart lay. "He's a very inspirational speaker, and he said, 'I'm donating $1,000 to your program.' Well, he didn't have any money. He was always picking the pocket of everybody else that had ever been to Notre Dame."

Chuck Lefley was one of the later Nats, joining after the 1968 Olympics, but like them all, he came to know Pere Murray, who was not a fan of wearing his clerical collar. "I remember looking at him, and saying, 'My God, that's not how I think of priests or how they should look.' He had a pair of pants on, long underwear, unbuttoned down the front, and he had a cigarette in his mouth. He was just a wonderful character."

Like Murray, Bauer was first and foremost an educator. Their outside interests, such as hockey or politics, helped to make them more interesting priests. A quote once attributed to Murray became one that Bauer often repeated: "I am a little guy who could have very easily gone wrong but by the grace of God, I did a little work for Him."

A theme on the sports banquet circuit — Bauer and his Boys hit a lot of hockey dinners over the years — was the value of an education. It was a topic he spoke with passion about, particularly in rooms full of young, aspiring hockey players dreaming of playing the game as a profession. He knew he was in a tough spot, as the law allowed students to drop out of school at the age of 16, meaning that the hockey establishment of junior through the pros had no obligations to broaden any young minds with anything but slapshots and saves. "Of course every young hockey player here tonight should seek a career in the National Hockey League, but they should take an education with them," he told a crowded room in Lethbridge, Alberta, in May 1966. "It doesn't cost a cent [to] carry an education with you," he said. "Don't underestimate the value of an education. ... It should be the most important thing in a boy's life."

That is not to say that Father Bauer didn't think that faith was important too, it's just that he wasn't the evangelizing type. The Basilian order believed so strongly in education and the whole person that he considered an individual's personal relationship with God only a part of their makeup. In fact, in his own words, the whole wonderful idea of an Olympic team made up of lily-pure amateurs who were enrolled at university wouldn't have happened without faith.

"Looking back, I'm tempted to say it was a giant act of faith," Father Bauer told Terry O'Malley, the loyal defenceman who played for all three of Bauer's Olympic teams — in 1964, 1968 and 1980 — and then followed Father's lead to Japan and to a job at Notre Dame College. "It was crazy, and to my horror, in a way, it was accepted by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. We would begin in the fall of 1963. ... We had no uniforms, no ice, no schedule, no base, no money. Nothing."

News broke of Father Bauer's plan in mid-August 1962, but it wasn't officially announced until the end of that month. Naturally, it was met with a wide variety of knee-jerk reactions, including the now infamous tirade by Dr. M. L. Van Vliet of the University of Alberta, who called it an "absolute farce." Respected sports columnist Scott Young of the Globe and Mail wanted to give it a chance, saying the "best news in hockey for years is that decision to start planning Canada's 1964 Olympic team now." Young thought the plan to "gather a team of reasonably amateur amateurs" hit many of the "2,163 suggestions on this subject I've heard since Canada lost the 1960 Olympics."

Bauer himself was pretty quiet in the press about what actually drove him to the national team concept, which was odd, given his penchant for gab and friendship with the Toronto scribes who had followed him to a Memorial Cup with St. Michael's College in 1961.

Grant Moore was not one of Bauer's Majors — in fact, he played on the rival Marlies — but did skate with the national team for a short while, and was one of many Father Bauer called upon as a taxi service when he was in Toronto. Those car rides were an examination into your soul, said Moore. "He could almost look into your mind, when you're one-on-one talking to him, and see what you were thinking."

Goalie Cesare Maniago said, "He'd always ask you the question, and he's waiting for that response, and he'd maybe help you along the way for the response that he wanted to hear." In short form, it was the BP — the Bauer Pause.

Years later, with the national team freshly dead and buried at the hands of Hockey Canada (and the National Hockey League — though you'll never find that on the record), Bauer worked with Douglas Fisher on a report to John Munro, Canada's Minister of Health and Welfare. Delivered in June 1971, it's a remarkable peek under the collar, and the contents, sprinkled as they are throughout this volume, give an impression of an introspective yet passionate man who did his part to do things right, on the ice and off.

After all, it was about more than just hockey:

Within the context of the world struggles for power in which our freedom was and is at stake, Canada cannot play a decisive role but it can make real contributions of its own. It can do so, however, only if our leaders have seriously faced and thought out our aims and our capabilities. In the same context one can locate the role of our sports in the development of the human person who would one day be called upon to lead wisely in a turbulent world. Sport on the international level is certainly not just the carefree mixing of youths of all nations as it is sometimes pictured, nor is it just, as cynics might have it, a sort of irrelevant extension of the Cold War. Rather it is an opportunity to apply on a higher level. That same principle I spoke of before: Make use of technique, but let the spirit prevail. It is a chance to show to the world the true character of our people — on a secondary level, no doubt, but one which all the world watches and one which can "capture the fleeting idealism of our youth."

And within Canada itself, strained and divided as we are, hockey, our national game, seemed and still seems to be one rallying point for most Canadians from coast to coast. No doubt, again, this is not of itself the deepest level, but it is one which can be made a focus for profoundly important national involvement and unity. The implications of this for our representation as a nation in international competition are considerable.

Having seen his brothers come up short in the colourful, unpredictable world of international play, Father Bauer knew all about heartache. He and his brother Ray travelled to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the 1962 World Hockey Championships. They talked about what shape the 1964 Olympic team could take for Canada. "Little by little, as he talked and as we watched the tournament, it began to dawn on me that perhaps it would be possible to apply, with an Olympic team, the philosophy of sport that it had not been possible to apply adequately in Junior A hockey," wrote Father Bauer.

Also in attendance were important Canadian Amateur Hockey Association figures, including president Jack Roxburgh, and Gordon Juckes, the secretary who would remain a key cog in the Great Experiment until the end. The hockey bureaucrats liked the idea that the Bauers proposed, a national team based at a university, lily-pure without any trace of "shamateurism," a term that had come into common usage to refer to countries like Sweden or the USSR that paid its players to play hockey year-round while officially employing them in other jobs, like military service. They'd taken the idea back to the CAHA executive, and Father Bauer set about making it happen.

In his own house, St. Mark's College on the grounds of the University of British Columbia, he found support from principal Father Ed Garvey and Father Henry Carr. In particular, Bauer wrote that Father Carr's wholehearted belief made the Great Experiment seem possible:

At that time he was 82 years of age, the oldest living Basilian. He had been Superior General of the Basilians and certainly the most important man in forming the Basilian approach to education. Back in the early years of the century he had been a coach himself and had led St. Michael's teams to national championships in both football and hockey. He saw at once what was at stake with regard to the proposed Olympic Team and encouraged me to go ahead with it. Father Ed Garvey, too, although not much involved in sport himself, had long been interested, as a philosopher, in the philosophy of sport and had written on this subject. He, therefore, also supported the idea.

"The impact that Fr. Carr had on him was very evident," said Father Ted McLean in 1988. "He believed that seminarians and the spirit they could generate could be combined, and successes were not only gained through the win-loss column."

Bauer made academic and athletic allies at UBC, too. Bob Hindmarch was a professor in the physical education department, and would serve as an unofficial assistant coach, general manager, and sounding board to Bauer. Bob Osborne of the department of education believed in it, as did Dean A.W. Matthews. A new arena had been in the works at the school in Vancouver for years, and the plan was just the kick-start that was needed to make it happen.

Aware of the politics involved in such a monumental change in direction, Father Bauer sought out the support he needed. Though he is not mentioned by name in the minutes from the CAHA annual meeting in May 1962, it's obvious he was a little bird speaking into the ear of President Jack Roxburgh. The members debated a couple of ideas: the old tried-and-true idea of a senior team for the 1964 Olympics, though none had applied; or the Canadian Army running a disciplined team using its soldiers. The minutes list another concept: "The president reported that there was one more idea for an Olympic team selection and that had to do with choosing a university team. He said that this idea had been passed on to him earlier that morning, and it was to take outstanding college players and transfer them all to one university and thus develop a team there."

From May to August, Father Bauer worked his magic, talking to all the notables, including Federal Health Minister J. Waldo Monteith, who ultimately provided some of CAHA's funding. He obviously did his job well; according to reports, Bauer's presentation at the August 26 meeting lasted just two minutes, and was followed by just 10 minutes of discussion, before it was approved.

The Great Experiment was on. By the time it ended six years later, Canada had had a truly national team, made up of players from across the country, from all walks of life, for the first time in its history.

Unfairly, perhaps, they were often referred to as "Bauer's Boys," even if he coached only a single season before turning over the reins to Jackie McLeod. "It was never my team," Bauer told reporter Jack Matheson in the spring of 1969, sitting in the Ottawa office of Derek Holmes (one of many whose lives were steered, in part, by Bauer). "It was Canada's team and I think it accomplished a lot. Not many medals, but I think we made Canada aware of quite a few things."

Though it was never about religion, in a way the Word was unavoidable. In Europe, the media loved Father Bauer, the priest behind the bench; and behind the Iron Curtain, well, he was an oddity in a culture where churches were off limits. His very presence and demeanor were enough, wrote Pierre Berton in The Comfortable Pew:

When I use the phrase "walking sermon," I think of Father Bauer preaching to the largest congregation in Canada — the readers of the newspaper sports pages — about the Christian way of life. If the adjective "preachy" has taken on unpleasant connotations, it is because few clergymen have either the imagination, the drive, or the opportunity to do what Father Bauer did. They are the prisoners of their pulpits. If Father Bauer had had a parish, could he have left it to go to Innsbruck? Would he have had time, between the endless home visits, the Women's Auxiliary sales, the Men's Club evenings, the ringing telephone, and the demands of two weekly sermons, to select an Olympic hockey team, much less coach one?



Howie Meeker still remembers the games ... The esteemed player, coach and broadcaster, with his unmistakable nasal voice and unbridled passion for the sport, used to skate on the pond at Victoria Park on the border between Kitchener and Waterloo in southwestern Ontario. The city kept the pond ideal for skating, both for pleasure and for epic games of shinny. At the time, Meeker lived within walking distance, on Eby Street.

The Bauers had a huge home in downtown Waterloo, also not too far from Victoria Park. Dave Bauer, the youngest of the six boys in the Bauer clan, loved to play hockey, just like his big brothers.

As if he were still using a telestrator, Meeker can describe the action from the 1930s like it just happened. "There'd be 25 hockey games going on," Meeker recalled. "They'd divide the teams. You always came with two different colour sweaters, a dark one and a white one, because you didn't know for sure what team you were going to be on. They kept it even, and they kept it clean, they kept it fun, because there were no boards."

With a couple of dozen games going on, there were many nets too. "Somebody's lunchbox or somebody's pair of boots" would serve as posts.

The ringleader, the top jock in their age group, was Bobby Schnurr, later related to the Bauer family through marriage. He lectured Meeker once, and once was enough. "Hey kid, what colour's that jersey that you got on?" Meeker replied that it was blue. "How come, when you get rid of the goddamned puck you always give it to a white? If you keep giving it to these guys all the time, your ass is out of here!" Meeker said, "It's one of the first lessons I learned — if you pass the puck to someone, it's got to go to someone wearing the same colour jersey."

There was really only one true goalie, or one with equipment anyway, and he came from pretty good stock. George Hainsworth Jr. would be out there wearing his father's threadbare pads. George Sr., after all, had been a star with the Montreal Canadiens from 1926 to 1937, winning the first three Vezina Trophies for the league's best goaltender.

"It was a great time to grow up because it was wonderful hockey and the weather was cold enough to keep the natural ice," said Meeker. "Gosh, we must have had it from late November through to March."

Many of the boys on the ice were trying to emulate Kitchener-Waterloo's trio of NHL stars — on the same line, even, with the Boston Bruins — Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer. Through his uncle, Harry Wharnsby, Meeker had been fortunate enough to be a stick boy for a senior hockey team that had featured all three.


Excerpted from Father Bauer and the Great Experiment by Greg Oliver. Copyright © 2017 Greg Oliver. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Jim Gregory — ix

Introduction — xi

Chapter 1: The Great Experiment — 1

Chapter 2: Growing Up Bauer — 8

Chapter 3: Bobby and the Krauts — 16

Chapter 4: The Dutchmen Fail to Fly — 25

Chapter 5: Captain of the Majors — 35

Chapter 6: God 1, Hockey 0 — 45

Chapter 7: School Days — 54

Chapter 8: Major Accomplishments — 59

Chapter 9: Father Goes West — 73

Chapter 10: Thunderbirds Are Go — 79

Chapter 11: An Olympian Task — 94

Chapter 12: The Innsbruck Incident — 107

Chapter 13: Red, White, and Maroon — 124

Chapter 14: Jackie’s Boys — 134

Chapter 15: Czechs and Referees — 141

Chapter 16: Carl Brewer and the Centennial Celebration — 151

Chapter 17: End of the Crusades — 167

Chapter 18: Man of the World — 183

Chapter 19: And Then There Were Two — 191

Chapter 20: Canada Shuns the World — 200

Chapter 21: The Summit Series — 218

Chapter 22: Back in the Game — 222

Chapter 23: In the Shadow of a Miracle — 231

Chapter 24: In the Twilight — 247

Chapter 25: The Bauer Coaching Manual — 259

Acknowledgements — 267

Bibliography — 270

Interviews — 272

Statistics — 274

Index — 276

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