CRUSHER WINS THE COLD WAR By John Lang (Article)
p> While at UBC in the early 60s I spent my summers as an employee of the Standard Oil Company. In those pre-self-service days, every car that drove into a Standard Oil gas station had its windshield washed, tire pressure checked, under-the-hood examined. We wore white uniforms, including a wedge cap. As a part-timer, my job was mostly at the front end, serving customers at the pumps, but I also did my fair share of lube jobs, tire repairs, lot sweeping and rest-room cleaning. I was a ‘floater’, assigned to stations in the Vancouver area as needed, and thus had the opportunity to meet most of the full-time employees in Standard’s Vancouver gas station empire. They were a fine lot of fellows, generous, hard-working, helpful and funny. I often think of them and wonder what became of them.
I particularly enjoyed Kevin Conway, with whom I shared duties at 13th and Granville during the summer of ‘64. Kevin was no taller than me but more much muscular. Gentle, optimistic and cheerful, Kevin was an ex-hockey player from Penticton, then as now a pleasant Okanagan town surrounded by orchards and vineyards. Penticton was also home to the Vees, a hockey team that became famous in 1955 for winning Canada’s Allan Cup and then going on to win the World Ice Hockey Championship in Krefeld, West Germany that same year. Kevin played a part in all that.
Over the summer that we worked together Kevin regaled me with war stories from his days with the Montreal Junior Canadians (1949-50) and the Penticton Vees (1950-55). The story that most stuck in my mind was his description of the evening before that championship game in Germany when he and a few team mates decided to explore the local bars. Kevin said they ended up having a riotous time until the wee hours. I assumed he was exaggerating a bit, that the story was growing as the years passed, and thought no more about it.
In June, 1967, I arrived in Düsseldorf on my first posting abroad. The Düsseldorf old town (Altstadt) advertises itself as the longest bar in Europe. Despite being 24 years old and single, it took me nearly a year to sample them all and settle on a favourite. I was in it, enjoying an Altbier, when I noticed for the first time a group photograph hanging on the wall behind the bar. I asked the bartender to let me see it and found myself staring at the 1955 Penticton Vees, autographed by all of the players, including my Kevin. I signalled the bar owner who came over and explained that 13 years earlier the guys in the photo had closed his bar down the night before playing the Championship game in nearby Krefeld. The Vees players and everyone else in the bar had had a wonderful time but he felt guilty about sending them off to face the Russians, none of whom were likely to have spent the entire evening in a bar. He need not have worried. The Vees crushed the ‘unbeatable’ Russians 5-0.
I was gladdened by the discovery that the bar in Kevin’s story and my Stammlokal in Düsseldorf were one and the same and I determined to contact him to tell him this (and to confess that I had doubted details of his story). But I never got around to it.
More than 40 years passed and I had all but forgotten Kevin and that bar in Düsseldorf until a few weeks ago when an online reference to the Penticton Vees of yore provoked new resolve. Google led me directly to a description of the end of the final game in Krefeld. The Russians had won the title a few years in a row and had made much propaganda of it. The Germans especially wanted them to lose. Enter Kevin Conway and mates, victors of the Cold War.
Tempers flared throughout resulting in Kevin Conway trading punches with a Russian near the end of the game. After the final buzzer sounded, the rink was rushed by hundreds of Canadian servicemen and women hugging and kissing the Penticton players. It would be ten minutes before Ahearne could award the Vees the trophy.
More Googling found this photo of the newly-erected Penticton memorial to the 1955 World Champions.
That’s Kevin, now 80, in the red jersey, one of 3 remaining players from the 1955 Vees.
Tags: John Lang