Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dawson City Nuggets and Ottawa Senators Alumni: Interview with Nuggets' Player Troy Suzuki

Troy Suzuki at the McBride Museum
(Photo - Don Reddick)
A few weeks ago, award-winning author Don Reddick shared his thoughts with The Voice of Sport about his trip to the Yukon for the much-anticipated re-match between the Dawson City Nuggets and the Ottawa Senators Alumni as part of the Hockey Day in Canada festivities. Dawson City Nuggets player Troy Suzuki took part in the games and provided a firsthand account of all the action.

The original invitation for the Senators to travel to Dawson City was made by the Nuggets 106 years ago after their famous Stanley Cup challenge against the Ottawa Silver Seven. After losing to the Silver Seven, the man that organized the challenge, Joe Boyle, suggested the outcome would be different if Ottawa travelled to Dawson City. He offered to create a cup that was to be made of solid gold, hoping to entice the Ottawa hockey players into making the trip north.

While it took over a century for Ottawa to make the trip and the recent games were not for the Stanley Cup, a scaled down version of the Klondike Cup went to the victors. Ottawa won the games in Dawson City and Whitehorse but the event was not about who won or lost, it provided the two northern cities an opportunity to shine brightly in the national spotlight.

“The game was huge for the town,” Suzuki explained. “I think any time real NHL players come to town it is big, but this had a real buzz that made everyone want to take part. From the sponsors pouring in, to all the volunteers and people clamouring for tickets, even people who had no interest in hockey were excited. I think the historic nature of the game was important. What little town happens to have a Stanley Cup Challenge in their history? For that brief time I think we felt connected to the bigger world out there, which usually is very far away.”

“There were five or six dog teams to give the Senators players rides and the sun was out - it was one of those times when the town comes together and charms not only the visitors but themselves as well, when we all go, ‘Ah, okay now I remember why I live here.”

In 1997, the modern day Nuggets travelled to Ottawa, re-enacting the original trip from Dawson City to Ottawa. Travelling by dog sled out of the North, then by ship to Vancouver and riding the rails across Canada, following in the footsteps of the 1905 journey. Ottawa Sun columnist Earl McRae and Reddick accompanied the Nuggets and chronicled the journey - McRae in the Sun and Reddick in his book, The Trail Less Traveled. The two games during the Hockey Day festivities provided an opportunity for many of the participants of the ‘97 trip to reunite and reminisce about their shared experience - a remarkable journey that forged a special bond.

Troy Suzuki on the shores of the famous
lake Laberge during the 1997 trip to Ottawa
(Photo - Don Reddick)
“There aren’t that many of the ‘97 team left in Dawson but the ghosts of that trip came flooding back once I got to Whitehorse and saw the old faces; Kevin Anderson, Pat Hogan, Dale Kulych, Brian Gudmundson, Don Reddick and Earl McRae. Whitehorse put on a terrific show as well, with an amazing display of Yukon hockey history at the McBride museum. I was transported back to sitting around many a lounge having beers with the guys on the trip. Memories of the bush travel part of the trip came flooding back too and I had a renewed admiration for Don and Earl to have jumped in cold ‘literally’ into that trip. The Dawson/Whitehorse leg was the heart of that trip for most of us.”

“Flying back to Dawson with the Sens was nice as we got to play host and show off our town,” Suzuki said. “It made me think of the distance, culturally and geographically, between our two worlds. Dawson is very sleepy in the winter, the end of the road frontier town. I think the Sens got a much better idea and a new appreciation for what we went through getting to Ottawa.”

Suzuki was too young to play in the ‘97 game but made the entire journey from Dawson City to Ottawa, capturing every moment for his film Live From Moccasin Square Gardens. It was a new experience for Troy to take to the ice against the Senators in the history-making games. I asked him if it was easier to play in 2011 or to watch in 1997.

“It’s a lot easier to play in the game than to watch I’ll tell you that much,” he said. “I remember being so discombobulated at the Ottawa game I was almost sick with nerves and excitement - it was very hard to focus on my video and camera work. I don’t regret not playing in the Ottawa game though, as I knew I hadn’t been in town long enough to warrant inclusion on that team. I think of the video I came up with as a gift to the team, the town and Territory; I’m happy I could contribute in that way. Both games up here were fun, I couldn’t stop smiling, but I didn’t think of it as making Yukon history, more like a fun exhibition and a tip of the hat to that history.”

The scores of the two-game series in 1905 heavily favoured the Silver Seven (9-2 and 23-2) and while the ‘97 team narrowed the gap (the final score was 18-0) the team of recreational players from Dawson City are still looking for their first win against the former NHL players. The first game in Whitehorse ended by a 10-1 score, with Kevin Anderson scoring the first Dawson goal against Ottawa in 106 years and the home team dropped the second game in Dawson City by a 12-4 margin.

“The Senators are great showmen; they let us in the game so it was entertaining to the fans. It felt like they had a lot more gears than the one they were showing, they just drifted to the open ice and cruised, waiting for a pass. Their passing was beautiful, tape-to-tape, saucer passes - our passing was awful. I once suggested to our old-timer league that we should have a practice and work on our passing, I was pretty much laughed out of the room. Rick Smith from the Senators would chat during the play. He would give us lots of room to skate and even advised me what to do - go wide, round the net.”

As we venture further and further into a world that seems to revolve around a 24-hour news cycle, it is refreshing to see the Dawson City Nuggets and the Ottawa Senators Alumni not only keeping history alive but also adding to the rich legacy of the sport.

Thank you Troy!

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