From the Archives: YK Hockey’s Mighty Marauders

Hanson Brothers were out on a smoke break | Photos courtesy Johnnie Bowden

As the local rec hockey season heads into the home stretch, with the Weaver and Devore Marauders battling it out in the middle of the pack, three points out of second place, take a look back at this portrait of Yellowknife’s winningest team, from March 2012:

There are few things as superficial or annoying as sports cliches. We listen to athletes in the hopes that something is said that comes from the heart. Something authentic. So it is with the Weaver & Devore Marauders. Some of the testimony from team members sounds like a cliche, but it isn’t. On the contrary, the way the team describes itself – as a family, as a team that finds a way to win, as a group that leaves it all out there – is all authentic.

I spent three seasons playing against Weaver. I played for their rivals, Ace. In fact, I’m nervous about the reaction this article will get from my teammates. Either way, you can count me among those who always found Weaver aggravating. They are aggravating when they score and when they stop a goal. They are aggravating when they skate through a check and when they dive to draw a penalty. They are aggravating when they win, and when they … no, that’s where that ends.

As this story goes to print, Weaver leads four other teams in the A Division of the Yellowknife Rec Hockey League. This view from the top is the same one they have every year. Since the team was formed and started playing its games at the Gerry Murphy Arena, Weaver has dominated. They may be the most successful hockey team in Canada during their five decades on the ice. They’ve won dozens of league championships, dozens of playoff championships and dozens of tournament championships. They’ve left only crumbs for other teams to fight over.

Goalie Johnnie Bowden figures he’s played 800 games for Weaver since joining the team a quarter century ago. Nearing 55 he has become the team elder and curator of its history. After all, Weaver is not just a hockey team, it’s an institution. Bowden quickly points all the way back to the team’s founding father, Buddy Weaver.

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Back then they played in “the Commercial League against the mine teams and the Chiefs, there was hitting and fighting,” says Bowden, “it was almost like semi-pro hockey.” During the days of the Commercial League, when a player came just short of making the NHL, they’d entertain offers from mills, and mines and companies. In exchange for a well-paying job, and maybe somewhere to live, a guy would roll into town with his hockey gear in tow. Such were the early days of Yellowknife, the gold mines, and the Commercial League.

More for organization than calibre, Weaver is still run something like a semi-pro hockey club. Unofficially, they have a farm system: players often skate their way onto to the team by first playing in the B Division for Talbot’s Leafs. And on the back end, when a player can no longer contribute in the A Division, Weaver has an old timer’s team where old stars go out to pasture.

Bowden has seen how hard it is to step away from the team. As part of my Weaver history lesson, he talks me through the team’s generations of greats. In the early days there was Bobby and Kenny Weaver. Now there’s Scotty Daniels, Trent Hamm and Bowden. But in the middle, and arguably at the team’s peak, there was Bill Burlington. A force, Burly’d been an all-American at Boston College and then moved North. “Burly was our connection to professional hockey,” says Bowden, “he’d go down every summer and skate with pros that he’d played with and then come back and tell us all about it.”

For years Burly also played with some of the North’s best hockey players: Quinn Groenhyde and Bobby Knight. Knight’s speed and Groenhyde’s athleticism and intimidating competitive nature made them Weaver greats. Bowden remembers a time after a loss when on the way into the dressing room one of the Weaver players said, “nice try, guys.” Groenhyde wouldn’t have it. “For five minutes he shouted a speech about a ‘nice try’ not being enough for us,” says Bowden, adding this was around the year Weaver played a 35-game season with one loss.

But it was Burly’s combination of skill, strength and work ethic that embodied the “values” that define Weaver, says Bowden, still impressed years later. “He was a man of true humility. He believed in putting your head down and getting the job done,” he says. “And he inspired confidence in the rest of us.” Burly was dominant until his body had had enough from years of tough play. Bowden says when Burly had to quit, he didn’t come around the rink much, and he declined to be interviewed for this article. When I ask Bowden when it might be over for him, he chokes up just thinking about it. “I think I’m just beginning to understand what Burly went through,” says Bowden, before trailing off to gather himself.


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