Gary Coons was frustrated, tired of it all and totally fed up.
The 27 year-old forward had unlaced his skates, and left them in his stall in the Prince George Mohawks’ dressing room, along with the rest of his equipment, before he packed up and moved to Prince Rupert in 1977.
Having recently graduated from London’s University of Western Ontario in 1975, and ranking at the top of the Ontario Universities Athletic Association (OUAA) scoring leaderboards as a Mustang, the centre was looking to start his senior hockey career, along with his professional one in the classroom as an educator.
“It didn’t work out that well,” said Coons, who last week was inducted into Western’s Wall of Honour, which includes figures who have made significant contributions to the Western hockey program either as a player, coach or builder.
Coons and the head coach of the Mohawks didn’t exactly see eye to eye.
“He’d tap people on the shoulder and send them out to goon somebody,” explained the forward.
“So, here I am, about 27 years old and I had played Jr. B in Burlington, Jr. A in St. Thomas and university hockey, and I’d been playing hockey since I was about four or five years old, and I left my skates in Prince George and was never going to play again.”
But Prince George’s loss became Prince Rupert’s gain.
Coons found employment in the city and the Prince Rupert Kings brass found him.
“Somebody knocked on my door and said ‘I hear you play hockey?’ and I said ‘yeah, well I used to’,” he recalled.
So the Kings lent him some skates and he took a few practices and Coons found he liked it, and possibly even missed it.
So, for five years, Coons led the Kings in Prince Rupert, eventually earning the captaincy until the club folded in the early 1980s. But Coons would stay in town for decades afterwards as a teacher and later as a Member of the Legislative Assembly until retiring prior to this past election.
Though it’s his days at Western that he may fondly remember best.
“The five years that I played there, we had really good teams and we were cohesive,” said the 1972-73 OUAA leading scorer with 48 points, including 19 goals in only approximately 25 games.
“I played with the same linemates for four years so that made a huge difference … we would only play around 20 or 25 games, but we would practice everyday for two hours.”
And for the first few years, not even within the confines of an arena.
“We would practice on an outdoor rink in London and it would be bloody cold,” said Coons.
“It was going back to the basics and we had so much fun out there with our gloves on under our hockey gloves and a scarf around our necks and earmuffs on our helmets because it was minus-15 [degrees].”
During his last two years, Western built the Thompson Arena, which began an era of prosperity for the Mustangs’ hockey program in their new digs.
“[Before that] it was sort of challenging, but we had a good team. We basically won our division every year I played. We had some great players, like All-Canadians that went through, and we really set the tone for the [program after that],” he said.
Still Coon, who plans to coach for Prince Rupert Minor Hockey this fall, is humbled by the nomination and can appreciate the small things, such as even making the team.
“They had 90 people try out, and I was lucky … [the government] had just lowered the drinking age from 21 to 19 that year, and [because of that] I was about 25 pounds over the weight I should have been and I barely made the team. After that it turned out not too bad,” said Coons.
“It was probably the best five years of my life.”