Skip to main content

They say you can never go home again, but in some ways Ken Reid never really left. Born and raised in Pictou, N.S., he spends his nights as one half of the duo behind the Sportsnet Central prime time anchor desk in a midtown Toronto TV studio, kibitzing with co-host Evanka Osmak while juggling the day’s sporting highlights. But during the day, Reid has written seven books about hockey that bristle with the old-time character of the game he grew up watching in Pictou’s Hector Arena, just down the hill from his childhood home.

“I like anything that isn’t overly polished, and the game back then wasn’t polished,” said Reid, 49, during a recent phone interview. “You paid your buck to get in. People could smoke cigarettes. If they snuck in a little drinky-poo with them, that was fine.

“A lot of the guys were there to see a scrap. I was cool with that as a kid. I still am as an adult.”

Reid’s latest book begins and ends in that place where he was forged. Hometown Hockey Heroes is a collection of portraits of players whose biographical contours would be familiar to just about anyone who grew up in Canada outside of the major urban centres: “local high-school kids, fishermen, millworkers, or farmers who suited up right before our eyes.” None of them made it to the NHL, but they were all, as the title implies, giants in their communities. “In my 10-year-old mind, there was no difference between these guys and the players I watched on Hockey Night in Canada,” Reid writes of the Pictou Mariners’ Junior C team.

There’s the Mariners’ Dana (T-Pot) Johnston, who was, “my original hockey hero, and it turns out I was not alone. The entire town loved the Sweet One. They still do.” In the summer of 1983, after the Mariners won their first of four successive Nova Scotia Junior C titles, Reid recalls he, “went from pretending I was Guy Lafleur while playing road hockey to imagining I was T-Pot.”

Reid talks to Bruce Campbell of New Waterford, N.S., whose astonishing success as a teenager – 88 goals in 30 games with the local Junior A team, the Jets, in the 1978-79 season; 77 goals and 130 points in 40 games for the North River North Stars in PEI the following season – seemed to set him up to be a star in the pros. But things didn’t pan out.

In another chapter, Reid spotlights Clifford Duchesne Jr. of Thompson, Man., a relentless player who tore up the province’s midget league on the Norman Northstars before joining the Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) Blizzard in The Pas for three extraordinary junior seasons. In his final season, he earned 92 points in 66 games, helping the team set a league record of 19 consecutive wins and snag a MJHL title with a four-game sweep. But the story is flecked with tragedy. Duchesne died in a snowmobiling accident in 2000, at the age of 22. Now, every year, both of his former teams give out the Clifford Duchesne Hardest Working Player Award.

The book reads as something of an elegy for a way of life. Corner Brook’s Humber Gardens arena, which opened in the 1950s and was packed to the rafters when the local Royals battled for the Allan Cup in the spring of 1985, is now the site of a Colemans Food Centre.

In the seventies, when the shiny new rink in New Waterford, on Cape Breton, opened, the town’s population was more than 10,000; now, it’s below 7,000, Reid writes. “The coal mines have been closed for years and things aren’t so shiny and new any more.”

The population of Pictou used to be about 5,000; now, he says, it’s closer to 3,000. “In my town, in 1984, it was easy to ice a Junior C team, because there was tons of kids who played,” Reid says. “But now, how many 18- and 19- and 20-year-olds are still in Pictou in the winter? Not many. They’re either off to school or they’re off looking for work somewhere. So I don’t know if you could ice the team, sadly.

“There’s still a lot of people that support their local teams. But it’s not what it was. You don’t have caravans from my town of Pictou driving to New Glasgow to see a game.”

That town-versus-town pride gives the book something of a Friday Night Lights feel, notes Reid. “The other thing about looking back on this is, it was the kids from the town that played for the town. So it was: ‘Our kids are better than the kids from across the causeway.’ Now, even Junior B teams are made up of imports.”

Reid has worked a similar vein before, bringing attention to those on the margins of the game, with some of his previous books. For One Night Only (2016), he talked to about three dozen men who each clocked a single NHL game, and in One to Remember (2020), he did the same with 39 players who each scored a single goal in the NHL.

“I guess in a way I’m attracted to these kind of players because, as a player myself, I was never good enough to score one goal in the NHL. So I thought, ‘Wow, what would that be like?’ And I was never good enough to be the hockey hero of my town. So I guess I think, ‘Oh, what would that be like?’ Maybe that’s my attraction – I probably always wanted to be just like these guys.”

Instead, he’s a super fan, which has its own rewards. A couple of months ago, Reid was back in Pictou as part of his book tour, and T-Pot – his former idol – showed up to his book signing with some ephemera: old newspaper clippings and the like, as well as a Mariners jersey in home white colours. “So I now, after 40 years of fandom, finally own a Pictou Mariners jersey,” Reid says. “It’s in my closet and I will wear that proudly whenever I’m out playing shinny this year on the ponds.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe