Always a Saanich Brave
At first glance Mike Shemilt was just one of 100 or so men, young and old, leaning against the rail that wraps along the concourse of Bear Mountain Arena last Wednesday.
On the ice was Game 2 of the opening round Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League playoff series between the Saanich Braves and Westshore Wolves.
Shemilt, a Braves alumnus from the 1970s, fits right in with the peanut gallery of hockey minds. Each share their judgment and appreciation, but do so in a most reserved manner.
And so it was when Seamus Maguire backhanded the overtime winner past Wolves goalie Matt Chester to give the Braves a 2-0 lead in the series.
No fist pump, no hoorah. Leave that to the kids.
“The game is more skilled today, and life was different (in the ’70s), but the league was competitive,” Shemilt said.
Shemilt lived the good and the bad of junior hockey, and was also part of history. He won a provincial championship and shared the dressing room with Braves legend Brent Patterson.
This year is the Braves’ 45th as a junior B club and the team has made an effort to establish an unofficial association of alumni. It’s brought Shemilt out to watch plenty of games this season, his first time since 1980. He played defence for the Braves from 1974-75 to 77-78.
“From my rookie year we went from last place in the league with a 21-game losing streak, or just about that, to B.C. champs with 11 rookies,” he recalls, with most of those rookies coming from Saanich midget hockey.
People assume junior B in the 1970s was a rough-and-tumble, wild west. Shemilt calls it tough but good hockey. “If we were out on the town and saw someone from another team you could have a beer with them, no matter what happened on the ice.”
Shemilt is now the president of Island Blue Print, where he started part time in 1975, the same year he was a 17-year-old Braves rookie.
“I didn’t know then that I’d be here now,” he said from his office over Fort Street.
Shemilt was part of the Braves biggest moment in history, and possibly the league’s, when Brent Patterson died after the first game of the 1977 Fred (Cyclone) Taylor Cup in Quesnel.
“Patty,” as he was known to his teammates, was that season’s MVP of the South Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. In the Braves’ first game at provincials, Patterson complained of serious chest pains and left in the second period.
That night he was taken by ambulance to the hospital but passed away at 3:53 a.m. on April 12, 1977, as noted in the the Cariboo Observer newspaper.
“It was a shock. He was the ultimate hockey player on our team. A great skater with a great shot and a big heart,” Shemilt recalled with clarity.
“We all got up and had a 5 a.m. team meeting. We decided to play that night in his honour because he never would have given up.”
When they got to the rink that night the people of Quesnel were behind them.
“They delivered food to the hotel during the tournament and when we stepped on the ice we got a standing ovation. It was a huge cheer from a small rink.”
Patterson’s memory has since been recognized, as VIJHL teams play for the league championship Brent Patterson Memorial Trophy.
Despite the Braves’ valiant attempt to continue playing at the 1977 provincials, Patterson’s death had too much of an effect. Perhaps if not for the tragedy, the Braves would have won back-to-back provincials. Shemilt was part of the team that won it in 1976, when the Braves hosted it at Pearkes arena.
“The playdowns to get into the Cyclone Cup was against our huge rival, the Esquimalt Buccaneers, and the fire marshals were quite concerned, we had Pearkes packed so well,” Shemilt said.
He still has the Braves’ program from that season. Fittingly, it was printed at Island Blue Print. Shemilt and his two brothers (now vice presidents) went to work there, following their dad Victor and grandfather Howard, who was there when it started in 1916.