Rick Hansen didn’t make the cut on his first attempt at cracking the Saanich Jr. Braves.
It was September of 1980 and the 16-year-old, who came up through the Saanich Minor Hockey Association system, wanted nothing else but to be a Brave. In his four-year Junior B career he twice attended Victoria Cougars camp (a team “stuffed” with future NHLers) and did make the Junior A BCHL but refused to leave town when his BCHL rights were shipped to the Merritt Centennials.
Hansen’s junior career did start in 1980, with the Oak Bay Flyers, and ended with three seasons in Saanich. The 54-year-old is among a group of alumni coming to Friday’s 50th Anniversary Celebration game, Nov. 10, 6:30 p.m. at Pearkes arena, when the Braves [8-10-1] host the Nanaimo Buccaneers (15-3-0).
“When I was  I was a stick boy for the bantam rep team. It had Tracy Patterson [younger brother of Braves’ 1978 captain Brent Patterson, who the VIJHL playoff trophy is named for], and at practices we didn’t just help out, coach told us we were doing the drills.”
Back then, being a stick boy was the type of opportunity that created future junior stars, Hansen said.
“[The other stick boy and I] didn’t get in the way, but there we were [tagging along at the end of most drills].”
Hansen refused to accept he wasn’t junior ready when he was sent away after the Braves 1980 training camp.
“I believed it was between me and that coach,” recalls Hansen. “I thought I could play in the league so I went into the draft pool and was picked up by Oak Bay.”
There was only four teams in what was known as the South Island Junior Hockey League: Juan de Fuca, Kerry Park, Saanich and Oak Bay. Some forget that the Oak Bay Flyers once filled the sleepy stands of Oak Bay’s ice rink.
“The Flyers were a big thing, people came out for them, they were a good team,” Hansen said. “The calibre of hockey in the late ’70s was awesome. I grew up watching [the Island league], if you weren’t fortunate to play in the WHL, this was the next best thing. It was tough to play in but also tough to make anything happen out there.”
In Oak Bay, Hansen was coached by Bob Nicholson, the same Nicholson who later became the well-known head of Hockey Canada and is now the CEO and vice-chairman of (Edmonton) Oilers Entertainment Group. Nicholson was here to work for B.C. Amateur Hockey Association (the Saanichton-based organization), and coached the Flyers on the side.
“My first year with Oak Bay we won the league championship and hosted the Seattle All Americans for the 1981 Fred ‘Cyclone’ Taylor Cup but lost,” Hansen recalled. “Nicholson taught us so much. What a great man he was, a real inspiration. I’m not surprised at his success.”
However, when Hansen didn’t see the ice time he wanted in his second year, Nicholson released him.
“Nicholson had a group of older UVic kids he wanted to play and I had taken a job with Canada Post, but the Braves had a new coach who took me in.”
Hansen then returned to the Braves and joined with a core of players he’d grown up with, including Doug Rogers, brothers Paul and Pat Cullen, Pat Smith and Alton Davis, a future Victoria Shamrock.
“Those last two years with Saanich were awesome,” Hansen said. “In 82-83 with Saanich we won the Islands and lost to Cranbrook in the provincial final.”
The Braves most notable alumni are Adam Cracknell, current New York Rangers forward, and Matt Irwin, current Nashville Predators defenceman. Other grads include 2005 Braves Lee Baldwin (AHL/Europe) and Brian Nugent (ECHL), who played NCAA and were part of the illustrious 2009 RBC Cup hosting Victoria Grizzlies. The Braves also produced the Crowder brothers Paul and Tim (NCAA,/AHL/Europe), and Wade Murphy (ECHL), who won the 2012 RBC Cup with the Penticton Vees.
Youth wearing minor hockey associated jerseys to Friday’s anniversary game earn free admission to the game.