Macrame, Russian Bear Hats and Congo Lines, Memories of 1977-78 World Juniors
Hamilton Fincups Al Secord Dale McCourt

Al Secord is in the second row in the middle behind Dale McCourt, another Sudburian, in this team photo after Fincups won the 1977 Memorial Cup which meant they qualified to represent Canada in the World Juniors.

Son Alan was in his last year of junior with the Fincups Jr. A Hockey Club, based in St. Catherines in ’77. The Fincups had won the Memorial Cup in Montreal, qualifying the team to represent Canada in the World Juniors to be held in Czechoslovakia over Christmas and New Year’s. For the first time, the family wouldn’t be together at Christmas so we all made the decision not to buy gifts and used the money for plane tickets to fly to Czechoslovakia with the team. Husband Al, daughter Linda and I.

The games were split between the cities of Zvolen and Banska Bystrica, about 24 km apart and our hotel was in Banska Bystrica. What a beautiful country! It was my first time in Europe and the history and architecture was wonderful! There were 105 Canadians on this trip and I believe I was the only one curious enough to travel by bus far and wide to take in the sights.

At the time, macramé was very popular in Canada and with Czechoslovakia being land-locked, I thought maybe they had never seen this craft as macramé is a series of sea knots used by sailors. I took large rolls of string with me to see if any of the workers in our hotel might be interested in learning.  Of course, I couldn’t speak Czech and none of the workers spoke English, nonetheless, I took the string down to the front desk, used an empty wine bottle from the bar and proceeded to show the maids and other workers how to macramé around the bottle, later we fashioned wall hangings etc. They had never seen macramé and were so adept at learning it so if macramé is popular in Czechoslovakia, I will take credit for it!

While there, I took a bus to the Tatry Mountains up to a little ski village similar to Banff on a smaller scale. I had a large Canadian decal on the outside of my purse and while I was walking through the little town,  three very elderly gentlemen wearing long fur coats spotted my decal and one man asked in broken English where I was from in Canada. Canadians are used to people in Europe stating they have a cousin or whatever in Saskatoon, do we know them so for a joke I answered “Espanola”. Without batting an eye, he asked if Manitoulin Island had built a bridge yet to the mainland. My reaction made him burst out laughing and then he told me  he was a woodcutter on Manitoulin and at Killarney in 1900 as a young man, made his money and went back home to Czechoslovakia. It’s always a small world out there.

Russia was a huge presence.  Soldiers with machine guns and German shepherd dogs patrolled the streets. It was very unnerving to see such a poor country and the citizens looking so unhappy and afraid. There were no carefree teenagers, everyone looked sad and defeated. Coal piles were dumped on the streets at night and I’d see old women with pails, taking as much as they could carry to their little apartments or homes to use for heating. Coming from Canada and seeing the stifled way the Czechs lived made me so appreciative of my country. Banska Bystrica was a coal mining town surrounded by hills and I had noticed a chapel in ruins on top of a hill close by our hotel so decided on Christmas Day, I would climb up to check it out. The Russians had destroyed all the little chapels and many of the churches so I took a small rock from the ruins of the chapel wall that is in my fireplace still. It reminded me that where I came from, one could practice religions of our choice and how lucky we were to have such freedoms.

New Year’s Eve arrived and we 105 Canadians joined up with Russian soldiers at the bar in our hotel and celebrated together. We had so many laughs trying to learn a few Russian words and the soldiers trying to learn English. At midnight, we taught everyone the Congo Line. Russians, Canadians and Czechs were dancing through the hotel lobby and out into the streets.

At the rink in Banska Bystrica, the Canadians had to sit in the upper levels on wooden seats and down below were plush red seats that were used by Russian army brass. I was sitting on the uncomfortable wooden seats during one game and saw about five of the plush seats were empty and decided I’d had enough of the wooden seats. Another mother and I went to the lower level and plunked ourselves down in one of the reserved Russian seats and of course, here came the Russian generals. I peeked at the general beside me, huge man with a big moustache and wondered if we were going to be tossed out but no one said anything. During the game, son Alan was playing his usual rough game and the Russian beside me was constantly berating him (a mother can tell, no matter in what language). I was getting tired of hearing him so I tapped him on his arm, pointed to Alan on the ice and said “sin” (son) and used my finger to draw a 20 (Alan’s hockey sweater number) on my hand and pointed to myself. He knew what I meant, that #20 was my son. He realized I was a Canadian mother and for the remainder of the game continued to yell at Alan and also at me. I didn’t move from my seat though! (or get sent off to Siberia either).

One of the Russian junior hockey players traded Alan his black bear fur hat for Alan’s Fincups ball cap. The next year when Alan was with the Boston Bruins, the team had an exhibition game against one of the Russian pro teams and when the two teams lined up to shake hands after the game, one of the Russian players grabbed Alan in a hug and was pointing to his head and to Alan’s head and Alan remembered trading hats with him. Like I said, it’s a small world out there.

The Canadian players were in a hotel about 7 minutes away from the parents’ hotel. One evening, the players and parents met up at the players’ hotel for an evening of food and fun. One of the Canadian players asked my daughter if he could walk her back to our hotel when she was ready to leave and she told him he had to ask her brother. Big brother Alan told him, “It is 7 minutes to my sister’s hotel, 1 minute to say goodnight and 7 minutes back to our hotel so I’ll time you. You tell me when you are leaving here and check in with me when you get back.” He checked back in with big brother in 12 minutes…

We won a silver in that series. Dale McCourt from Falconbridge (George Armstrong’s nephew) was on our team and won two prestigious awards for the series. Alan’s beautiful silver medal is framed and hanging on his den wall in Dallas.

Mary-Anne Secord

Mary-Anne Secord is an NHL hockey mom and a has a lot of great hockey memories to share. Her son Alan Secord was drafted by the Boston Bruins in 1978 and also played for the Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers. You can read about her son Alan first learning to skate on the outdoor rinks in Sudbury, her first meeting with Don Cherry and an Allstar event she attended where she met Wayne Gretzky.

Greater Sudbury has a road network of more than 3,500 km lanes.
Other articles you may be interested in:
"The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it." Terry Pratchett

Advertise for as little as $100/week
contact: colin@southsidestory.ca

Contact Us
share@southsidestory.ca