Wayne Hallihan remembers it all vividly.
The red jerseys, red pants and all matching equipment.
‘So many of us were right out of high school and all of a sudden there was a place for us all to continue playing hockey with the Fredericton Red Wings,’ said Hallihan, still a going concern in his hometown. ‘Wayne Hill put it together Wayne Johnson kept us together and we were the class of the league. All the same coloured equipment, the team bus. We were the only show in town back then and were filling the Aitken Centre. We were the class of the league and we were all honoured to play for the Red Wings.’
That’s why Hallihan and many of his former Red Wing teammates are tickled pink there’s junior A hockey back in Fredericton after a long, long absence.
Fredericton is the newest member of the Maritime Hockey League and is preparing for 2019-20 under the slogan Rebirth of a Tradition.
That is indeed fitting.
Red Wings’ hockey in New Brunswick’s capital city did hold a spell over puck fans for well over a decade. It’s been almost 40 years since the winged wheel has attracted fans and now the new generation of supporters will attend games at the gleaming Grant-Harvey Centre. Fittingly, of course, considering the building’s namesakes – Danny Grant and Buster Harvey – all wore Red Wings colours including the ultimate winged wheel of the National Hockey League’s Detroit Red Wings. Heck, the late Harvey even played for the Hamilton Red Wings at the junior level before eventually returning home to coach the local Wings.
Plenty of history from the 1960s, 1970s and into the early 1980s before the American Hockey League moved to town and the Red Wings were no more.
‘So many things have changed over 40 years, but there is still so much pride in the name Red Wings when it comes to hockey in Fredericton,’ said Hallihan, who dipped his toes into professional hockey, playing 25 games with the AHL Fredericton Express in 1981-82. ‘There are still a number of guys living in Fredericton and many of us still keep in touch. We have that bond of being teammates. That doesn’t go away. We’re excited to see the Red Wings come back. Fredericton is in for a treat with junior A hockey.’
With that in mind, Roger Shannon gets fired up thinking of the Red Wing legacy. Shannon was a young fan back in the days of the Red Wings and he can rattle off former players’ names like he’s reciting the alphabet. He has helped return Red Wing hockey to his hometown as president of the franchise. Now, Shannon wants to see those players he used to watch be part of the MHL franchise fabric.
‘We would absolutely love to see an alumni association formed with so many former Red Wings still in the city or not far away,’ said Shannon. ‘It may have been years ago, but that doesn’t matter because of all the hockey connections. There was a reason we wanted to ensure our franchise was called the Red Wings. There is a lot of history associated with that nickname, the logo and the colours. We want to ensure any former Red Wings know they played a role in the rebirth of junior hockey. An alumni group would be outstanding. Just to have the guys come to some games or play a role as ambassadors. We hope to see it happen.’
Hallihan simply marvels at the changes in the landscape since he skated in the old New Brunswick Junior A Hockey League as a Red Wing. Common rivals were the Saint John 77s or Saint John Stingers, Moncton Beavers, Cap Pele Fisherman and others as teams pursued the Callaghan Cup within the province and the national title was for the Centennial Cup.
‘We played for our hometown team and slept in our own beds and went to school or worked locally,’ said Hallihan. ‘Everything has changed. We went from five or six tryout practices to where the players now are all in shape all year around and go through a tough training camp just to make the team. Now there are trades and living in new areas. The game at this level has become a massive commitment and that shows with the on-ice product. I’ve watched the MHL and the hockey is outstanding.’
If you’re a former member of the Red Wings’ organization from the past, Hallihan would love to hear from you.
Please contact Hallihan at Houlie222@gmail.com for information on what is coming up.
Fredericton will play in the MHL’s East Link South Division with Campbellton Tigers, Edmundston Blizzard, Grand Falls Rapids, Miramichi Timberwolves and Summerside Western Capitals.
Amherst Ramblers, Pictou County Weeks Crushers, South Shore Lumberjacks of Bridgewater, Truro Bearcats, Valley Wildcats of Berwick and Yarmouth Mariners make up the all-Nova Scotia East Link South Division.
Fredericton opens training camp in late August.
The Red and White scrimmage will answer roster questions when that competitive training camp outing is held Thursday, Aug. 29, at 7 p.m. at Grant-Harvey Centre.
Fredericton will also play two pre-season games at home. The Red Wings greet Grand Falls on Sunday, Sept. 1, at 2 p.m., and then host Miramichi on Friday, Sept. 6, at 7 p.m. It gets real in a hurry as the club hits the road for its first two regular season games including Game 1 in Pictou County on Sept. 12 and at Valley the next night.Fredericton’s much anticipated home opener unfolds Friday, Sept. 20, when the Rapids come calling at 7 p.m. The Red Wings stay home Saturday, Sept. 21, with Summerside in town.
For further information on the Red Wings, the MHL and season tickets, contact Liz Shannon at email@example.com