Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Snoopy Senior World Hockey Tournament - Part 4

Link: Part 1 - DU vs. Central Massachusetts
Link: Part 2 - DU vs. Univ. of Michigan Alums
Link: Part 3 - DU vs. Canterbury Ghosts (Canada)
Link: DU Pioneers Team Roster

Editor's Note:
DJ Powers of Hockey's Future was in California last week covering the Snoopy Senior World Hockey Tournament. She agreed to write a series of articles for LetsGoDU about the DU Pioneers, an alumni team made up of former DU players from the Murray Armstrong era. We can't thank DJ enough for her outstanding coverage of the event.

The Tournament was founded by Peanuts creator Charles Schultz in 1975 and brings together hockey players between the ages of 40-75. (Video Link about Tournament)

(above) The "DU Cheerleaders" (clockwise from top right: Lynnae Koroll (Cliff Koroll's wife), Marie Harrison (Don Cameron's wife), Dolly Schneider (Bob Peers' wife) and Chris Kushner (Bill Goodacre's girlfriend). Between them is the original 1968 DU National Championship banner.

Pioneer Pride: A Portrait Of Camaraderie

by DJ Powers
Staff Writer - NCAA Hockey

Santa Rosa, CA. - Ask anyone who plays the sport of hockey what makes it so great and the reply you'll likely get is the family bond that is born from the lifelong friendships forged through the many battles together.

While each hockey family is unique in its own way, you'd be hard pressed to find one that is as closely knit as the Denver Pioneers that recently played in Santa Rosa, CA.

No, these DU players don't have names like Peter Mannino, Geoff Paukovich or Keith Seabrook. Instead, you'll find names like Ron Grahame, Don Cameron and Bob Peers. It is a group of men that consists of mostly members of DU's Original Dynasty that played under the legendary Murray Armstrong.

These Pioneers played in the weeklong Snoopy's Senior World Hockey Tournament that took place at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena (aka Snoopy's Home Ice) in Santa Rosa, CA on July 15-21. The Pioneers won two games, but lost a heartbreaker to the University of Michigan Alums in overtime 5-4.

Tournament History

The Snoopy's Senior World Hockey Tournament, now in its 31st year, is the brainchild of the late "Peanuts" creator and hockey devotee Charles M. "Sparky" Schulz (1922-2000). Schulz himself played in this tournament as a member of the Diamond Icers. Since it's inception in 1975, the tournament has been played every year except in 2001.

Over the years, the tournament has drawn participants from not only across North America, but also from around the world as well. This year, the tournament featured a team from Austria. In past years, countries such as Australia, Finland, Japan, Norway and Switzerland have all been represented at the tournament.

The tournament is comprised of teams ranging in age from 40-75 (with a few exceptions). The teams are placed in age divisions (40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, and 70-plus) named after the various "Peanuts" characters. Each division is made up of four teams. If there is more than one division in a particular age group then they are classified according to playing level, with "A" being the highest level. This year, the tournament featured 52 teams playing in 13 divisions.

Among those who have participated in this tournament over the years include many former National Hockey League players, such as current University of Michigan head coach Red Berenson, former Philadelphia Flyers great Mel Bridgman and DU alum Cliff Koroll.

Denver in the Snoopy Tournament

The current Denver Pioneers were originally called the Denver Centennial Stars. They were among the tournament's original teams back in 1975. In their inaugural appearance, they finished third in what was then known as Division I.

"We were called the Denver (Centennial) Stars before we were the Pioneers," said Bob Peers. "We became the Pioneers four years ago in 2004."

Today, the "new" Denver Centennial Stars also play in this tournament. This year, they competed in the 45-49 "Schroeder" Division and featured two DU alumni in Bill White and Bill Young. Like their elder Denver counterparts who played in the 60-64 "Marcie" Division, the Centennial Stars also captured silver in their age division.

The driving force behind the Denver Pioneers team is Don "Cammy" Cameron, who has played with the Denver team for over two decades. Bob Peers, another longtime Denver player, has also been instrumental in the recruiting aspects for the team.

The idea behind the Denver team for the tournament was actually derived from the original University of Michigan team (now known as the 60's) that the Pioneers have competed against for a number of years. Cameron says that he would like to continue to build the Denver Pioneers team from within the DU hockey alumni community and achieve what the Michigan 60's have both on and off the ice. But as he explains, the process is long and sometimes frustrating.

"What happened a few years ago was that there wasn't enough commitment in the 55 year old group. I thought that maybe I could do something with the alumni at DU that were in that age category and put a team together. We had 12 guys in that group and maybe about five or six guys were DU alumni. That's been the focus from here on out, to try and have DU alumni play in this group. That's been probably five years ago and it continues to grow. Ultimately, we want to raise money for the DU hockey program. That's what we're trying to do. It allows us to give back to the program. It's evolving and all of us on the team feel good about what we're doing.

What I would like to see us do is to somewhat emulate what Michigan has been able to do. They have a good number of their guys who are alumni and they have some ringers that they've brought in. One thing that Michigan has done so well is that they're a totally endowed program. I think when you see the Michigan team altogether with their fans and the camaraderie that they have, it's pretty special. We feel that we have the same thing. Our camaraderie takes a backseat to no one."

While the majority of players are DU alumni, there are players that were brought in from other teams and leagues. Some have even played in previous Snoopy Tournaments with other teams. Newest addition Bob McDowell is one such example. McDowell, who is from Calgary, joined the DU team about a week before the tournament started. McDowell previously played for two Snoopy Tournament teams from his home city – the Waisters and the Old Buffaloes. The latter team also participated in this year's tournament.

Defensemen Bob Brawley (who played at Michigan State) and Blake Emery, along with forwards Peter McEwen and Jim Fieldy have all previously played with the Pioneers and have played with many of the DU alumni in other hockey tournaments over the years.

One of the more intriguing team recruiting accounts is the one behind how former adversary Bill Goodacre came to join the Pioneers.

There are opponents and then there are the Colorado College Tigers. As any DU fan is well aware of, no team is loathed more than their archrivals from down I-25. So to have a former enemy wearing your team's colors makes one wonder how it's possible. However, Goodacre isn't your average former CC Tiger.

"I love the DU guys. They're all great," Goodacre proudly intoned. "It's a heckuva compliment that they asked me to play with them."

This is not the first year that Goodacre has played on DU's tournament team. In fact, his tenure with the team goes back to the Centennial Stars days. What may further surprise both DU and CC fans alike is the fact that Goodacre is an ardent supporter of both programs.

Being given the opportunity to be a part of the DU hockey family during the weeklong tournament offered glimpses into what makes the Denver Pioneers so unique. The many fascinating and sometimes hilarious stories and recollections that were shared made it all the more incredible.

One of the funniest stories had to do with former Spartan Bob Brawley. One evening, while talking about the next day's golf game, he tossed around some par and handicap numbers that no one else seemed to understand and could only be deciphered by a Michigan State-educated statistician. The following morning, Brawley went out and won the golf game.

Then there was Wayne Smith, who could always be counted on to lighten and liven up any gathering. If it wasn't a story that he was entertaining everyone with, then it was his rendition of Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman".

While there were many light-hearted moments throughout the week, there was also a few that made you take pause. The most moving moment was listening to Cliff Koroll when he spoke about his best friend and teammate, Keith Magnuson. "Maggy", as Magnuson was affectionately called, was tragically killed in an automobile accident in 2003. The two men played hockey together for many years and were even best man at each other's weddings.

As Koroll lovingly spoke of Maggy, his face lit up while at the same time it seemed to mask a very personal sadness.

"He would've loved to play in this tournament. Our hockey careers paralleled each other's because we both played in the Saskatchewan Junior League together, then at DU and then again with the Chicago Blackhawks. We were closer than brothers."

In addition to the hockey, the tournament also provided a chance to reunite with old friends and teammates both on and off the ice, make some new friends, and simply have fun and enjoy life.

"For me, playing with these guys that I didn't have a chance to play with, and learning from them and about their skills and their reputations is the best part about it," said goaltender Ron Grahame, the youngest member of the team.

"This is the finest group of post-collegian teammates that I've ever been associated with," added Smith.

"I think it was excellent. It was a chance to renew friendships," said Blake Emery. "The fact that we're still alive for the next one is a good thing. Hopefully we're all here next year because once you get past 60, some of us are on borrowed time."

One of the more interesting discoveries was the fact that very few wives and girlfriends made the trip to Santa Rosa. The ones who were there made the tournament even more enjoyable for everyone.

" It's been really good," said Marie Harrison, the wife of Don Cameron and a DU alum herself. "I always end up being the 'hockey mom'."

" It's better than last year," added Bob Peers' wife, Dolly. "I love hockey. It's competitive and I don't like to see them lose."

One of the most memorable events was the Wednesday game between DU and their tournament nemesis, the University of Michigan. Since becoming the Pioneers, DU has beaten the Wolverines only one once in 2004, so revenge was very much on the minds of the Pioneers.

In the stands near the players benches was the Michigan cheering section complete with choreographed cheers, a chorus of kazoos playing "(Hail to) the Victors", and an obnoxiously sweaky noisemaker that eventually got on everyone's nerves.

Sitting in the stands across the ice, and not to be outdone was the DU cheering section. A slightly smaller but no less raucous group proudly clad in crimson and gold jerseys and waving matching pom-poms with the original 1968 National Championship banner draped on the wall behind them for all to see.

Both cheering sections had no shortage of enthusiasm or energy. And insults directed at the other team were abundant throughout the game. If you didn't know otherwise, you'd think that the game was being played at either Magness or Yost. The only thing missing were the respective schools' bands.

The scene on the ice was as electric as it was off of it. This was the game that both teams wanted equally to win and it showed. Short of a player ejection and maybe an all-out brawl, it had just about everything that one would expect from a fiercely contested game between two of college hockey's most celebrated teams. There was a lot of end-to-end action, great goaltending, many goals scored and of course, some bad blood.

In terms of the tournament itself, it was truly one of the best and most exciting matches. It also drew one of the largest crowds for a game that did not involve a locally based team.

It is often said that experience is the best teacher. But when the lessons taught are as unforgettable as the process of learning them, it makes the experience that much more special. The time spent with this group of remarkable men, along with their wives and girlfriends, was about far more than just getting a DU hockey history lesson. It was about having a better understanding of and appreciation for what it means to be alive and to be a Denver Pioneer. It's the preservation of a storied tradition that started over two generations ago. It's about the passion and respect for the game, the team and each other. It's about the camaraderie and the competitive spirit within. Never did its players in 'me, myself and I' terms describe the team. It was always in 'we, our and us' terms.

Perhaps Ron Grahame summed it up best in the simplest yet most eloquent term – "Pioneer Pride".

That's what it's all about. And to the men who don the DU colors in this tournament each year, that's the way it should be because anything less would be unacceptable.

Author's Note: Special thanks to Lisa Monhoff and the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center for their cooperation in the gathering of historical tournament information for this article.

A very special thank you to Bob Peers for his invaluable insights and assistance that helped make this article possible.
"It's a great day for hockey" - "Badger" Bob Johnson