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Kelcher big part of Allan Cup win

Dave Dawson, Special to The Packet & Times

Doug Kelcher is shown with a fan at a pregame ceremony during the team’s Allan Cup-winning season in 1972-73. (Submitted photo)

Doug Kelcher is shown with a fan at a pregame ceremony during the team’s Allan Cup-winning season in 1972-73. (Submitted photo)

In September 1972, after a mediocre start to the season, Orillia Terriers coach Joe Kane, during a mid-week practice, shocked his players and the team’s management, walking away from the team.

“I remember we had just played in Owen Sound and I think we were probably 4-2 or something like that,” recalled defenceman Doug Kelcher. “In the middle of practice — I remember it was a Tuesday night — Kane stops everything and says, ‘Nobody is listening to me.’ And then he looks at me and says, ‘Doug, you’re the new coach.’ And he walked away.”

Kelcher, a high-school teacher in Toronto, had no inkling of the move and no idea why Kane selected him to take the reins. But Kelcher did just that, becoming a playing coach for the Terriers, who went all the way to the Allan Cup final three years earlier.

“I remember driving home from practice with (teammate Mike) Draper and (Gary) Milroy and we all thought he would come back,” said Kelcher, now 69.

Kane did not return. And Kelcher led his team to a stellar 31-13 record as Orillia finished just behind the powerful Barrie Flyers for second place in the highly competitive Ontario Hockey Association’s Senior A division.

While Kelcher was coach, the team was full of veterans and leaders; he downplays his own role in the team’s somewhat surprising success.

“We didn’t fight internally like some teams did,” said Kelcher. “Tom Polanic was our captain and he was a great help, as was Tom McCarthy (now deceased). It was a great group of guys that just got along and played well together.”

In addition, the team’s brain trust was in his corner.

“Don Stoutt was the president of the team and ran the off-ice stuff and he really isolated me from any crap that was going on,” said Kelcher. “To me, as the coach, he was great — very, very helpful.”

In those days, Orillia and Barrie were perennial rivals and the best teams of their time. For the Terriers, the path to the Allan Cup would go through Barrie. In a tough playoff series for the Ontario championship, the teams were tied 2-2 in their best-of-seven series heading into pivotal Game 5 in Barrie.

“I remember we played in Barrie on Good Friday and we won Game 5 mostly thanks to (goaltender Jean-Louis) Levasseur. He was tremendous that game.”

Back at home in Game 6, the Terriers were desperate to knock off the rival Flyers in front of their rabid home fans at the Community Centre. The tight game went into overtime; the tension inside the old barn was palpable. Ironically, it was Kelcher — a stay-at-home defenceman who rarely scored — who notched the series winner in overtime.

“That was the biggest win we ever had,” said Kelcher. “Barrie was the second-best team in Canada, in my opinion, and we didn’t want to go back there for Game 7. Who knows what might have happened then? We knew if we could get by them, we’d have a chance to win the Allan Cup.”

After finally managing to beat their arch rivals, the Terriers had a best-of-five playdown with Thunder Bay for the Eastern Canadian championship. While memories of that series are less clear, Kelcher said the Terriers won the series in Thunder Bay in the fifth and deciding game.

Orillia then hosted the Allan Cup — a best-of-seven series against the St. Boniface Mohawks from Manitoba. After the Terriers easily won Game 1 12-2, the Mohawks shocked the home side, winning Game 2 6-4.

“At home, everybody expected us to win, so there was a lot of pressure on us,” said Kelcher. “After that second game, Jimmy Keon, who was injured, I think, in the first game, told us we had to get it together. He ran the bench during the rest of the Allan Cup and did a great job.”

As did the players. Once again, Levasseur stepped up his play and the Terriers went on to dominate the next three games (by a combined 27-8 score) and won their first — and only — Allan Cup in the city’s history.

“The atmosphere was just electric,” Kelcher recalled. “All of the games were sold out. I think it was a real source of pride for the city to win the Allan Cup.”

Almost 40 years later, memories of hockey in Orillia still bring a smile to the face of Kelcher, who won the Ken McNabb trophy as Orillia’s top defenceman in 1973 and 1974.

“Those days in Orillia were among the greatest days of our lives,” said Kelcher, who remains friends with many of those teammates who celebrated with tears and champagne in the Community Centre that memorable night of May 13, 1973. “The town was really behind us. It was a great place to play.”

Kelcher, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound blueliner, played the following year in Orillia — his sixth season with the Terriers — before hanging up his skates to concentrate on his high-school teaching career. In 1982, he left teaching to work for Labatt’s in its international hockey division, representing the iconic beer brand at a pair of Olympics and several world championships.

In 1988, he changed career paths again, this time heading up the Licensing Corporation of America’s Toronto branch, where he worked in licensing various major brands — including the National Hockey League Players’ Association — until Time Warner took over and eventually closed the Toronto office.

Never one to sit still, Kelcher took up the invitation of a friend who started Surgically Clean Air, a Toronto-based company that sells air-purification systems.

“My role is to build the sports side of the business,” said Kelcher. “The Vancouver Canucks have bought the system as have the Jays, the Argos… Part of my job is to educate people about the product and the importance of air quality. It’s an interesting job.”

Kelcher has also become heavily involved in baseball. Several years ago, his friend Elliott Kerr started an Intercounty Baseball League team in Mississauga and asked Kelcher to come on board. So, for the past five years, even as the team moved to Burlington, Kelcher has been the squad’s general manager.

Kelcher is married and has two adult children, a son and a daughter. He also has five grandchildren and the whole clan lives within walking distance of the Kelcher homestead in West Hill (Scarborough), where the family has lived since 1971.

The whole family was there in 2008 when Detroit Red Wings forward Kris Draper brought the Stanley Cup to the Kelcher home; Draper’s dad, Mike, became lifelong friends with Kelcher when the two played together in Orillia.

“The families have been friends forever,” said Kelcher. “Mike lives across the street from me and has since 1971. It was a pretty nice moment to have the Stanley Cup here. We have some great pictures from that day. The kids were eating cereal out of the cup.”

As for Kane, one wonders if he regretted walking away from a team that would win senior hockey’s holy grail.

“No; he didn’t regret it,” said Kelcher, who stayed in touch with Kane. “He said, ‘See, I was right.’ And he was. It was the right move for the right team at the right time.”

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