Sports

Sockeyes’ founder Allison created a lasting legacy

Longtime Richmondite Bruce Allison was the first owner and general manager of the Richmond Sockeyes. - sub
Longtime Richmondite Bruce Allison was the first owner and general manager of the Richmond Sockeyes.
— image credit: sub

With a rich history in fishing, it was only appropriate that Richmond’s first junior hockey team be known as the Sockeyes.

Bruce Allison chose the moniker following a name-the-team contest, paying homage to the once-abundant fishery that attracted early settlers to Lulu Island’s shores.

It was 1972 and Allison, fresh from being one of the founders and first presidents of the Gulf of Georgia Minor Hockey Association (forerunner of Seafair), had just been awarded an expansion franchise in the fledgling Pacific Coast junior league.

“And when you think about it, not only does the name fit with the local history but there aren’t a lot of franchises that have maintained the same name for 40 years,” says his son Jim.

Currently principal at Steveston-London Secondary, Jim—then in his tween years—remembers his dad being passionate about education for young hockey players.

“My father was always concerned about that because in those days young, aspiring junior players often went away to play and their school work suffered greatly,” he says. “It wasn’t uncommon for 20- and 21-year-olds to be playing junior and having not yet graduated from high school, let alone getting in post-secondary opportunities.”

Clearly years ahead of his time, Allison was known for coaching clinics and hockey schools that focused on skill development for young players. Also assuming the role of general manager of the Sockeyes (with Bruno Pasquolotto as coach), he was confident that local players would benefit greatly—both on the ice and in the classroom—by being able to play hockey without having to leave home. At the same time, they’d be able to attend regular classes.

“There were enough capable players in the Lower Mainland, and who wouldn’t want to play where they grew up?” says Jim. “The Sockeyes were always pretty good at having a strong core of 10 or 12 players with Richmond connections. It became important for those guys to play for the Sockeyes.”

Attendance in those early days was strong, so good, in fact, that the team often played to a full house.

“I remember fondly any time we went to the rink—games were always on a Tuesday—it was packed with up to 1,600 people,” Jim says. “That lasted probably two decades.”

But while Allison remained steadfast in belief that education and hockey could co-exist, Jim says he quickly came to understand it was “a stupidly expensive proposition.” A financial partner came aboard in the Sockeyes’ second season, and following philosophical differences, Allison eventually sold his share of the team.

But Allison was far from being done contributing to the game he loved. In 1974 he helped form the Pac-A junior league that featured the Sockeyes and Nor Wes Caps among others. The winner of this league played the B.C. Junior A Hockey League champion for the Mowat Cup, which symbolized provincial Junior A supremacy. Teams from the Pac-A won the trophy three times in seven years—the Caps in 1976 and the Sockeyes in 1977 (defeating Nanaimo Clippers) and 1979 (Kamloops Chiefs) before the two leagues merged in 1980.

The Sockeyes won the Mowat Cup again in 1987 and went on to win the Centennial Cup (now the RBC Cup) as Canadian Junior A champions under the guidance of coach Orland Kurtenbach.

Allison, who promoted the use of face masks long before it was fashionable and was among the first to introduce hockey scholarships, also served as vice-president and president of the Pacific Coast and B.C. amateur hockey associations before becoming president of the B.C. Junior Hockey League from 1988 until his death in 1990.

Ironically, while Jim himself never played for the Sockeyes (suiting up for three years with the Pac-A rival Coquitlam Comets instead), some of his best games were against his hometown team.

“Selfishly it was probably better for my development (to play elsewhere),” says Jim, who finished up his hockey career playing three years of pro in Europe.

Today, Jim’s son (and Allison’s grandson) is in his third season with the Sockeyes, now a member of the Pacific International Junior Hockey League. Through 15 games, Dean Allison, 18, leads the team in scoring with nine goals and 14 assists. His 23 points is third-best in the league.

“He would have loved to sit in the stands and watch his grandson, even more so because he’s playing for the team he created,” says Jim. “And he’d be proud of the way the franchise has evolved with guys like Doug Paterson part of the ownership group today. It shows a legacy of people caring enough to stay attached. That’s how you measure success.”

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