A shifty playmaker, Dave Duchak captained the Trail Smoke Eaters to the Allan Cup championship in 1938. BELOW: He starred for the Calgary Stampeders during the early years of the war.
By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 23, 2010
Dave Duchak, who has died, aged 96, was a crafty centreman and one of the finest amateur hockey players of his generation.
He turned down invitations from three National Hockey League teams, preferring instead to contest the Allan Cup, the trophy presented to the best senior amateur team in the Dominion.
The centreman played in three Allan Cup finals in four seasons, remarkably doing so on three different teams, a testament to his accuracy as a shooter and his value as a teammate. He won the cup with a celebrated Trail Smoke Eaters squad in 1938.
He won another Allan Cup in 1946 as manager of the Calgary Stampeders.
A savvy playmaker and a hard-nosed competitor, he was offered tryouts by the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, and New York Americans. He rejected their entreaties, preferring instead the security of steady work in jobs offered by companies sponsoring his hockey teams.
Pale in complexion, with a broad face and hair he combed to a jaunty peak, his ready smile masked a nasty streak necessary for survival in his unforgiving sport. Though never heavily penalized, he was known to raise his stick high when about to me bodychecked. That habit, which certainly would have given opponents pause, did not save him from a nearly fatal hit on the ice.
Born on Aug. 18, 1913, at Moose Jaw, Sask., David Duchak was the youngest of nine children born to Marie and Mike Duchack, as the family name was also spelled, a labourer of Ukrainian heritage from Horodenko in Austria-Hungary. At age 40, before the boy’s third birthday, Mike Duchack enlisted in the Canadian army to fight in the Great War. He was discharged less than two years later as being medically unfit and died in hospital while convalescing from tuberculosis.
Older brothers took on the responsibility of raising Dave, who completed his grade-school education before studying accountancy at Moose Jaw Normal School.
At 5-foot-8, 145 pounds, the young athlete also won acclaim for his prowess on football field. On an icy field in November, 1932, he led the junior Moose Jaw Maroons to a Western Canadian title with a decisive 17-8 victory over Calgary.
“Dave Duchak’s highly educated toe was the deciding factor in the Moose Jaw triumph,” the Winnipeg Free Press reported. “It was his brilliant punting that produced nine of his team’s points, and was also indirectly responsible for the scoring of three others.”
Capable of booming punts, feared for flinging long spirals, Duchak was also a threat as a runner and a pass receiver.
After junior football, he joined the Moose Jaw Millers, who played in a circuit including the Regina (now Saskatchewan) Roughriders, who boasted five American imports. Duchak was the outstanding player in 1934 when the Millers defeated the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, 10-2, kicking five points and confusing the opponents with his broken field running.
In the arena, he played junior hockey for the hometown Cubs before advancing to the senior Crescents at age 20 for the 1933-34 season. He would be among scoring leaders throughout his senior career.
When he was unable to find a job in Moose Jaw in the midst of the Depression, the North Battleford Beavers succeeded in recruiting him with the promise of off-ice employment. He took a position with team sponsor Dominion Fruit, and plotted on how to intimidate opponents.
“I was about 140 pounds, and as captain of the team, we wanted to look bigger,” he told the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix eight years ago. “We made the Beaver crests on the front of the jersey as big as we could. The striped ribbing in our sleeves extended to the elbows.”
Duchak wore sweater No. 33, while linemate Clarence Shillington chose No. 66 and Cam Burke went with No. 99, he reminisced. The outrageous numbers were thought to make the players look more intimidating.
The Beavers advanced to the 1937 Allan Cup finals for Dominion senior hockey supremacy. The Sudbury Frood Tigers from Ontario featured a roster including several future NHL players, including Bingo Kampman, Murph (Old Hardrock) Chamberlain, and Mel (Sudden Death) Hill. The Beavers, whose future contribution to the NHL would be the brothers Squee and George Allen, took the Tigers to a fifth and final game before losing the series and the cup.
Duchak transferred to the Trail (B.C.) Smoke Eaters the following season, taking a job as a warehouseman for the Consolidated Mining & Smelting Co. He was named captain of the club, whose black-and-orange sweater included a chest patch featuring a pair of belching smokestacks. The team recorded 19 wins, four losses, and one tie in the regular season. Duchak had 16 goals and 20 assists
The Smoke Eaters eliminated the Nelson (B.C.) Maple Leafs, the Kimberley (B.C.) Dynamiters, the Calgary Rangers, the Flin Flon (Man.) Bombers, and the Port Arthur (Ont.) Bearcats before facing the Cornwall (Ont.) Flyers in a best-of-five Allan Cup showdown. Duchak skated like a demon in the playoffs, scoring several key goals.
The Allan Cup series began at Saskatoon with Duchak firing two goals in a 6-4 victory.
The series than moved to Calgary. A special train from Trail arrived with more than 500 die-hard Smoke Eater partisans, including a brass band and a troupe of acrobats. The band played after every Trail goal, while the gymnasts tumbled for the spectators before the match.
Duchak dominated all skaters with another pair of goals and a pair of assists as Trail dominated, 8-2.
The Flyers avoided a sweep with a 2-1 victory, Duchak scoring the loser’s lone marker.
The “mountain magicians,” as the sports writers styled the Trail squad, then claimed the senior hockey crown with a comfortable 3-1 win, Cornwall’s goal coming in the final minute of play.
As the Smoke Eaters were joined on the ice by their fans, Duchak shook hands with celebrants while clutching the historic trophy in his left arm.
“We made our own breaks,” the Trail captain said after the game. He had led all scorers with five goals and two assists in four games.
The team was greeted by more than 7,000 delirious well-wishers when their train pulled into Trail’s downtown station. The applause lasted 15 minutes as the players disembarked before being paraded through downtown atop a fire truck.
The Dominion title earned the Smoke Eaters the right to represent Canada at the world championships the following year, a title the Trail team won handily. Duchak missed their famous overseas jaunt, as he had taken a position as playing coach of the new Calgary Stampeders hockey team.
He suffered a grievous injury in a game against the Olds (Alta.) Elks when a body-check knocked him off balance. His head struck the ice with a thud. Play continued, as Calgary scored. When players rushed to his side, they discovered he had swallowed his tongue. A teammate and the referee needed to pry his clenched jaw open. He was rushed to hospital in critical condition with a skull fracture.
In 1940, the Stamps advanced to the Allan Cup finals before losing to the Kirkland Lake (Ont.) Blue Devils in a series play at Toronto. Duchak scored 10 goals in 11 playoff games.
It was his third appearance in the Allan Cup finals in four seasons.
The Stampeders suspended play during the Second World War, as players fulfilled their military obligations. Duchak played for the Buffaloes, an intermediate team that won the Western Canada title.
“The team we met in the final was a group of commandos who were stationed in British Columbia,” he once said. “We beat them but they darned near killed us.”
With Duchak as manager, the revived Stampeders won the Allan Cup in 1946. The team lost the cup finals the following year to the Montreal Royals.
A key figure in organizing and promoting hockey at all levels in Calgary, he also served on the executive committee of the Stampeders football team, which won the Grey Cup championship in 1948.
In 1964, he was named commissioner of a new junior-A hockey league in Alberta. He donated a trophy to the season championship.
Away from the ice, Duchak married Lauraine Domage in 1937. On moving to Calgary, he took the first of several positions with the Calgary Brewing and Malting Co. He managed the soda pop division before becoming supervisor of the company’s hotel chain.
He moved from Alberta to take a job managing a hotel in Barbados in 1966. His duties later included operating a five-star luxury hotel in Bermuda at which Randolph Churchill was a frequent dinner guest.
The hotelier returned to Canada to supervise a chain before retiring at age 67 in 1980.
Duchak was inducted into the North Battleford Sports Hall of Fame as a player in 2002 and the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder last year. The 1938-39 Trail Smoke Eaters were named to the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 1976 and the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1994.
Last year, at age 95, he presented the Dave Duchak Trophy to the Spruce Grove Saints for topping the standings in the regular season. It was the first time he had held the silverware that bears his name.
David Duchak was born on Aug. 18, 1913, at Moose Jaw, Sask. He died on July 11 at Edmonton. He was 96. He leaves Lauraine (nee Dolmage), his wife of 72 years; a son; a daughter; four grandchildren; and, two great-granddaughters.