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Schoenfeld-fullBy Jonathon Jackson

Jim Schoenfeld was only 22 years old when he came close to hoisting the Stanley Cup as captain of the Buffalo Sabres.

It took him 39 years to get back to the Cup final, this time as assistant general manager of the New York Rangers. He missed out on the prize again, but old friends have taken delight in remembering how Schoenfeld's road to the NHL picked up speed while he was a teenager, living and playing hockey in Owen Sound.

Schoenfeld-d-feature"He clearly left a mark here," says Brian Warrilow, a longtime local hockey figure who was Schoenfeld's teammate on the 1966-67 bantam rep team, known then as the Police bantams because they were sponsored by the city's police department.

Schoenfeld and his family came here in 1966 from Galt, now part of Cambridge. His father Glenn owned a paint company in Galt, but sold out to Nor-Var, a now-defunct paint manufacturer located along Owen Sound's west harbour.

As part of the deal, Glenn Schoenfeld accepted a four-year contract to work as Nor-Var's manager. He and his wife Joyce and their family moved into a home in the 1400 block of 5th Avenue "A" West, a short stretch of road that ended at the Pottawatomi River.

Jim was in Grade 9 at the time, enrolled at West Hill Secondary School. He had been playing hockey for a few years in Galt, although his sister Bonnie Dahmer says with a laugh that he was a "horrible" player at first.

"He got his first pair of skates when he was eight," Dahmer says, remembering it was Christmas of 1960. She recalls their father taking him to his first games and lamenting young Jim's inability to skate.

"The next thing I knew, he was on the all-star team," she says. "He was never a great skater, but he worked really hard. He had the heart to get through it. And he was on the all-star team from then on."

The bantam all-star team, what we now know as a representative or rep team, is whatSchoenfeld-c-feature Jim had his sights set on when he showed up at the old Owen Sound arena in the fall of 1966. Warrilow remembers coaches Ted Reid and Beano Parker coming to him and explaining that his ice time would be limited because of the size and skill of the 14-year-old newcomer on defence.

"I can say that Jim Schoenfeld put me on the bench," he says now, laughing.

But Warrilow says neither he nor anyone else resented Schoenfeld's presence, because it was clear he was a good player who would give their team a chance to win. Teammates still recall a tournament in Brantford where Owen Sound was playing a team from Detroit that featured the Howe brothers, Marty and Mark.

Gordie Howe, at that time, was already a living legend with the Detroit Red Wings, and the Owen Sound kids all realized he was in the stands, watching them play. Schoenfeld took it upon himself to make an impression.

"He was hitting anything and everything that moved in that game," Warrilow says, adding he checked one Detroit player so hard the boy had to be removed from the ice on a stretcher. "He became even bigger in my mind. He was a man with boys in that bantam game. He was clearly an outstanding player."

Schoenfeld earned a spot on the Crescent midget team the following season, where he continued to display a single-minded determination. Dahmer says that even before her brother ever owned a pair of skates, he had decided he was going to play in the National Hockey League. Nothing would stop him.

Schoenfeld-e-featureBill Burlington was Schoenfeld's bantam and midget hockey teammate as well as a neighbour. They spent a lot of time walking together to and from school and the downtown arena.

"He would always tell me he was going to play three years of Junior A and then play in the NHL," says Burlington, a recent inductee in the Owen Sound Sports Hall of Fame for his own superlative hockey career.

"I would say, 'Jim, come on,' but he had that in his mind. That's what he was going to do, and he did it."

Others remember similar stories. Doug Bishop, another neighbour, was at a game in Galt when he overheard Schoenfeld talking with some of his old friends about their futures. Someone asked Jim if he would go to college or university after high school.

"He said, 'No, I don't need that, I'm going to play in the NHL,' Bishop says. "He was only 14 years old, but that's what he said."

After only one season with the midgets, Schoenfeld won a spot with the Junior B Greys in the fall of 1968. He had just turned 16, but a local newspaper report suggested his youth would not be an issue.

"A tall, hard-working defenceman, Schoenfeld is considered to have quite a career ahead of him," an anonymous reporter wrote in the Sun Times.

As focused as the boy was, there was more to him than just hockey. He was a friendly youth who liked to joke around, play the guitar and sing.Schoenfeld-f-feature

He played road hockey with neighbourhood friends. Burlington laughs as he remembers how one game ended with a broken window at the Burlington home. He and Schoenfeld emptied their piggy banks and scrambled to have the window repaired before Burlington's father came home from work.

Schoenfeld got involved with coaching minor sports and was an all-around athlete, playing baseball and softball in the summer and participating in track and field in the spring. Burlington also has a vivid memory of a determined Schoenfeld insisting on seeing a high-jump competition through to the end, even though he had no hope of winning the event.

He also suited up with West Hill's football team, which at the time was called the Blues. In fact, in the autumn of 1968, there were some Friday afternoons when he would play football before speeding off to wherever the Greys would be in the evening. On the night of November 1, he scored his first Junior B goal in a win in Goderich – it was a slap shot from the point – after helping quarterback the Blues to a victory over OSCVI.

"He was a jokester. He was a bit naïve when he was young," said football teammate Jim Tombros, laughing as he looks back.

"We would go out on a double date and he hadn't been with a girl before, and I'd tell him a lie and he'd believe it, stuff like that. But he was a very good-natured guy in high school."

Tombros also became Schoenfeld's regular defence partner with the Greys. He quickly got a taste of his friend's forcefulness.

"He was a big, strong boy. When he played Junior B, he hadn't developed yet, but you could see flashes. We used to run up at Victoria Park and he would sprint ahead. I would say, 'What are you doing?' and he would say, 'I'm going to make the NHL.' He was very determined."

The flashes were there, and Schoenfeld worked on his game tirelessly. But there wasn't much of a pattern to follow at the time in terms of making it to pro hockey. Schoenfeld was a raw prospect, and Burlington says his friend seemed to think he had to carry the puck from end to end and create offence, the way Bobby Orr was doing with the Boston Bruins.

But Schoenfeld's season with the Greys was a success. He was Owen Sound's top-scoring defenceman with 22 points in 31 games, and he also led the team in penalty minutes as Owen Sound advanced to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

The London Knights drafted Schoenfeld from the Greys in the spring of 1969 and he spent that summer working at a hockey camp in Southampton, coaching kids but also participating in the drills alongside them. He made the Knights that fall and, true to his word, spent three years in Junior A.

Now a solid defensive defenceman who liked to play it rough, he was chosen by Buffalo with the fifth-overall pick in the 1972 NHL draft. He jumped straight to the Sabres at age 20. Only two years later, he was named the team's captain, and led Buffalo to within two wins of the 1975 Stanley Cup, falling to Philadelphia in six games.

When Schoenfeld's playing career ended in 1985, he immediately moved into coaching and eventually into administration. Along with his role with the Rangers, he serves as general manager of their farm team in the American Hockey League.

 

 

"Success never went to his head," Bonnie Dahmer says, adding she remains close to her brother. He was a source of strength for her during her late husband's recent illness and death, leaving the Rangers organization for a period of time last fall to help the Dahmers with chores around their Barrie-area home.

Schoenfeld also maintained ties to Owen Sound for many years after his departure, coming up to play golf and, on one occasion, to speak at a Crescent Club banquet.

His Owen Sound friends could not have foreseen the success he had predicted for himself, but they weren't surprised when it did happen.

"We'd all like to think we'll make the NHL," Burlington says. "He wasn't the best player. He wasn't a Bobby Orr. But he was big and strong and he had that desire."

"He had a much different attitude about playing than we did," Warrilow adds. "With myself, there was just joy in playing. With Jim, there was a purpose, and he clearly had a vision of what he was going to do.

"I couldn't have told you that then, but I could tell you that now, because there's a few people that I've coached that, I saw in them what I saw in Jim as a teammate."

* * *

Owen Sound does have two connections to the Los Angeles Kings' triumph over the Rangers. Kings' centre Trevor Lewis played for the Owen Sound Attack in 2006-07. Former Attack GM Michael Futa is the Kings' vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel.

It's the second Cup triumph for both men. Futa brought the cherished trophy to Owen Sound when Los Angeles won it for the first time in 2012.

Jonathon Jackson lives and writes in Owen Sound. He can be reached at [email protected]

 


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