Once a Golden Bear, always …

TIMMINS – It was a special weekend for fans who followed the Golden Bears when they played in Timmins between the 1991-92 and 1998-99 seasons.

Not only did the Timmins Rock — the team the Golden Bears evolved into after a pit stop in Iroquois Falls — introduce their new third jerseys during the throw-back night on Saturday, they brought back more than 10 former players and off-ice officials.

By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)

The former players were introduced to the fans prior to the official puck-dropping ceremony prior to the start of Saturday night’s NOJHL game between the Rock and the visitor Powassan Voodoos.

Former Golden Bears sniper Jimmy Ratte, always a fan favourite during his playing days, received the loudest ovation and Mac, the Rock mascot, went down on one knee to pay homage the Fauquier-Strickland native.

“It was really nice to get a chance to see some of my old teammates again,” he said.

“I have some good memories of my time here in Timmins. I spent three years with the Golden Bears and I really loved it. We used to get lots of fans out to our games in those days, as well.”

His fondest memory?

“Probably when we hosted the Dudley Hewitt Cup (1994),” Ratte said.

“We lost, but we had a good run. It was a lot of fun.”

When it comes to all-time great former Golden Bears, few players not named Steve Sullivan, Andrew Bain or Dean Roach rank up there with Ratte.

Ratte’s 196 career points rank him No. 2 behind Bain’s 269 and his 119 goals are second only to Bain’s 125.

Ratte, who broke into the NOJHL with the Bears in 1991-92, had his best season in 1992-93, when he scored 59 goals and added 31 assists for 90 points in 44 games, while spending 98 minutes in the sin bin.

That goal total ties him with Derek MacNair (also during the 1992-93 season) for second most in an individual season to the 66 Sullivan scored in 1991-92.

While Ratte still enjoys the game of hockey, he has been away from the game for some time now.

“The last time I coached, it was with the North Bay Skyhawks,” he said.

“That was a long time ago.”

He does, however, still play a bit of oldtimers hockey.

Bob Gagnon was a teammate of Ratte’s during the Golden Bears first year in Timmins.

“It really brought back memories when we saw the team skate out onto the ice wearing those uniforms, that’s for sure,” he said.

“We actually played our first exhibition game here in this building prior to the 1991-92 season, which was awesome.”

The right-winger had a fairly productive campaign with the Golden Bears (31, 14-26-40, 61) that season, helping the team post a record of 33-13-2.

Gagnon and his former teammates kept in touch long after their Junior ‘A’ days were done.

“Most of us ended up playing together for lots of years in men’s leagues and tournaments,” he said.

“We all stayed friends, lifetime friends, that’s for sure. It’s a great sport. I am sure it will be the same for the kids playing today. They will make friendships that will last a lifetime.”

Al Girouard was a part of the Golden Bears blue-line from the 1991-92 season through the 1993-94 campaign.

He really appreciated seeing the Rock players wearing Golden Bears jerseys during Saturday night’s contest.

“It was kind of neat to look at the numbers being worn by the players and look back in retrospect and thinking if that was us, would we have been that fast, because we are older now,” he said.

“It is kind of hard to picture ourselves as that age, back then.”

Girouard’s difficulty trying to gain a clear picture might have had something to do with the fact there was nobody on the ice wearing his No. 8, since the Rock player currently assigned that number, Riley Robitaille, was serving the fifth game of a five-game suspension.

“That’s not surprising,” he said, with a chuckle, upon learning the fate of the modern-day player sharing his franchise link through history and the No. 8.

“That sounds like me in my playing days.”

Girouard (131, 20-94-114, 184) was, after all, no stranger to the penalty box during his days with the Golden Bears.

When his Junior ‘A’ days ended, he played two seasons with the Laurentien University Voyageurs and he is now head coach of the Nickel City Sons Minor Bantam ‘AA’ team and is also an assistant coach with the Nickel City Sons Minor Peewee ‘AA’ squad.

Girouard tries, as much as possible, to keep in touch with his former teammates.

“Myself and Andrew Vehkata started a Facebook page for the original team to try and get the boys back involved,” he said.

“I also come back every summer and play gold in the Molson Lever Sullivan Classic. We try to get as many guys as possible to show up and have a yearly event where we can get back together. That’s the fun part of the hockey, the lasting friendships.”

Given the success of this year’s Golden Bears jersey event, Girouard would like to see it become an annual event.

“We really hope so,” he said.

“It would be nice to see even more former players come out to help make things even more interesting.”

Other former Golden Bears players on hand Saturday night included Chris Brousseau, Corey Moylan, Marty Nadeau, Daniel Lafontaine, Tony Sanguilano, Rick Vachon, Joel Campbell.

In addition, former president Mike Kentish, trainer Wayne Bozzer and scout Claude Dallaire were also on hand.