Oshawa Church Hockey League gives players a start

Rob Pearson played for one year in the Oshawa Church Hockey League (OCHL) in 1984 when he was nine years old and won the most improved player of the year award. He described himself as a small, speedy, aggressive player during his time in the OCHL.

Pearson remembers he had to come back from the hospital after breaking his collarbone to receive the trophy.

“I still have the picture where I was in a sling receiving the trophy in big smiles.” says Pearson, a former NHL player.

In the NHL, he played six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals and the St. Louis Blues.

Pearson went through different stages before reaching the NHL. First, he played in the OCHL, then the Little Native Hockey League (LNHL), next Oshawa minor AAA, and finally the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) before being drafted to the NHL.

“For me, the OHL was the right path and something I always wanted to do growing up while watching the Oshawa Generals,” says Pearson, who got drafted twelfth overall in the NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1989.

“What a feeling it was as my family and I have always been a Maple Leafs fan, as we still have season tickets to this day,” says Pearson.

He says that the NHL was a dream come true for him. Adding that playing his first NHL game in the Maple Leafs Garden was a dream come true.

“The great cities I was fortunate to play in, the great people I met over my career some that I’m still friends with now. Overall a fantastic experience.”

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Rob Pearson playing an NHL game as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Photo credit: provided by Rob Pearson

Pearson went on to finish his NHL career with 269 games played, 56 goals and 54 assists for 110 points.

He thanks his parents for being a huge part of his success.

“They drove me and stayed at all my practices and games, and with three sisters that was a tall task. I owe everything to them for the sacrifices they made,” says Pearson.

After his success, Pearson has returned to his beginnings at the OCHL. He drops pucks during special events as an NHL and Maple Leafs alumni and also hands out the awards at the conclusion of the season.

“I even brought a program called Learn to Play from the Maple Leafs, which puts young kids on the ice to learn and love the game,” he says.

Learn to Play is a program where children learn how to skate, pass, and stick-handle. As they build success on the ice, they also build important character traits to succeed off of the ice.

It was developed by the NHL, National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA). It also changes the way youth hockey is offered by providing first-time participants equipments, weekly sessions of age appropriate on-ice instruction and coaching, led by the NHL alumni.

According to boyerpickering.com, Pearson is currently a member of the Boyer Auto Group team in Pickering, working as the Business Elite Manager. He “handles the fleet and commercial orders for their business customers.” He also participates in many events in support of the Boyer Auto Group, like practicing and meeting with the local PeeWee hockey teams and running special charitable holes at many golf tournaments throughout the year.

“Boyer Auto Group is amazing, it is my second family. The staff is great and the Boyers are fantastic people and I’m so proud to say I work there,” he says, adding that it’s an honour to go on the ice and teach the younger generations.

“I love their smiling faces,” he says.

Pearson also coaches the Whitby Fury and says the Boyer family supports him for balancing his job as a coach and working at Boyer Auto Group.

For Pearson, this career all started at the OCHL at the age of nine.

Going back in time, all the way back to 1947, the OCHL made its debut but it had different names before becoming the Oshawa Church Hockey League.

It started as the Inter-Church Hockey Association and in 1963 changed to the Protestant Church Hockey League (PCHL) and then in 1975, it settled on the OCHL.

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For those who are wondering why is “church” involved in every name, it is because back in the day a lot of churches were involved in hockey leagues. These churches were Knox Prebysterian, St. Andrews Prebysterian, Northminster United, Harmony United, Albert St. United and Simcoe St. United.

There was a rule, according to the OCHL’s treasurer William (Bill) Swindells, “If you didn’t go to church, you couldn’t play hockey that week.”

This was only a policy during the years (1963-1975) it was the PCHL, but years later churches became less involved in determining rules for the league.

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During the early years, the OCHL struggled due to a lack of ice times available and a lack of players to play the game, according to Swindells.

There was only one arena known as the Children’s Arena and one outdoor pad of ice at the North Oshawa Park.

Due to this, the league convinced the City of Oshawa that more ice rinks were required by having the Oshawa Ice groups work together and do presentations to the Oshawa City Council to show the need for more arenas.

After Hambly’s Arena burned down in 1953, the Oshawa Generals left town. In 1962, an ice rink was required for them. That is when the Harman Park arena was built, then the Civic Auditorium in 1964 and the Donevan arena around 1968, according to Swindells.

“This created more ice times available, thus there was an increase in the number of players that could participate,” says Swindells.

The OCHL became stronger by having a dedicated group of individuals who dedicated a lot of time to the sport of hockey to keep the league operational.

“The league has grown steadily over the years by operating in a manner that was recognized by the parents that the league was well run,” says Swindells.

Dave Glazier, a coach at the OCHL who has been involved in the league since 1969, also gives his explanation on why the league has been successful.

“It has been successful because the volunteers, executives, coaches and parents we all try to provide hockey for all players from four years old to 17 years old, a game a week, a practice a week, skills for the players and goalie clinics from one of the best goalie coaches.”

Glazier says that every year the OCHL hosts the Heritage Tournament in January to February. A hundred teams from all different parts of Ontario participate, which makes this the biggest select tournament in the province, according to Glazier.

“This year was the 44th annual tournament. The tournament started in 1976 at the Art Thompson Arena in Pickering and then Oshawa took over in 1978. When they built the new arenas in Oshawa, they were able to expand the tournament with 36 teams,” Glazier says.

This year, there’s a total of 50 teams in the OCHL. An increase from the earlier years when there were eight teams, says Swindells.

Swindells says, the four to seven-year-olds do skill development for the entire year with a few scrimmages. For the eight to 17-year-olds, they play one game per week and practice one time per week from Oct. 1 to Mar. 25 each year.

The way the OCHL impacts the City of Oshawa is by providing a recreational activity to the children in the city, and the tournaments that they hold have a financial impact on businesses in the city with about $250,000 being spent for accommodation and food, according to Swindells.

The OCHL has come a long way but there’s still some hope that it could take another level.

Swindells describes his opinion on his view of what he hopes the OCHL is going to look like in the future.

“I envision continuing growth in the number of players and that the OCHL will continue to put a superior program on the ice at a fair cost to the parents as it has always done. I also would like to see us tap into the non-traditional nationalities that do not consider ice hockey as a sport that their children will play.”