By Doug Kennedy
When you are entrenched in the wonderful world of sports, as an athlete, a coach, an administrator, an official, a media person, or a volunteer, you meet many outstanding people along the way. That certainly applies to the hockey community in Ontario.
I have met so many good people over 40 years of being embedded in the game, from my days playing junior B in St. Marys, to the many years on the hockey operations side with the Kincardine Bulldogs, and more recently with the provincial junior hockey league. For the last 30 years, Bill Brown has been one of my best friends. Brown passed away a couple of weeks ago, after a five-year fight with cancer. We are the same age and played junior B (he played for Owen Sound Greys) with really good teams. We both played fastball. We both coached hockey and fastball from a young age. It was like we were supposed to meet in the Wingham arena, coaching against each other over 30 years ago.
I always told kids that played with the Bulldogs, the friends you made playing here would be lifetime friends, such as my line mates in junior B, Dunny and Spook, or the people I was involved with on the Kincardine Bulldogs organization, or like Brown, who was usually part of the opposition for close to 30 years.
Brown and I used to take a lot of heat from our respected communities about our friendship. The most popular comment was ‘how can you be that nice to the enemy?’ Brown and I were way too competitive to let our friendship get in the way of our desire to win.
There were not many Monday mornings that we did not talk about our past weekend, with our teams and family. His greatest two loves were his family and his two daughters, Alison and Julie.
Alison told me this past weekend that her dad was happiest when coaching, scouting and mentoring young hockey players. It has been wonderful hearing stories and memories from so many people the last two weeks and we look forward to keeping his memory alive. He was looking forward to when Alison had her baby in March.
In the mid-90s, the two of us teamed up to coach and manage the Owen Sound Greys junior B team. I found it tough to manage a junior B team the right way, living 60 miles away, so it was a one-year job for me. Brown continued on to build the Greys into a winning organization.
In his many years of coaching and managing teams in his hometown of Wingham, he built up many friendships, but none bigger than his bond with one of his players, Kyle Wheeler.
Wheeler said “Bill was a big supporter of local talent who he saw potential in.” Kyle feels with Brown’s passing, there will be a lot of local players that will not get the opportunities to advance to the levels that Brown always advocated for.
Brown coached Wheeler for seven seasons in minor and junior hockey.
“Bill was a competitor who wanted his teams to win,” said Wheeler. “It was this type of coaching strategy that made him successful with several teams he coached, whether it was minor, junior, or summer hockey. The skills Bill taught were not just for sports, but for life. If you want to be successful one must work hard, be smart, have a game plan, be disciplined, and be motivated to win. All things Bill preached.”
Wheeler and I share one thought and that was that Brown always brought a smile to your face and everyone around him. Wheeler knows several coaches that Brown got started and helped advance in hockey.
As well as being involved in running a junior hockey franchise, he started scouting in the OHL.The first team he scouted for were the Ottawa 67s. I would jump in and go to the odd game with him, but he would spend most weekends in the winter at AAA tournaments somewhere in the province.
After a few years with Ottawa, he stepped away for a couple of years, but that love for the game drew him back to scout for the Windsor Spitfires. I would meet him in Goderich and we would head to Windsor to watch some OHL playoff games. He was part of two Memorial Cup championships in Windsor and one OHL championship in Ottawa. I got to meet Brian Kilrey when we went to Ottawa games and DJ Smith, Warren Ryclet and Bob Boughner, when we were in Windsor. I could have gone to both memorial cups with Brown in Quebec and our West, but I did not. I wish I had to decide that over again.
Two of his best friends from the OHL where Murray Hiebert (former manager and past head scout for the Kitchener Rangers) and Terry Uniac (long-time junior A scout and junior B coach in the Stratford area.
He coached Exeter in the old junior D league, bringing his team to an all-Ontario championship. One of his former players, Bentley Dundas from St. Mary’s, called Brown a player’s coach. Dundas said they had an older team in Exeter that year and a number of players had junior B experience.
“Bill would let us have fun off the ice but made sure when we went to the rink for games or practices he was able to push the right buttons and get the most out of us,” said Dundas.
He said there were a lot of fun memories of Brownie on and off the ice. He said he will never forget that smile and laugh.
Kincardine Bulldogs GM, Warren Beisel, worked hand-in-hand with and against Brown over the last 20 years.
“Bill had a very unique personality and never shied away from a good time,” said Beisel. “Bill’s passion for sports was unquestionable; however his love for people and a desire to get to know and impact as many people as he could, was unfathomable. What made Bill so special to me is that he took a keen interest in both my kids’ daily lives. He would always ask, how is Jordan or what is Casey up to? He really cared and had an interest in them. At times Bill was a father figure for me, he always had advice whether I agreed with his opinion or not. Bill always put everyone’s happiness as a priority, a truly special man with a big heart. I am so very thankful to have had him a big part of my family’s life.”
I talked to Brown a couple of days before he passed away and we said our good byes, and talked about all the great times we have together over the past 30 years. Brian Royle, Warren, Brown and I went to many baseball and hockey playoff games and we also went to the NHL draft in Columbus.
My favourite trip was to Columbus when Brown had a great talk with Lindy Ruff (Buffalo was his favourite team), and Royle had a talk with Bob Gainey (the Habs are Royle’s favourite team) and Gainey told Royle to invest in a new Habs Jersey. The one he had on was a little snug.
Brown is one of the greatest people I have ever met, and his memory will be with me every time I step into an arena.
RIP Brownie, from Doug and Cathy, and thanks for a lifetime full of memories.