You know what they say about March 4th: It’s the only day of the year that is a command.
That date commands my attention as the anniversary of the first live hockey game I ever saw. It was in Lewiston, Maine, and my hometown Maine Nordiques played the visiting Johnstown (Pa.) Jets during the 1974-75 season of the old North American Hockey League (roughly the equivalent of today’s ECHL).
We parked our car at my grandparents’ house on Webster Street and walked down the hill to the arena, my father and brother and I. The Nordiques lost, 5-4, but won me as a fan for life, mine much longer than theirs, as it turned out.
‘Captain Crunch’ Globensky
The Nordiques were a farm team of the World Hockey Association’s Quebec Nordiques. Maine played its final game in spring 1977, getting swept by the Syracuse Blazers in the Lockhart Cup championship. My brother and I were there; we worked our way near the Blazers dressing room, nauseated by the smell of sweaty players and their celebration with the trophy.
That fall, the league collapsed, in part because flood-ravaged Johnstown had nowhere to play and a fan base that had more serious matters than minor-pro hockey to worry about.
Maine in general and Lewiston in particular have had other hockey teams in the intervening years, some of them great teams that won championships at the college (University of Maine), major junior (Lewiston Maineiacs), and minor league (Maine Mariners, Portland Pirates) levels.
But I’ve never gotten over the Maine Nordiques. They were my first hockey love.
So why did I ever part with the stack of game and player photos that I carefully clipped from the newspapers? How could I have tossed away the autographs of Paul Larose, Bob Murphy, Larry Kellett, Bernie Wolfe and Alan “Captain Crunch” Globensky that I acquired one night at the Promenade Mall?
Through the miracle that is eBay, in recent years I have acquired a number of Nordiques artifacts: a puck, game programs, a pristine pennant, pocket schedule, even a card bearing the team’s fight song. There isn’t much Nordiques memorabilia left out there, but I check regularly.
Back in those days, merchandise didn’t really exist. If there ever was a Maine Nordiques T-shirt or hat, I never saw one.
Teams had one set of home and road jerseys; by comparison these days even minor league teams have a couple sets of each and maybe even a third sweater. So there weren’t many Maine Nordiques jerseys ever made, and no authentic ones in 37 years.
I reached out to jersey makers over the years to see whether they could re-create one for me, but they either wouldn’t, didn’t respond, or didn’t seem capable of doing it accurately.
Late this summer I stumbled upon the website of My Game Jersey, a Massachusetts company owned by Mark Willand. He has a long history with hockey, including a stint in TV production with the Pittsburgh Penguins. My Game Jersey makes custom-crafted jerseys.
‘An ornery bunch’
I emailed Mark and asked whether he could make me a Nordiques jersey. I had his response within 24 hours:
“Yes, we’d love to re-create this,” he said. “The Nords were an ornery bunch and had some great battles with the Beauce Jaros!”
I knew that anyone who remembered the Nordiques, not to mention the even shorter-lived Jaros, had to know his stuff.
I sent him a couple of color photos of authentic Nordiques road jerseys and emphasized the attention to detail that I would require. I linked to another company that offers a Nordiques jersey that isn’t accurate: lettering too big, a lace-up collar where there wasn’t one, the puck in the wrong place in the logo.
Within a couple of weeks, My Game Jersey had production time available – after completing training camp jerseys for the Boston Bruins – and offered to jump on mine.
Mark obliged my request to share photos of the production process. I had waited decades for this moment; why was it killing me to see how this project was coming along?
He promised that it would be a showpiece. I wanted to make sure. I kept comparing the in-process photos to the real thing. Is the No. 8 on the back big enough? Are the stripes the right width?
Mark ultimately sent me photos of the finished product, front and back. The real thing was at my house two days later.
I told Mark how cool I thought it was and how much I appreciated his interest in helping me re-create an important part of my past.
“We really enjoyed making this — in fact, we [will be] creating a few more Maine Nordiques items, thanks to your inspiration,” he wrote.
More Nordiques items? I say, march forth.