© Dave Mathieson - Amherst Daily News
Walter Matby will be one of more than 20 1968 Maritime Hockey League Amherst Ramblers being honoured Saturday night at Amherst Stadium. Maltby, wearing his 68-era Ramblers jacket, has been a fixture on the Amherst hockey scene for more than fifty years and was the general manager of the Ramblers when they started playing Maritime junior A hockey in 1968.
AMHERST – There was a time when hockey players looked less like big healthy kids and more like hungry workingmen.
That would have been around 1968 when the Amherst Ramblers first entered the Maritime Hockey League.
Those workingmen-type players from 1968 will line up beside the 2012-2013 Ramblers roster Saturday at Amherst Stadium where they will be honoured for starting a tradition that has continued for 45 unbroken years.
“It’s great that most of them are going to be able to come. I see some of them a lot and others I see only once in a while,” said Walter Maltby, who was the Amherst Ramblers first general manager. “They’re a great bunch of boys. As you get older and the years go by, it’s nice to see them get together because they don’t see one another too much.”
The Amherst Ramblers started playing junior hockey in 1967, playing Junior B hockey in Moncton, and then joined the Metro Valley Junior A Hockey League in 1968, which changed its name several times and is now the MHL. Other teams have come and gone, but the Ramblers are the only team that has been in the MHL since the leagues inception.
Maltby said the game of hockey was different back then.
“The players today are bigger and somewhat faster,” and the players didn’t wear helmets back in 1968.
“Helmets weren’t mandatory,” said Maltby, who is now 80-years-old. “We might have had a couple players who wore a leather-type helmet but there was more respect for the other person’s head years ago.”
Although some things have changed on the ice, many things have remained the same.
“There was a fair amount of fighting,” said Maltby. “The rules against fighting are more stringent today than they were back then.
“We had a few players who could look after themselves fairly well but the thing about that team was that, because most of the players were from Amherst, they looked after one another and took care of one another.”
Keith Blenkhorn coached the 1968 Ramblers.
“Keith didn’t coach in a way that encouraged people to go out and fight,” added Maltby. “He liked a good style of rough, body checking hockey, and Keith was a good defenceman in his own right, so he liked the body-checking.”
Fifteen of the 20 players who played for the 1968 Ramblers will line up on the ice Saturday night, along with Maltby, other staff and the president of the MHL.
Maltby said much has changed off the ice since 1968.
“No players or coaches were paid and everybody else was a volunteer. The only people who were paid were the referees,” said Maltby.
Volunteers also absorbed travel expenses.
“Back in those days the people who provided the transportation did that on their own. There was no remuneration for gas or the use of your car, everybody donated their time and transportation.”
Maltby said he probably went through three or four cars while driving players to and from games, “But there were a lot of us over the years that provided their cars and gas for transportation.”
Because most of the players were from Amherst there was little, if any, billeting, “but fans and volunteers helped out if a player needed to be billeted,” said Maltby.
Hockey players also paid for their own equipment.
“We provided the socks and sweaters,” said Maltby. “And once in a while we were able to round up a few dollars to buy a few sticks.”
Maltby said having CIBC Wood Gundy step forward as a major sponsor is a big help to the team, “especially if they’re looking for a player to bolster their line up.”
Maltby said he’s very impressed with today’s Ramblers roster.
“I think we have a fine hockey club here. It’s well coached and we have lots of talent,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we have any one superstar but we have a team that comes to play, and they play hard.”
And he hopes a lot of people come out to see his old team being recognized Saturday night.
“I hope the fans come out and give the boys a good round of applause for the work they put in many years ago.”