THE BOBCATS REMEMBERED
By James Hurst
The history of the Bobcats is really a tale of two cities. The team began playing in 1972, at the Junior B level, but moved to Trenton when the Belleville Bulls began playing at the Quinte Sports Centre in 1981. They returned to Belleville for a brief period from 1987 to 1989. At that point in time, the team was purchased and moved to Wellington, and became the Dukes, a franchise which still exists.
The very nature of Junior hockey is that players are together for a short period of time. Most of the time, they get two or three years with the same teammates. Occasionally, a player might get a fourth year as an “overage” player. For most of the Bobcats, the team concept was critical. Once a Bobcat, always a Bobcat.
There was junior hockey in Belleville prior to the 1972 season. The team was called the Fairways, who played with moderate success. Once the 1972-73 season got underway, that all changed. The managers, coaches, and the owners had experienced the frenzy that went with the experience with the McFarlands. They knew that if they put an exciting brand of hockey on the ice at the Memorial Arena, they could attract good crowds. And so they did.
Fans lined up to watch the Bobcats, but Jim “Snipe” Matthews, longtime team manager, made sure that the crowds never exceeded the capacity. Smoking was permitted in those days, and when the puck was dropped for the third period, it was always a little foggy. Bob Temple, a Belleville lawyer, served for several years as owner and assistant manager. No one served hockey in Belleville longer, nor more diligently than trainer
Chris Rutledge. He began as a stick boy, then became trainer for the Bobcats and the Bulls. Bob Ricketts, Doug Murray, Russ Soule, George Rutledge, and Ted Soule all helped out in the early days.
Bob Boyle and Meehan Bonnar coached the team for one year. Moe Hunter and Floyd Crawford served longer terms behind the bench, Floyd was coaching when the Bobcats, then out of Trenton, captured the Sutherland Cup. They defeated the Windsor Bulldogs in four straight games to win the Ontario Championship.
The team from 1975-76 won the league championship, knocking off their opponents from the Metro Junior “B” League. The Toronto area teams did not enjoy playing in Belleville. The crowds were enthusiastic, perhaps intimidating. Many future NHL stars made appearances at the Memorial, including Wayne Gretzky. He slipped three goals in the Belleville net, but was outscored by Eric Powell of the Bobcats.
The Bobcats were a stepping stone for young Belleville boys to move on to many different levels of hockey: American scholarships for some, professional ranks for others. Fond memories of the great game of hockey.