Wayne Gretzky was in his last year of junior hockey. I was a staff film editor and cameraman working for a small Toronto film production company. The year was 1977.
The company, Telecraft Films, primarily produced hockey highlight films for the Buffalo Sabres, short intermission features for Hockey Night In Canada, as well as revising and distributing 16mm film commercials to TV stations across Canada.
It was in that year, 1977, that the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League (OMJHL) commissioned Telecraft to produce a documentary about their league. Seventy-seven was a banner year for the OMJHL as it showcased a number of players who would go on to solid NHL careers. Players like Bobby Smith (Minnesota and Montreal), Dino Ciccarelli (Minnesota and Detroit), Keith Acton (Montreal, Minnesota, Edmonton, etc), and of course no one greater than “The Great One” himself, Wayne Gretzky.
It was my role as cameraman to visit a select number of towns throughout Ontario to capture game and player highlights of that season. I packed up the company car, a 1976 Camaro, with the 16mm Bolex camera, a couple of 400′ motor-driven film magazines, plenty of film, and a small travel case for my clothes. Seemingly well prepared, I left Toronto one winter morning for arenas in Peterborough, Sudbury, Kingston and Sault Ste. Marie.
Being early in my career, this adventure was a new, and challenging, experience for me. On my own, I was charged with coming back with exciting and entertaining footage that could be used in the film. We had no interviews scheduled as the script was narrator driven. And with the Bolex a film-only camera, handling audio in those days was not only very awkward for a single operator, the quality of video or audio, probably both, would’ve been compromised.
I don’t have a clear memory of the specific events of the trip; there was a sunny drive into Sudbury, seeing the giant nickel for the first time, witnessing exuberant fans and their enthusiasm for the local team, night time along the main street of Peterborough, and lots and lots of snow as I drive into the Soo.
Reflecting back on this production, it is unfortunate that I didn’t keep a copy of the final program. It would have been fun to see after so many years. However, I didn’t think about retaining a copy, it was expensive, I was onto new projects, and I guess I thought there would always be a copy somewhere. Of course, technology has radically changed since those days of 16mm film and optical tracks.