By Dave Springett
I’m often asked how my European hockey tour career got started. You might be interested to know the history of why, when and how these tours began.
In 1982, my team, the “Winnipeg Kings”, wanted to go on a trip somewhere in Canada or the USA. Eventually, we decided on a tournament in Lake Placid, New York. I was in the process of checking prices when I saw a Finnair ad about a chance to visit Finland and play 5 games there. This sounded far too good to be true, and the cost was just a little more than going to New York! Most, if not all the players laughed at the idea at first, thinking it was out of our reach and that recreational hockey players don’t get to play in Europe. As Finnair flight #112 lifted off that cloudy Montreal runway in October 1982, I couldn’t help noticing that nobody was laughing any more... in 9 hours we would land in Europe.
So, the WCHL (Winnipeg City Hockey League) Champions, Winnipeg Kings, arrive in Helsinki, Finland for the first hockey tour I ever organized. The tour went great, we won all our games, and although I didn’t know it at the time, I had become the unofficial tour organizer for recreational hockey players from all over Canada. When I returned to Winnipeg, a lot of players had heard about what we had done and were now calling me to learn more. I recognized the need for someone to pull all these players together and create a team of individuals to go to Europe.
In 1983 this first collection of players was born and modestly called the “Superstars.” A close working relationship with Don Finkbeiner at McDonald Travel was established and the pipeline was now in place to develop and promote tours, recruit the players, and travel the world.
By now, Winnipeg radio stations and newspapers were requesting interviews. Media interest started to expand throughout Manitoba, then the western provinces, then Ontario. The Globe and Mail did a story on the trips, which was picked up on the wire service by the New York Times. This brought in a flood of American inquiries.
The “Superstars” (1983-1986) evolved into “Team Western” (1987-1991) and in 1995, after a 4 year break, I returned to organizing tours, during which time we have been known as the “Heartbreakers.” Playing in Europe we have about a .600 record, which is amazing considering that we don’t always know each other prior to the tour.