Jack Prestley was 18-years old when he came to Nanaimo in 1945, long before the British Columbia Hockey League was even founded. That didn’t happen until 1961. Back in the 1940’s, there were only three teams, Vancouver, New Westminster and Nanaimo, with some exhibition games with Victoria and UBC. The arena in Victoria had a support beam in the middle of the ice to keep the roof up.
Jack Prestley moved from Nelson where he was making 44 cents an hour at a car garage. The Nanaimo Clippers offered him a dollar, and he accepted. He played defence for the first couple of years and then moved to forward, playing with the Clippers until 1947.
“I really loved to play the game, and I guess I was good at it,” he says from his North Nanaimo home. His passion shifted from hockey to a pretty redhead he met just as his hockey career was taking off, but he insists that is another story and this particular story is about hockey.
The game was different back then, and today, Jack doesn’t even watch it. It’s not the hockey he remembers at all.
“It’s spoiled to me. The guy’s not even carrying the puck, and guys are finishing the check. The puck carrier is not ready for this. He’s passed it on and then slam! I just hate watching stretchers coming out on the ice.”
His memories are fond ones though, and hockey will always hold a special place in his heart.
“The game I learned was: you carry the puck, making plays along the way to making a goal to score. Today’s game is: you get it up to centre ice and shoot it in the end. What I grew up with was possession is the name of the game.”
Jack coached “Billy” Bestwick when Bill was “just a baby, ” and he remembers in Nelson when there was a senior Maple Leafs Club. “When the war came on, we lost a lot of the guys and the teams all folded,” he recalls. The situation opened some doors for Jack because even though he was a junior, he was invited to play with the seniors.
The older guys made rinks out of snow, and on one particular day, a day he remembers as if it was yesterday, “… this fella came over to the edge of our rink and said ‘Hey kid! Yeah, you! You wanna come play with us?’” Jack did, and he kept playing with them from then on.
“It was a happy time. They coached you and kind of fathered you.”
Jack has lived, and relives, a quintessential time in Canadian hockey. He played on frozen lakes and admired Tim Horton and Gordie Howe. He used to carry Red Carr’s skates,
Red offered Jack a spot with Pittsburgh, but Jack declined, choosing instead to pursue the pretty redhead that had captured his heart, over stinky locker rooms and long bus rides. That spot in the Eastern Semi-pro League with Pittsburgh would have put him right next door to the NHL.
Maybe one day we’ll get that other story from Jack, the one about the pretty redhead, but in the meantime, Jack holds dear memories of his time with the Nanaimo Clippers, memories that go back to before many of us were even born.
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For more information on the Nanaimo Clippers, and to become a member of the Clippers Hockey Society, visit www.nanaimoclippers.com.
“Suddenly, it’s not out of reach to own a hockey team!”