November 5, 2017
The City of Champions moniker has long been associated with Edmonton. Since their inception in 1949 as a member of the Western Interprovincial Football Union, no team has won the Grey Cup more times than the Edmonton Eskimos. Since their entry into the National Hockey League in 1979, no team has won the Stanley Cup more times than the Edmonton Oilers. Since the introduction of university national hockey championships in 1963, no team has won the University Cup more times than the University of Alberta Golden Bears. Since the introduction of college national hockey championships in 1975, no team has won the CCAA Championship Bowl more times than the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) Ooks.
Though Edmonton is home to Canada's most successful teams in university and college hockey, it was not the case in the mid 1980's. Heading into the 1984-85 season, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues had their name etched on the University Cup ten times and the Red Deer College Kings has their name etched on the CCAA Championship Bowl three times. In comparison, the Bears had won the University Cup on six occasions and the Ooks had won the CCAA Championship Bowl on one occasion. Yet, as the 1984-85 season progressed, the Bears and the Ooks were ranked as the number one university and college teams in the nation which set the wheels in motion for a memorable showdown.
While the Ooks concluded the regular season with 25 wins in 25 games, a pair of former Golden Bears -- Jack Cummings and Jim Carr (who passed away this fall) -- took it upon themselves to make the grudge game a reality after it was first suggested in a newspaper column by the Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones. Cummings and Carr bankrolled the $12,000 - $16,000 budget with hopes of 6,000 to 10,000 fans purchasing a $5.00 ticket for the exhibition contest at Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum after the CIAU championship and before the CCAA championship.
Momentum for the charity match gathered steam as the teams embarked on their post season runs. The Bears advanced to the CIAU championship final only to drop a 3-2 decision to the York University Yeomen. The Ooks (who had defeated the Yeomen 5-3 at the Altjahres Cup in Switzerland over the Christmas Break) swept the Camrose Lutheran College Vikings in the best of three ACAC semi-final series and the Red Deer College Kings in the best of five ACAC final series to have a winning percentage of 1.000 through the regular season and playoffs.
On March 19th, 1985, the Ooks and Bears set an attendance record for a game between two Canadian varsity hockey teams that still stands today. Face Off '85 for the Ronald McDonald Cup drew 13,354 which eclipsed the former mark of 12,000 at the Montreal Forum for the 1968 CIAU championship game between the University of Alberta and Loyola University. As for the final score, the Bears edged the Ooks 5-4 to follow up on a 3-2 victory at the Molson Invitational in the fall of 1984.
The Ooks then travelled to Moose Jaw where they triumphed over the Cariboo College Chiefs, the Seneca College Braves and the Vulkins du Cégep de Victoriaville at the CCAA National Hockey Championships to complete the regular season and post season with a combined record of 33 wins, 0 looses, and 0 ties.
Although the Bears won five of seven games in the Face Off series, they only hoisted one national championship banner during the period. In contrast, the Ooks would raise four national championship banners in a span of six years. In two of those seasons, the Ooks would also defeat the eventual CIAU champions.
The crosstown rivalry was just one of the puzzle pieces which allowed the NAIT program to prosper. In addition to competition against universities, the Ooks had considerable exposure to the game as it was played outside of Canada's borders by participating in international tournaments, hosting foreign teams and embarking on European tours as there were no limits on exhibition games. The presence of national championships also gave the team an end goal.