8 WING TRENTON -- They entered the 1948 Winter Olympics as the underdogs in the hockey division, returned home gold medal winners, and in December were recognized by Hockey Canada for their outstanding achievement.
In an official ceremony prior to the annual NCOs’ and Officers’ hockey game, five original members of the 1948 RCAF Flyers team and family members representing deceased players, watched as a banner was raised over the ice at an arena named in their honour.
Following an announcement by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association in the fall of 1947 that this country would not send a team to the Olympics, a team was hurriedly formed by S/L Sandy Watson, a senior medical officer at Air Force Headquarters. It came on the heels of a decision by the International Olympic Committee to implement new rules on what constituted amateur status. Under these rules, many of the senior players in Canada were not able to qualify for the team.
Dr. Watson, an avid hockey fan, believed it was unacceptable for Canada not to compete and began promoting the RCAF as a resource for skilled players. After a lengthy selection process that involved flying players in from all across the country, a final team, made up of 17 ex-military and military men, was announced.
The Ottawa Citizen wrote: “The decision to retain as Canada’s Olympic entry a weak RCAF team, which is tied for last place in the Ottawa Senior League, will be greeted with dismay from across Canada.”
With the addition of five players from the Ottawa Senior League and a last minute goal tender replacement, the team headed overseas aboard the Queen Elizabeth and began their exhibition games one day after docking.
According to Flyers goalie, Murray Dowey, the team hit their stride and began to gel after their first win against Sweden.
“We didn’t know how we were going to do and what the competition would be like. We had to play outdoors against people who had been playing for a long, long time. We noticed quite quickly the refereeing wasn’t up to the standards we were used to and the crowds were (cheering) for the other teams. We weren’t too popular,” said Dowey.
“In the final game of the tournament, a 3-0 Canadian victory over the home-town Swiss team, the crowd hurled snowballs at the Canadian skaters when it became clear the Swiss were outclassed,” said Raspberry. “The RCAF Flyers finished the round robin with an impressive seven wins and one tie, which placed Canada in a tie for first place with Czechoslovakia. Because of the tie, the gold medal would be awarded to the team with the highest goals for and against average. Incredible goaltending from the Flyers’ Murray Dowey during the round robin play (five shut-out games and only five goals scored against) helped to boost their average well above that of Czechoslovakia, thereby securing the gold medal and capturing the world title for Canada.”
“It was outstanding, we were all so happy. We didn’t expect to do as well as we did. Teamwork paid off,” said Flyers forward Andy Gilpin.
“If you look close enough to the picture (taken of the team), you’ll see the tears in my eyes. That was the emotion that we felt,” said Flyers forward Ted Hibberd.
“Hearing the national anthem play gave us a strong emotional feeling,” added Leichnitz. “It was an incredible experience to play with this team. Sandy Watson was a great manager and a great coach. Playing with these guys is something I’ll never forget,” said Dowey.
The 1948 RCAF Flyers team has also been inducted into the Canadian Forces Sports Hall of Fame (1971) and the Greater Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame (1998), honoured at the annual CF Sports Awards Ceremonies (1998), had their win selected as the Greatest Moment in CF Sports History (2000).
(With files from www.forces.gc.ca)