It may be a team unfamiliar to some, but once the Niagara Falls Flyers were a name known to many – and not just on the Niagara Peninsula.
The Flyers were actually two junior hockey franchises that played in the top tier of the Ontario Hockey Association. The first, a Junior “A” team existed from 1960 until 1972, and the second in Tier I Junior “A” from 1976 until 1982.
It was the first version that we recall most.
That team relocated to Niagara Falls from Barrie in 1960. The Flyers were affiliated with the Boston Bruins during a period (ending in 1967) that had OHA teams as feeders to the NHL – each of the six teams sponsored OHA teams: Kitchener Rangers, Hamilton Red Wings, St. Catherines Black Hawks, Toronto Marlboros and the Montreal Jr. Canadiens.
The Flyers appeared in three Memorial Cups in the 1960s, winning in 1965 and 1968. Those teams from 1960 to 1972 were coached by Hap Emms, Bill Long and Paul Emms.
Hap Emms (1905-1988) was a fixture around hockey for decades – as a player, coach, owner, general manager and pioneer of the game. Emms was as controversial as he was successful during close to 60 years in hockey. He played in the NHL between 1926 and 1938 for the Montreal Maroons, New York Americans, Detroit and the Bruins. During During the 1965–66 and 1966–67 seasons, he became GM of the NHL Bruins suceeding Lynn Patrick , and brought such players as Bernie Parent, Pit Martin, Johnny McKenzie, Gerry Cheevers, Gilles Marotte and Gary Doak.
But the Bruins were in the midst of an eight-year slump; they failed to make the playoffs during Emms’ two seasons, and he was replaced by his assistant manager, all-time Boston great Milt Schmidt, in the spring of 1967. Emms then returned to Niagara Falls, There he helped the Bruins by feeding them top players: Don Awrey, Jim Lornetz, Don Marcotte, Derek Sanderson and Ed Westfall all having prepped for their NHL careers with Emms’ junior team.
In 1972 the Emms family sold the Flyers and immediately bought the neighbouring St. Catherines Black Hawks. Emms later moved the Black Hawks to Niagara Falls in 1976, who became the second Niagara Falls Flyers franchise. After 50 years in hockey, Emms sold the Flyers to Reg Quinn in 1978. He died in 1988 at 83 from heart failure.
The Ontario Hockey League’s Emms Division was named in his honour. The Emms Trophy is awarded to the team which wins the OHL Central Division, and formerly awarded to the Western Conference winner. The Emms Family Award is awarded annually to the OHL Rookie of the Year. The Hap Emms Memorial Trophy is awarded to the outstanding goaltender at the Memorial Cup tournament.