John Tavella gave a "super performance" in two games as the Chapleau Intermediate 'A' Huskies opened their fourth season in the Northland Intermediate Hockey League, playing in the new Mrs. A.W. Moore Arena in the Chapleau Recreation Centre. John gave many of those performances in his hockey career.
John, a 1976 draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League , had set an Ontario Hockey League record for most points by a rookie in the 1975-76 season while playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds with 64 goals and 67 assists. His record was broken by an up and coming hockey star by the name of Wayne Gretzky.
The OHL also named John Rookie of the Year in the 1975-76 season. In 1976 he was also drafted by the Edmonton Oilers, then of the World Hockey Association. In the 1974-75 season, John played for the Windsor Spitfites then of the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
From Wawa, where he played minor hockey, after being drafted by the Canadiens, he chose not to join one of the club's farm teams, and returned home, and married the love of his life Debbie.
That's where he was in the 1977-78 season when the Huskies needed to strengthen their lineup. Doug Prusky had succeeded me as coach, and I was the manager. Michael 'Pat' Swanson, another great player, who was also our "chief scout", told us about John.
I phoned him and then drove over to Wawa to meet with John and Debbie. He agreed to join us and played part of the 1977-78 season.
John joined the Huskies full time for the 78-79 season, making the commute from Wawa with his friend John Simon, who had also played for the Sault Greyhounds.
Fast forward to opening weekend for the Huskies as they inaugurated the Moore Arena in the recreation centre which had been officially opened in June 1978.
Playing the first of two exhibition games against the Valley East Crusaders the newest entry in the NIHL, John had the distinction of scoring the first goal in the new arena at 17:10 of the first period, assisted by Pat Swanson.
He notched another goal in the Huskies 6-4 win and then in the second game added two more in the home team's 5-4 victory.
The Chapleau Sentinel described it as a "super performance".
Just for the history record, veteran referee Jim Hong handled both games, keeping them both under control, and handing out only minor penalties.
I came to know John well over the season, and he often ate at my place, usually with most of the team there for a pre-game meal. Often we would have lasagna, and John, a good boy from an Italian- Canadian family once complimented me on it. I took it as high praise coming from him, and have to admit I have told folks over the years how great my lasagna is -- based on John's comment.
No question that John was a hockey star wherever he played, but more importantly, he was a "star" as a friend to everyone who knew him.
After learning that John had died at age 59 in Wawa, on October 21, I posted the news on Facebook. Let me share some of the comments about John as hockey player and friend, all from Chapleau people who knew him:
"Great hockey player and friend"; Great hockey player and wonderful man and father"; "Outstanding hockey player and family friend"; "Awesome hockey player with friendly and outgoing personality", "Great sports person on and off the ice. Gentleman hockey player.."and so it went with over 50 comments when last I looked.
Mark Dillon, a pretty good player in his own right in Chapleau minor hockey in the 1980s was in touch: "It was sure exciting to watch John play for the Chapleau Huskies".
Mark also shared the following anecdote in which John shot the puck "on the mark". LOL
"One moment I clearly remember was during a warmup. He stayed on the ice for a bit messing around with a puck and you stood at the door nearest the home dressing room looking at him as if to come off the ice and he let a little slapper go towards you from the other blue line and you had to dodge the puck as his shot was on the mark and passed through the open door. Great times growing up in Chapleau."
One of my former students from Chapleau High School once told me "I did hockey". That's true to a great extent as I reflect on it all these past couple of days. And, I'm so glad I did, having had the privilege of meeting players, and making friends with people like John Tavella during those years.
I extend my most sincere sympathy to Debbie and John's family and all his friends. May he rest in peace. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org