Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bob Peers: A True Denver Pioneer

(above) DU Alum Bob Peers with wife Dolli

Editors Note - The third chapter of our four-part series focuses on one of the more inimitable players on the DU's 60 year & over Alumni team – Bob Peers. The Manitoba native takes us through his life as a DU Pioneer and along the way, he shares his wonderfully entertaining stories about virtually everything from how he came to meet then marry his lovely wife, Dolli, to the notorious 1965-66 regular season game at Colorado College that almost caused a riot and a great story about Murray Armstrong's famous hats.

Exclusive to LetsGoDU
By DJ Powers

Staff Writer - NCAA
Hockey's Future (http://www.hockeysfuture.com)

Future Considerations (http://www.futureconsiderations.ca)


Defenseman and DU Alum Bob Peers is certainly one of a kind.

He is as volatile on the ice as he is pleasant off of it. And he has become a master of sorts of the one-line zingers.

Oh, and he’s quite proud of being a Denver Pioneer too.

Peers attended the University of Denver from 1962-1966, and began his DU playing career in his Sophomore year. He amassed 58 points (25 goals, 33 assists) in 84 career games, along with 114 penalty minutes. So just how did Peers come to play for DU?

“At the time when I was growing up, there was only one Junior “A” league across Canada. So I played my last two years of high school with the Manitoba Junior League with a team called the St. Boniface Canadiens. At that time it was also prior to the draft as well, so you’re owned by whatever (NHL) team that sponsored that junior team. At that time, St. Boniface was sponsored by Boston. You don’t have any choice as to who you belonged to. But the choices that you do have were you either go into their system or you could go to college. So as soon as I finished high school, I wanted to go to college for whatever reasons and there were a lot of things that just kind of went into that makeup. I wanted to go to college and I wanted to go to Denver, and I’m not sure why because you’re pretty unsophisticated at that time. There wasn’t back then what there is in recruiting today. I let it be known that I wanted to go there, so Murray Armstrong came up to Winnipeg and watched me play. He then came over to my house and sat down with my folks and everything and offered me a full ride the following year. So graduating from high school then going to college was just a really smooth transition for me. It was pretty good. We had a fairly large freshman class that year and we lived in the dorms. I had four roommates and one of them was Norm Kvern. He came out of Flin Flon. Then there was Andy Herrebout and Miles Gillard, who also played in Flin Flon, and Dave Paderski was from Flin Flon, but played in Estevan (Saskatchewan), and they were all three years older than I was. It was a transition. When you think about three years, it isn’t that big of a deal, but it is for a young kid. So I didn’t quite have the experience that they did. So that was the development of it. To play in a game back in those days, freshmen were ineligible for varsity sports. So you’re sitting out a year. And that’s very difficult for somebody who has played hockey all the time, especially in Denver because there wasn’t any other place to play because there was no other competition. You play until Christmas and it’s a wasted year really. So that’s kind of how I got down there.”

What was it like to play for Murray Armstrong?

“Murray was an exceptional motivator, and I’m going to bring a little bit more into the story. Dolli’s former husband, Tony Schneider was from Regina. Tony died in 1997 and he played junior hockey with the Regina Pats Canadians. So they were the power of Western Canada when Tony was playing for them, and their coach was Murray Armstrong. I think Murray actually tried to recruit Tony to go down to Denver, but he turned pro and played quite awhile in the pros with the Western Hockey League and the American Hockey League. So he was a premiere player. When I graduated from college, I ended up playing with the Calgary Spurs, which was a senior “A” team. When we played, it was very competitive hockey league. We played in the same league as the Canadian National Hockey team and the coach of that team was Tony Schneider. So there’s a history there when I look at Murray and Tony and Dolli and Joyce (Peers’ late wife) and myself. It’s really pretty impressive we go back a long time ago. I remember walking into the dressing room and the first time talking to Tony. He said, “You played for Murray.” And I said “yeah, what a guy.” And he was.

Murray developed more than hockey skills. He developed the will within people and he tried to advance the education, more than being just an athlete, which when you looked at it at the time, you really realized what was going on. He was developing young men and that was really what he was trying to do. He was very competitive and recruited good hockey players into a good program. When you back and look at the 1960s, the University of Denver was certainly the powerhouse in that decade.

The four years that I was there, we went to the Final Four in my freshman year, which I didn’t play. In my sophomore year, we went to the Final Four again. In my junior year, we didn’t go, but in my senior year we did get to the Final Four again. So three out of my four years at DU, we were there. Then in ’68 and ’69, they had won it (NCAA Championship), so the 60s were really, really powerful for the University of Denver. And it was because of Murray. He exposed us to a lot of things like business people in Denver and to meeting the right people and that type of thing. He advocated academic skills.

He would come in and say, “well, you guys should be taking some of these Dale Carnegie classes in how to present yourself or in how to do speed reading or stuff like that.” Then you’d kind of look at him and say, “I’m from Selkirk (Manitoba), what the hell do I know?” So Murray did those types of things and he would make you start thinking a little bit, which was good.”

“And that’s why we have the Dale Carnegie books at home,” added Peers’ wife, Dolli.

If you speak to anyone who has ever played for Murray Armstrong, the two things you always hear about are the new and often unusual words that he introduced to his players, and the sometime odd (and hilarious) situations that he and/or his players found themselves in. For Peers it was no different, and in the case of the latter, it involved a box of hats.

“Well 'precipitous' is the one (new word) that always come out. Murray would say, “You have to check very precipitously.” The guys would then be looking around and saying “Christ, we saw the names on the backs of the jerseys and he ain’t playing today.” (Laughs) So he did that and then he would tell us “you all have to expand yourselves.” So he would have us do things like going through the dictionary and learn a (new) word a day, which is an old story. Murray was uneducated and didn’t have a formal education at all. He grew up in Regina and became a hockey player, but he tried to improve himself all the time. He was an immaculate dresser, always had the suit and a little Biltmore cap on. And there’s a good story about the hats.

It was my freshman year and I had made a campus visit. There were three recruits out of Winnipeg that were also supposed to come down, and two of those guys ended up going to North Dakota that following year. So I went up to Winnipeg and was supposed to get on a train coming down to Denver. I showed up at the house of Brian Strimbiski and Bob Stoyko and they said, “We’re not going.” So I said, “what do you mean your not going?” Then they said, “Nope, we’re not going. We got a better offer from North Dakota for next year and we’re going to pass on Denver.” Then I said “your loss.” So anyway, Strimbiski had this box of hats. It was a cardboard box, and I asked him “what’s that?” He said “they’re Biltmore Stetsons.” And at that time Biltmores were made in Guelph, Ontario and they had a junior hockey team that had won a couple of times and they were called the Guelph Biltmores. And Murray was a Western distributor in Canada for Biltmore hats. So he was getting a bunch of these hats down to Denver to give to all of his cronies, friends and everything like that. So I inherited these hats and here I am a kid of 18 and didn’t know what the hell was going on. So I get on this train going down to Denver thinking that I was going with two buddies and ended up going all by myself. So they would check customs and immigration right on the train. So I’m sitting in the car and this guy comes by and asked me where I was going. I got out my student visa and then he asked “do you have any luggage?” and I said, “Yes, it’s back in the luggage compartment.” Then he asked if I had anything to declare. Being na├»ve I said “no, but I’ve got a bunch of hats.” He then asks “what kind of hats?” I said, “I don’t know. I’m taking them for the coach.” So then he says, “Oh, lets go down and have a look at those.” So I said ok and we walked down to the baggage car there and he opens up the box. Then he says “oh, they’re nice, expensive hats, but you can’t bring those in (to the US).” Then I said to him “but they’re not mine!” Then he says to me “when you get into the Denver, this guy that you’re talking about, this Murray Armstrong is going to have to pay duty on them.” So I said, “fine, I don’t care.” So the train gets into Union Station in Denver and Murray’s waiting there. So then Murray says to me “Bob, how was your trip down?” and I told him that it was great. Then Murray asks, “Did you bring my hats?” I said, “Yeah Murray, but I think there’s a problem.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “well, I got stopped and you’ve got some paperwork to do.” So then he says, “Well, we’ll see about that!” So Murray goes over to the clearinghouse area and everything. And Murray was quite loquacious. So the next thing I know, this guy at the baggage claim was saying to Murray “yes sir, yes sir, I’m sorry sir” and then he just gave him the hats! (Laughs) And I don’t know what the heck Murray had said to him, but he got his hats. So that was the first time that I knew this guy has something to offer. He’s obviously well known and articulate. He was able to finesse or whatever without being dishonest. He wasn’t dishonest, but I think he said that they were gifts. So by the code and everything, you can bring in gifts. He said, “I’m not reselling them or anything like that. I paid for them, so these are for my friends.” And I think that’s how he got around it. He’s quite a guy.”

Peers, like the many other players who played for Armstrong, has tremendous respect for his former coach that extends far beyond the confines of the hockey rink.

“I think that you learned the work ethic and to be honest to yourself’ from Murray. He taught us there are horizons beyond hockey. I think that’s what he had instilled in most of his players. As far as his coaching methods, I think Murray was ahead of his time. A lot of the innovations that he had and even the rules that he had were. The offside rule was changed about 20 years ago or something like that, but Murray used to use that back in the 60s. Then there were the tricks and all those types of things that are part of what they call “the little things of the game.” Murray was a strong believer in the fundamentals and he worked at that. So those are the things that I remember about Murray. He would instill things like work a little harder and be a little bit more dedicated. I think a lot of the skilled players that aren’t dedicated become easy players, and easy players never win. So those are the fundamentals and the little things that he instills in you and it carries over to the work ethic, whether it’s in the business world or at home or whatever. Be honest and talk to people about those things.”

One similar attribute that Peers sees in both Armstrong and current head coach George Gwozdecky is the great interest that both of these men have taken in their players.

“I don’t know George that well, but every time I’ve talked to him I’ve been impressed. So yeah, I’d say that. DU has gone through several types of coaches and I’ve never really got that close to any of them, but George certainly has the best record since Murray. I’ve talked to him and I think he’s dedicated. He takes great interest in his players and has them in the right frame of mind as Murray did. So what I know of him, I would say that he does. I think George has gone through a bit of a transformation too from when he first came on to the scene. From what I’ve heard, he used to be a bit introverted and didn’t get out much to the media nor came out to talk to the alums. But he does a very good job of that now. Whenever I’ve run into him, boy, he’s got time for you, and I think that’s important.”

A characteristic that is synonymous with DU hockey is the fierce rivalry with Colorado College. While many fascinating stories have emerged over the years between the two programs, one game that took place at the Broadmoor in February 1966 may go down as perhaps the most symbolic of this long-standing rivalry. And one of the players at the center of it all was Peers.

“Well, it was a black part I guess. “Badger” Bob Johnson was the first or second year coach at Colorado College at the time. This was a league game that took place before the playoffs. At the end of the second period of this game, there was an incident between myself and another (CC) player named Davey Palm. It broiled into one of those brouhahas and the I-did-you-did sort of thing, so I ended up getting a penalty and he didn’t. Really, it’s hard to explain but it makes you more mad because it should’ve been both of us off, but instead one guy gets penalized and the other doesn’t. I felt that he was laughing at me. Of course everything is subjective. So at the end of the period, I skated over and drilled him and he fell to the ice. I pummeled him and everything and then the crowd went crazy. They brought out the fire hoses and pushed people back into their seats, but we finished the game. The interesting thing, and it’s because all of these stories come out, is that we were all talking about it in the dressing room today when Murray always gave this little speech. And I’m a bit of a locker room talker, so somebody asked me “Peers, what was your most memorable thing about Murray?” and I said “well, the first one is he used to say you go out on the ice with a silent resolve, so that you don’t leave your game in the dressing room. You go out with the intent to win and play hard.” But then I said “actually the one game that I remember the most was after that DU-CC game down at the Broadmoor.” This incident happened at the end of the second period, so there was still a period to play. They didn’t know what to do. They finally restored order and Jim Eagle was throwing buckets of water up into the stands. So it was one of those things where it was almost out of control at that time. So I got a game misconduct. At that time, usually when you get one of those, you go to the dressing room, shower and go back out into the stands. So the team was going out to start the third and Murray hung back and he said to me “Bob, you know what? I think it would be best if you just kind of stayed in here for the whole period.” (Laughs) So I said ok.

The incident happened in 65-66 in my senior year, and anybody that I’ve ever talked to about it always says, “Oh, you’re the guy.” Anyway, DU and CC didn’t play against each other the following year. We did play them again in the playoffs and for that game, Davey Palm and myself weren’t allow to play. At the end of the season, they sat down and I think it was CC that wanted to make a statement. They said that because of this incident, they felt that there should have been some type of sanction on Denver. And the sanction was that they refused to play Denver in WCHA play for one season. So that’s kind of the story.”

One of the more charming recollections that Peers shared about his life was how he came to know his wife, Dolli, whom he married last summer. If the DU Pioneers ever had ultimate hockey couples, Bob and Dolli Peers would certainly be amongst them.

“Well, we’ve known each other since 1966, and Bob was playing for my first husband,” Dolli began. “We were a couple of friends that did a lot of social things together. Tony passed away in 1997 and (Bob’s former wife) Joyce passed away in 2003. So when we started, I was a little concerned about it because I had been through this and wanted to keep in touch with him and see how he was doing. So we started having coffee and coffee led to lunch and lunch led to supper. So it just kind of started out as a friendship and progressed into something more. Then last year, we got married last summer just before we came down here. The Snoopy Tournament was a part of our honeymoon. (Laughs) That’s what everyone said. They said “only a hockey player would take his wife to a tournament for their honeymoon.

We’ve been very fortunate because we’ve melded our families together and we know each other’s backgrounds and the history. I know that my family thought that it was great because they knew who Bob was.”

“It’s good a story really because we have a lot of mutual friends and a lot of mutual interests,” Peers added. “There are no surprises. Neither one of us were really looking for a relationship. We really weren’t. I think the friendship grew into something more. We said “hey, there’s a like here and why live by yourself?

“One of the interesting things is that my first husband was a little on the gruff side and he used to say to me that one of the people he really liked and admired was Bob,” said Dolli. “I’ve often said to the kids, “well, if your dad could’ve picked a husband for me, it would’ve probably been Bob because they both played the same type of hockey. The same style and they both played for Murray.”

“We both played for Murray and I can’t overemphasize that,” Peers added. “We were the same type of individuals that he (Murray) had developed. We had the same outlook on life. We’re both volatile on the ice, which I think is not the way we are off the ice either.”

Prior to getting married, Peers was thrown a stag party, and as Dolli explains there were plenty of laughs to go around courtesy of her soon-to-be husband.

“They were going to have a stag for him for our wedding and one of his best friends got this thing organized. There was this local fellow that was a comedian and quite well known. So Bob’s friend hired him to come in and put on this little show. And I’m hearing this secondhand of course because I wasn’t there. Anyway this guy is trying to perform and whatever he said, Bob’s got an answer. And, my sons-in law said, “Oh my God, he far, far outperformed this comedian.”

“Yeah, but I’d been drinking,” interjected Peers.

“So that was sort of the talk,” continued Dolli. “So they said “oh yeah, it was quite the stag too.” And this guy (comedian) finally gave up and just said, “Ok, you win. You’re funnier than me, so I’ll just sit.” (Laughs) So Bob does have a very good sense of humor. He is just one of the really nice guys and that’s what people say about him.”

Peers and his wife have a combined five children and 11 grandchildren between them.

“I think when we talk about what we’ve brought to each other in this marriage, Bob often says to me “well, you’ve brought me a family” because I come from a large family,” said Dolli. “I’m one of eight children and have all of these grandchildren. Bob doesn’t have all of that, so one of the things that he’s said to me is that you brought a family to me. So it’s nice. The nice thing about my grandchildren too is that only one was born before my first husband had passed away. So the other seven only know Bob as their grandfather because they don’t know Tony. And the same goes with his family. They (Bob’s grandchildren) were born after Joyce died. Bob loves to tell everybody that he has 11 grandkids.”

Peers’ other family, the DU hockey family, is also very close to his heart. So what is his fondest DU memory?

“I’m going to give the hokey answer and that is having had the opportunity to go there. Having that opportunity to attend, be educated and play something that I love would be the high mark.”

Whether it is his comical side off the ice or his heated exchanges on the ice or both that he’ll be best remembered for, there will never again be a player quite like Bob Peers. He is, after all, a DU Pioneers Original.

4 comments:

vizoroo said...

Another great one!

The infamous cc game, Always heard the cc fans were trowing hot pennies on the ice. And the Pioners were forced to "circle the wagons at center ice.

du78 said...

DJ is doing a masterful job on these bios of Pio greats. The stories are priceless.

puck swami said...

This is a lot like being in a bar and listening to the old timers' stories.

Awesome.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nhl.tv/team/console.jsp?catid=979&id=45567

if you're interested