Norwich Merchants' alumni games day was one of the final 50th anniversary season events
There were lots of big smiles and handshakes at the Nor-Del Arena Saturday, Feb. 17 as at least 200 former Norwich Merchants players returned to home ice to take part in five alumni hockey games and the camaraderie that followed.
Jim Chalkley, who co-chaired the alumni games with Don Hall, said the afternoon was great, with over 100 alumni playing hockey and another 40 “bench staff,” as they referred to alumni who didn’t play.
“The first 10 years, it was hard to find 20 guys that still play hockey,” said Chalkley.
Each of the five games involved players from the five decades of Merchants hockey. The first game included alumni from the 1968-78 years, plus a handful of players from the current Merchants team to round out the rosters.
Chalkley said when planning first began for this event two years ago, organizers had no idea what to expect. So when registrations started coming in for so many alumni, the excitement was building.
Even upstairs in the Blue Line room, there was a crowd watching the first game of the afternoon that compared well with the crowds that generally watch a regular Merchants game.
Merchants’ executive member Dave Jull said the alumni game day drew a great turnout.
“A lot of people and alumni have been looking forward to it all year long,” he said.
Colin Percy, who is secretary/treasurer of the organization and announcer at games, said the 50th anniversary season events have been a success – from the first Fan Fest in September through to the alumni event.
Just one more anniversary event is on the calendar. The April fish fry will be like a spring homecoming and will be held on the arena floor - where the fundraisers were originally located. Percy said the hope is to draw 1,000 people to the fish fry.
The sense of homecoming is what brought Ken Oliver to Norwich for the afternoon from his home in Putnam.
“It’s really wonderful to see all the old guys again,” he said during a break from his duties handing out the red or white jerseys to the incoming players.
Oliver, who played for the Merchants from 1970 to ’73 and whose son Sean is also an alumnus (‘88-‘89 and ‘93-’95), said the anniversary season has been fun.
“I’ve been here (to Norwich arena) more times this year than in the last three years,” he said.
Long-time Merchants’ manager Tom Wright looked after reaching out to the hundreds of alumni in the lead-up to the anniversary season. As he sat in the lobby at the beginning of the alumni games, he greeted many of them on their way in to the dressing rooms or the stands. He said most of them he hasn’t seen in a long time, if at all, since they played for the team.
“Some you don’t see because they’re from quite a distance,” he said. “You can never get everybody, but this is quite a homecoming.”