History of the Essex 73's
In the mid-1970s and early 1980s, the 73’s dominated the Great Lakes Junior C Hockey League winning six of the eight League Championships from the 1974-75 season to the 1982-83 Season. With Dave Prpich behind the bench the 73’s won four league titles in a row from 1974-75 to 1978-79, including three All Ontario Championships in that span.
The 73’s would claim two more Great Lakes League Championships in the 80’s in 1985-86 and 1986-87 under coach Mike Quinlan, and Glen O’Neil.
After some struggles in the early to mid 90’s the 73’s got back into winning form under head coach Les Garrod. For the first time in ten years in 1997-98 the team won the Great Lakes League Championship by defeating the Wallaceburg Lakers in the league final. Their loss to the Kincardine Bulldogs in the All Ontario semi-finals marked the 73's most successful season in a decade.
In the 2001-02 season General Manager Al Lemay brought aboard Head Coach Tony Piroski who coached the team from 2001-2010. The 73's had great success under Piroski and in his first season the 73’s won the Great Lakes League and the All Ontario Title defeating the Uxbridge Bruins in the finals.
The team reached the All Ontario Junior C Finals five straight seasons (tying an Ontario Junior C Record), defeating the Grimsby Peach Kings in 2005 but losing to the Penetang Kings in 2006 and 2007.
In 2008 they faced the offensive powerhouse Alliston Hornets and were defeated in a memorable game 7 overtime loss in Essex.
The 2008-2009 season saw the 73's finish with a remarkable 59 wins, 1 overtime loss, 1 regulation loss, and 1 shoot-out loss (including play-offs). The team finished with 31 wins and 0 losses at home in their final season in the historic Essex Memorial Arena. The 73's returned to the finals to face the Alliston Hornets for the second straight year and the 73's fifth consecutive CSC Finals appearance. The 2009 finals saw Essex overwhelm Alliston outscoring the Hornets 20-4 on their way to a four game sweep to win the CSC. In nine seasons under Piroski the 73's won 7 Great Lakes League Championships and 3 CSC victories as Ontario Champions.
In 2011-2012 season, Scott Miller took over as General Manager, and under the guidance of head coach, Gil Langlois, the 73's returned to their winning tradition, capturing the regular season GLJHL championship and winning the league playoff championship in five games over their arch-rivals, the Belle River Canadiens. The 73's would meet the Grimsby Peach Kings in the Schmalz Cup semi finals and after winning their first game ofthe series, lost the next four to the eventual All-Ontario champions.
The next year, 2012-2013, the Essex 73's returned to the Schmalz Cup Championship, after winning their record 17th GLJHL championship, and knocking off Ayr Centennials and Grimsby Peach Kings. The 73's faced off with the Picton Pirates and were eliminated in five games.
In 2013-2014, the 73's once again won the Great Lakes league regular season and playoff championship . In the OHA quarter finals they defeated Dorchester Dolphins in 7 games and Winghan Ironmen in 5 games before losing to the Lakefield Chiefs in four straight games.
In 2014-2015, the 73's defeated the Amherstburg Admirals in six games to win their record 19th Great Lakes championship. In the OHA quarter finals they defetaed Exeter Hawks in four straight games, then defetaed the Ayr Centennials in the semi 4-1, advancing once again to the Schmalz Cup finals for a record 15 times. The 73's defeated the Port Hope Panthers in seven games, winning a 1-0 decision on the road. Jordan Ryan recorded the game winning goal and Noah Hedrick posted the shutout.
In 2015-16, Essex once again faced the Amhersburg Admirals in the league final. Facing injuries to four key players along with a suspension to the league MVP, goaltender Trevor Wheaton, the 73's were pushed to Game 7 where they would ultimately win 5-4 on home ice in from of 1,540 fans (a record at the Essex Centre Sports Complex). The win secured the team's record 20th league title.
The 73's would go on to defeat the Dorchester Dolphins in the quarter finals, 4-0, before bowing out to the eventual Schmalz Cup champions, the Ayr Centennials, in the Ontario semi finals.
The Essex 73's, by all measures, are the most successful Junior C franchise in Ontario having won a record 21 league championships, 14 Schmalz Cup final appearances and winning a record 7 times.
Source: Wikipedia 2016
Retired 73's Numbers
#7 - Bruce Crowder
Bruce was the first captain in 73's history to lead his team to the Schmalz Cup, OHA Junior 'C's version of the Stanley Cup.
Bruce played with the 73's two seasons; 1973-74 and 1974-75. He scored 35 goals in his first year and another 56 the following year, and finished his junior career with 91 goals and 207 points.
The highlight of his short junior career in Essex was May 6, 1975 before 1,558 fans at Essex Memorial Arena.
The 73's were in the Ontario finals against Lindsey, and the series was deadlocked at 3-3. The game was in overtime and before the fans could get back to their seats from the intermission, Bruce took a pass from younger brother Keith and scored just 78 seconds into the extra frame to beat the Huskies 3-2, and capture the first of a now record six Schmalz Cup championships.
Bruce would go on to play in the National Hockey League with the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The younger brother of Bruce Crowder, Keith also played just two years for the 73's; 1974-75 and 1975-76, winning an Ontario championship in 1975.
In his first season, Keith scored 31 goals and picked up 80 points. The following season he would tie his brother's Great Lakes Junior Hockey League record 56 goals while picking up 97 points along the way.
In all, Keith scored 87 goals with the 73's and recorded a total of 177 points.
He captained the 73's in his last season, and led them to the Schmalz Cup finals.
Keith went on to play 662 games in the NHL - the majority of those with the Boston Bruins - scoring 223 goals and 494 points to go along with his 1,344 penalty minutes. He also suited up with Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings.
Keith now is the proprietor of several Tim Hortons' franchises in Southwestern Ontario, including two in his hometown of Essex.
Cam Crowder, head coach of the Essex 73's in 2016-17, is the son of Keith.
#11 - Keith Crowder
#13 - Les Garrod
Les was one of the most skilled goaltenders to go through the 73's system. He played three seasons with the 73's and was known for his NHL-like reflexes.
Les was drafted by the Brantford Alexanders in 1980, and after starting the season with the OHL club, he ended up back in Essex and helped the 73's make it to the Great Lakes Junior 'C' finals where they were eliminated by the Leamington Flyers.
In 1986, he played for the Allan Cup champion Brantford Mott's Clamatos of the Ontario Senior 'A' league. Les shared the pipes with longtime NHL great, Don Edwards. Other notable players on that championship team included Rocky Saganiuk, Stan Weir, Fred Boimistruck, Stan Jonathan, and Blake Hull, brother of NHL Hall of Famer, Brett Hull.
Les played in several other leagues, most notably with the Chatham Wheels of the Colonial Semi-Pro league, before retiring for good.
After the 73's experienced some struggles in the early to mid 90’s, they got back into winning form when they decided to hire Les as head coach in 1995.
For the first time in ten years in 1997-98 the team won the Great Lakes League Championship under Les by defeating the Wallaceburg Lakers in the league final. Their loss to the Kincardine Bulldogs in the All Ontario semi-finals marked the 73's most successful season in over a decade.
After an absence from the club for several years, Les resurfaced as head coach for the Wallaceburg Lakers, and in 2010, was hired by the 73's once again to fill the general manager's position left vacant after the resignation of Tony Piroski and staff.
Les resigned from the 73's after just one season, a season in which the 73's finished 2nd in the South Division with a 26-12-0-1 record.
Les and his family reside just outside of the Town of Kingsville, and he is an insurance representative for DPM Insurance.
O.H.L MAJOR JUNIOR 'A'
Bruce Crowder - Philadelphia Flyers, 9th Round 1977
Right-winger Bruce Crowder was born in Essex, Ontario, Canada on March 25, 1957 and played two seasons with his hometown Essex 73's and three years at the University of New Hampshire before making his professional debut.
Though he was a late round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, he never played for them. After two years with the Flyers farm club in Maine, Crowder signed a free agent contract with the Boston Bruins on September 28th 1981.
Crowder spent just 15 games in the minors in 1981-82, with the rest of his time spent in Beantown with the Bruins, a team that also employed his younger brother, Keith.
In 63 games he scored 16 goals and 27 points as a rookie and contributed another 8 points in 11 playoff games. His second season was even more impressive as Crowder upped his goal totals to 21 and points to 40. However his third year with Boston was a disappointment. He scored just 6 goals and 20 points. As a result of his diminishing returns the Bruins made Crowder available in the 1984 Waiver Draft and he was claimed by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With the Penguins Crowder played 26 games but couldn't get his offensive production back online. With just 11 points in the 1984-85 season, Crowder left the game of hockey.
Crowder wasn't away from the ice for long, however. Crowder joined the coaching staff of the University of Maine in 1986 and stayed with the club til 1990. Crowder then moved on to Lowell as an assistant and he soon graduated to the Head Coach position. After a decorated stay with the school that saw him win Coach of the Year honours, Crowder accepted the Head Coaching post at Northeastern.
Dave Gagnon - Detroit Red Wings, Free Agent 1990
Keith Crowder was born in Essex, Ontario, Canada on January 6, 1959.
Keith played with his hometown Essex 73's for two seasons and followed that up with three successful junior seasons with the Peterborough Petes of the OHA, Crowder was chosen by the Boston Bruins 57th overall in the third round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft.
The Petes were a powerhouse club during those days and had advanced to the Memorial Cup
Keith Crowder - Boston Bruins, 3rd Round 1979
finals in 1978 where they lost 7-4 to the defending champion New Westminster Bruins of the WHL.However, the Petes once again represented the OHA in 1979 and scored an exciting 2-1 overtime victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings to take the championship.
Before beginning his NHL career, Crowder became a professional with the WHA during the 1978-79 season, when he played in five games for the Birmingham Bulls and was tagged as one of the "Baby Bulls" along with other under-agers Mike Gartner, Craig Hartsburgh, Rick Vaive, and Rob Ramage.
In 1979-80, Crowder failed to make the Bruins, so he was sent to the minors for a year of development. He appeared with the Grand Rapids Owls of the IHL and the Binghamton Dusters of the AHL.
In 1980-81, Crowder cracked the Boston Bruins' lineup, dressing for 47 games, scoring 13 goals and 25 points while generating 172 minutes in penalties. His play earned him a regular spot in the Bruins' lineup the following season. In 71 games, he had 23 goals and 44 points. Crowder's best offensive season came in 1985-86, when he scored 38 goals and 46 assists for 84 points in 77 games. The rugged style of play continued to play a major role in his game as he spent 177 minutes in the box. The 1988 playoffs saw the Bruins reach the Stanley Cup finals, which was the closest Crowder came to winning a championship. The Bruins were ousted in four-straight games by the Edmonton Oilers, who claimed their fourth Cup in five years.
Crowder's nine-year association with the Boston Bruins ended after the 1988-89 season. He signed a contract with the Los Angeles Kings in 1989-90, which was his last season in the NHL. In 662 NHL games, Crowder scored 223 goals and 494 points.
Once retired, Keith and his family returned home to Essex and now owns several Tim Hortons' restaurants in the Essex County area.
Mark Miller - New York Rangers, 12th Round 1977
Mark Miller grew in Essex, Ontario, Canada. He rose up from being a hockey player from a small town to playing for the Michigan Wolverines and later being drafted into the NHL.
Mark’s ancestors came from England to the New World and settled in Ontario, Canada. Mark was born on June 23rd, 1956 and grew up playing hockey and baseball.
His father died when he was 14 years old and had to grow up with only one parent. This
pushed him to become the better person and hockey player. Him and his one sister and one brother grew up with their mom and helped support her until it was time to leave for college, along the way playing for the local Essex 73’s and the Windsor Spitfires.
Mark got into the University of Michigan and played hockey there all of his years. His senior year he was the captain. Mark made such an impression on his school and teammates that he was inducted into the Michigan Hockey Hall of Fame.
Instead of leaving and trying to make it to the NHL early like some players today, Mark stayed at Michigan all 4 years and got his diploma with a Masters in History.
Mark was drafted by the New York Rangers of the NHL and Calgary ofthenewly formed World Hockey Association. In fact, he played for the Edmonton Oilers on the same team as great players such as Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.
After his career in hockey, Mark became and insurance broker at Marsh & McLennan in Detroit, Michigan. He married Kary McCormick and they started a family in 1987 which includes three sons.
After working in Detroit for a number of years, he took a transfer to Milwaukee, Wisconsin office where he worked and became CEO after 7 years. He now works back in Ann Arbor, Michigan, closer to home working for The Hylant Group as a V.P.
Mark continues to support the Essex 73’s when he can. He’s played in alumni hockey games, as well as their annual golf tournament.
Warren Rychel - Chicago Black Hawks, Free Agent 1988
Goaltender David Gagnon was born October 31, 1967 and is a product of Essex Minor Hockey Association. He played 1 1/2 years with the Essex 73's, helping them to the All-Ontario Semi Finals in 1985-86.
He played with the Windsor Bulldogs of the Western Junior B hockey league the following year, before receiving a hockey scholarship at Colgate.
He played in the NCAA for three years and was the ECAC Player of
the Year in 1990, and a finalist in the NCAA hockey championships.
The Detroit Red Wings signed Dave to a free-agent contract in the summer of 1990 and it was that year when he played his only two NHL games.
He continued to play pro hockey for another eleven years in the minors, mostly in the ECHL where he was twice named the league's playoff MVP in 1991, and again in 1994. He last played with the Roanoke Express of that league in 1999-00.
Since his retirement, Dave has lived in Michigan with the exception of a couple years where he lived in Essex. He owns a publishing company in Shelby Township, Michigan, USA.
Dan O'Halloran - NHL Referee / Olympics' Referee
Dan O'Halloran was born the oldest son of three on March 25, 1964 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and grew up in Essex, Ontario.
Dan was an above average hockey player throughout his minor hockey days in Essex, and even played for the hometown Essex 73's in 1981-82, scoring 8 goals and 23 assists for 31 points in 36 games.
He was also a referee by this time and made the decision to
trade his hockey stick in for a whistle, full-time, in 1982. Dan has often said that he made this decision based on the simple fact that he believed he could make more money taking the puck outof the net rather than putting it into the net.
After paying his dues in the OHA, OHL, IHL and AHL, Dan was hired by the NHL and after just a few years was one of the selected referees who officiated the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals. Since then, he has been selected numerous times.
He was also selected among 13 other NHL referees, to officiate the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In fact, he was a referee in the men's Gold Medal game between Canada and USA. He can be seen in many pictures and video signalling Sydney Crosby's game-winning goal in overtime.
Dan resides in the US and tries to get back to Essex to visit his parents and family, and participate in Essex 73's events, when possible. He was a guest speaker at the Essex 73's 2010 home coming.
Colton Fretter - Atlanta Thrashers, 8th Round 2002
Colton Fretter was born March 12, 1982 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and played his minor hockey in his hometown of Harrow, Ontario.
Colton was considered one of the best hockey players to come out of the Harrow minor system, often compared to Dave Crowther and Tom Abbott the way in which he controlled the game.
Colton made a stop in Essex in 2000 and led the 73's in scoring.
Fretter played hockey at Michigan State University. Following his first year with the Spartans, he was drafted 230th overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers.
He began his professional career by playing with the Gwinnett Gladiators of the East Coast Hockey League where he played in the 2006-2007 ECHL All-Star game. He was also named ECHL rookie of the year despite missing some games due to injury.
During 2007-2008 season, he split time between three teams: Gwinnett, and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and the Chicago Wolves, both of the AHL.
Fretter signed a two-way deal with the Buffalo Sabres on August 4, 2008 and was assigned to affiliate, the Portland Pirates, of the AHL. He played in a career high 80 games with the Pirates, scoring 40 points.
On August 3, 2009, Fretter signed a one-year contract with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL.
After spending the 2010–11 season in Italy with the Bolzano-Bozen Foxes on May 20, 2011, Fretter signed a one-year contract with German DEL team, Iserlohn Roosters.
As a youngster growing up in Strathroy, Ontario, Canada Warren Rychel found himself in the hands of NHL defenseman Pat Stapleton? But not for reasons related to hockey.
Rychel used to hang out with his buddy, future NHLer Mike Stapleton, Pat's son. During the harvest on the farm, the two were climbing around above a large conical funnel used to channel grain into storage.
While the men were on a coffee break across the street, young Rychel fell into the funnel and became lodged at the bottom with grain 'sclosing off his breathing passages. A yell for help brought Pat Stapleton and company who saved Rychel's life by forming a human chain suspended upside down. Stapleton extended his arms just far enough to wrestle Rychel free from the smothering grain.
Rychel survived to eventually have his day, like the Stapletons, in the NHL. But the path was long and winding in nature.
The family moved to Tecumseh, Ontario and Warren excelled more at baseball than he did at hockey. Warren was a catcher with Tecumseh Minor Baseball, and had a cannon for an arm. He played his minor hockey out of St. Clair Beach arena, and around the age of Midget, started to show potential.
He had a one-year stop in Essex, playing with the 73's in 1983-84, then was drafted in the 11th round by the Sudbury Wolves. His junior career was marked by travel. During his three years in the OHL, he skated for Sudbury, Guelph, Ottawa, and Kitchener. Warren was known throughout the OHL as a fierce competitor, scrappyand an overall great team player.
Although never selected in the NHL draft, Rychel did sign as a free agent with the Chicago Blackhawks' organization. The move sparked the beginning of a lengthy stay in hockey's equivalent of the boondocks. He patiently put in stints with Peoria, Saginaw, Chicago, Indianapolis, Moncton, and Kalamazoo while his NHL rights were passed to Winnipeg and then to Minnesota.
In 1992-93, however, he caught his first big-league break. Wayne Gretzky and the L.A. Kings were in need of a grinding forward that matched Rychel's profile. They signed him as a free agent and set him loose on the league as a take-no-prisoners pugilist who fought often and remembered to play enough hockey to look respectable.
After several seasons of stability, Rychel's rights began to move again in 1995. In February of that year, he was traded to the Washington Capitals who flipped him to the Leafs. He put in 29 games in Blue and White and was then sold to Colorado where he would win a Stanley Cup playing with the likes of JoeSakic and Patrick Roy. He played one season with the Avalanche and then landed in Anaheim with the Mighty Ducks. There, Rychel played parts of two seasons in his usual physical mode and was then returned to the Avalanche where he rounded out his career in 1998.
Warren scouted for the Pheonix Coyotes of the NHL and eventually was part of a group that included Bob Boughner and Peter Dobrich who purchased the Windsor Spitfires.
Warren took over the General Manager duties of the club and within three years, the Spitfires were regarded as the best team in all of junior hockey, winning league titles and Memorial Cups in 2008 and 2009.
Today, Warren, his high school sweetheart and wife Denise, and their children live in Tecumseh, Ontario. Oldest son Kerby was a first-round selection of the BarrieColts in 2010, and was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets, and traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016.
Warren is always helping the Essex 73's out on occasion, providing Spitfires' merchandise and prizes for their annual golf tournament, and playing sometimes, too.
Cam Crowder & Steve Caldwell
GM's and Head Coaches
Other Notable Players
Kingston Canadiens, Windsor Spitfires, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds OHL; Kalamzoo Wings IHL
Dutch National Team 1980 Winter Olympics
Bowling Green NCAA (All-American)
Oshawa Generals OHL; Kalamzoo Wings IHL
Belleville Bulls; Owen Sound Platters OHL
Bowling Green CCHA
Ohio State CCHA; Bracknell Bees BHL
Jacksonville Bullets SHL; Macon Whoopee CHL
Blackpoool Seagulls BHL
Peterborough Petes, Kichener Rangers OHL; Cental Scouting Bureau
Klostersee EHC, Waldkraiburg EHC
Windsor Spitfires (Assistant Coach)
Sudbury Wolves OHL
North Bay Battalion OHL