Nelson hockey great Howie Hornby has died at 79.
Hornby was a high-scoring centre for the Maple Leafs of the Western International Hockey League between 1958 and 1969, and captured the Howard Anderson Memorial Trophy as most valuable and sportsmanlike player in 1962. He also helped the Trail Smoke Eaters win the Allan Cup that year and joined them at the World Championship in Sweden.
He came to Nelson in 1958 and quickly established himself as one of the team’s most consistent performers, making up what he lacked in size with speed and quickness.
In a 2007 interview, he recalled that upon his arrival a teammate asked what he was getting paid. “I said ‘$400 a month but I don’t think I can live on it because I have some kids and I’m going to have to get another job.’ I started selling cars at Chrysler, so between the two, it worked out. But the next year, I played on a line with Fritz Kohele and he said ‘Howie, how much are you getting paid?’ I said ‘Nothing. I am now a hometown boy.’”
True to his word, Hornby remained in Nelson the rest of his life.
He led the team in scoring in 1961 and again in 1962, when he had 25 goals and 36 assists in 35 games and received the WIHL’s top individual honour. He was then tapped by Trail coach Bobby Kromm to join the Smoke Eaters, who were allowed to beef up their roster before hosting the Montreal Olympics for the Allan Cup. They won in five games, giving them a berth at the World Championships in Sweden the following year — the last time an Allan Cup champ represented Canada. Hornby joined the team, which only lost once in seven games, but finished fourth.
Hornby returned to Nelson, where he enjoyed his most productive season in 1963-64 with 77 points. He was also part of the Maple Leafs’ 1965 run to the Allan Cup final, which they lost to Sherbrooke. He recalled Civic Centre crowds that made the fire marshal shudder. “When we were going for the Allan Cup, there would be people in sleeping bags waiting for tickets to go on sale. Then when you’d go in the rink, you’d see guys going up the girders. We would have as many as 3,500 in there. It was unbelievable.”
Hornby also joined Kimberley for their brief Allan Cup run the following year.
Although never a rough player, Hornby was involved in an infamous fight with Spokane’s Buddy Bodman on November 19, 1964. Hornby needed 18 stitches to close a head wound after being hit with a broken stick. Both were given game misconducts, and Bodman was suspended for 23 games, while Hornby was banished for six.
Hornby retired from senior hockey in 1966 to coach Nelson’s entry in the West Kootenay Junior Hockey League (the forerunner to today’s KIJHL), but came back for a final on-ice campaign in 1968-69. He finished his WIHL career with 181 goals and 244 assists in the regular season and another 32 goals and 35 assists in the playoffs. He was named the BC Amateur Hockey Association’s outstanding player of 1969.
Howard Ronald Hornby was born to Ruby and Kenneth Hornby in Asquith, Sask. on October 7, 1934. His love for hockey began as a young boy on a backyard rink. He played for minor and junior teams in Saskatoon and then Humboldt, Sask., where he was part of the city’s Memorial Cup run of 1955. They made it as far the semi-finals before bowing out to Regina.
The following season Hornby came west to turn pro, but after a couple of games with Victoria of the Western league, he was sent to Kamloops of the Okanagan senior league.
He also played three professional games with New Westminster and 29 games with Johnstown of the Eastern league before returning to the senior game. He didn’t lament his lack of big league success. “To play in the NHL is great, but I don’t think it gives the player much contact with people,” he said. “We were like a big family. I was glad I had the opportunity to go to the top in amateur hockey. That to me was pretty precious.”
Early in his career, Hornby worked at Sterling Home Furniture, which he later bought. When his parents retired to Nelson, his father helped at the store. Hornby went on to spend 30 years as a realtor and in his last business venture, rented electric scooters.
He also coached minor hockey and owned and operated the Whitewater ski school.
Hornby passed away peacefully in Nelson on Wednesday, a few days short of his 80th birthday.
He is survived by his daughters Karen and Brenda, sons Mark and David, brother Lyle, and several grandchildren. Funeral services will be held October 16 at 3 p.m. at Nelson United Church, to be followed by a celebration of life at the Hume Room. The family invites the community to join them.