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Oration honouring George Faulkner

Wednesday, May 26, 3 p.m.

In a time long ago, in a land far away, lived a man known to his mates as Moses. Moses had some pretty impressive accomplishments to his credit, but he also had some setbacks and disappointments along the way. In fact, his final and most formidable setback was literally along the way. After all those years leading the way through the wilderness, Moses never quite made it to the Promised Land himself. In the end, he remained in Moab while his followers crossed over to the land of milk and honey.

The gentleman whom we honour this afternoon has probably never thought of himself as a modern day Moses, but there are points of comparison. True, as far as can be ascertained, the infant George Faulkner never found himself drifting downriver in a basket of woven bull rushes. But young George did spend much of his time on the Exploits in Bishop’s Falls playing hockey with his brothers, crushed Carnation milk tins wedged onto boots serving as skates, rounds sawn from birch limbs providing a ready supply of pucks.

Faulkner took his first steps towards the Promised Land of professional hockey in his 15th year, when he was recruited to play senior hockey in Grand Falls. The Cataracts had just built an indoor rink and were intent on building a championship team. They brought in a professional coach, Joe Byrne, who quickly recognized the young left-winger’s potential and sent him to Quebec to try out for his brother’s OHA team. At seventeen, Faulkner joined the Quebec Citadele’s Junior B team and was an important part of their 1951 and ‘52 championship seasons.

In 1953 Grand Falls lured Faulkner back with a promise of a permanent job at the paper mill if he would again play with the Cataracts. Play he did, and the team won their first Herder trophy.

Faulkner’s peregrinations brought him back to Quebec the following year, to the Citadele’s Junior A team, a farm team for the New York Rangers. The Citadeles won the championship, sweeping the final series in four games, and Faulkner was invited to join the Rangers’ training camp. But before camp began he got a telegram reading “Disregard Rangers, report to Canadiens.”

Faulkner became a member of the Shawinigan Falls Cataracts, the Habs’ number one farm team. Through three seasons he averaged nearly a point a game; in his first year with the team the Cataracts won the Championship. He attended the Canadiens’ training camp in 1953, ‘54 and ‘55 working alongside such players as Doug Harvey, Jean Beliveau and Maurice Richard. It was an exciting time to be part of the Canadiens’ organization; they had built a dynasty that would dominate professional hockey for years to come. But that dominance also meant that it would be nearly impossible for anyone to break into the line. Shawinigan would be Faulkner’s Moab; the Promised Land in view, but not realistically attainable in the pre-expansion, six team NHL.

In 1958, Faulkner returned to Newfoundland, still a young man and looking for the next challenge. Harbour Grace had just built a new hockey arena and manager Frank Moores was looking for a player/coach for his new team, the Conception Bay CBs. George switched from his wing position to defense so he could better observe the field of play. The strategy paid off. In their first year, the CBs lost the championship to Grand Falls, but won the Herder in their second year. The CBs made the playoffs every year of his 10-year tenure, winning the trophy four times. Faulkner didn’t slack off on the playing aspects of the job, either, putting in 50 to 60 minutes per game on the ice, typically resting only on the rare occasions when he was given a penalty.

Faulkner was playing in a pick-up game at a coaching camp when he got the message, “Father Bauer wants to see you.” Bauer, the manager of the Canadian National Hockey Team recruited Faulkner to play on the team for the 1966 World Senior Hockey Championships in Jugoslavia. George was still under a full time contract in Harbour Grace at the time. Fortunately Moores was better than Pharaoh at recognizing the voice of a higher authority and told Faulkner, “You’ve got to go.”

The Canadian team won bronze that year, bested only by the mighty Soviet army – staffed East Bloc teams. Faulkner was the top scorer for the Canadian team, with seven goals.

Faulkner has remained active in hockey, playing with the Corner Brook Royals, and coaching both the Capitals and Shamrocks in St. John’s. At the age of 45 he played in the first Allen Cup. He still plays recreational hockey and recently made the switch to a fiberglass stick, a gift from Ryan Clowe.

With his deep involvement in sport (his summers were spent coaching soccer), Faulkner is far from one-dimensional. He raised a family with his wife Marjorie, and was a successful businessman. And for over 30 years he has been singing and playing guitar at seniors’ homes and for charitable organizations with his good friends Hank Williams, Brendan Hibbs, Ted Blanchard and Jack Botsford.

Chancellor, in recognition of his outstanding achievements as a player and his leadership as a coach:

  • The first Newfoundlander to sign a professional hockey contract
  • Member of the Newfoundland Sports Hall of Fame
  • Member of the Newfoundland Hockey Hall of Fame
  • Member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame
  • Voted Best Newfoundland and Labrador Hockey Player in a Telegram Poll in 1994
  • Named Top Newfoundland and Labrador Athlete of all time by the Telegram in 1999

For breaking the trail for future Newfoundland and Labrador professional athletes and for his work developing players and sport in Newfoundland and Labrador, I urge you to add one more recognition to his trophy shelf and confer on George Robert Faulkner the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa.

Kjellrun Hestekin
University orator