Over the years, a good number of Sudburians have shared their stories, recalling the bygone era of their youth and their involvement with the rich tapestry of sport history in the Nickel City.
Few, however, have the ability to paint the portrait as Nick Evanshen can, detailing a time when his first treks to Saturday morning hockey were made to the Palace Rink in the downtown core, an edifice that predates the construction of the Sudbury Arena.
Set to celebrate his 88th birthday this coming November, Evanshen was first introduced to sport via somewhat of a family connection.
“When I was seven or eight years old, my dad built a boarding house on Drinkwater and mom ran it,” he explained. “One of the boarders bought me my first pair of skates.”
His visits to the Palace Rink, which sat adjacent to the curling club at the time, became more and more frequent.
“As a rink rat, we would get in for nothing, because we would clean the ice between periods,” Evanshen said. “That’s where I remember learning how to skate, and skating was my forté.”
Garnering attention as he progressed through the midget and juvenile ranks, Evanshen suited up with the Copper Cliff Redmen in his final year of junior hockey. He cracked the roster of the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL the following fall, playing for the legendary Eddie Shore. With a $200 signing bonus and $1,500 yearly salary, Evanshen was off and running.
“Us kids from the north would have gone down there and played for a jacket,” he said with a smile. “We would do anything to play hockey.”
After one year in Buffalo, Evanshen was scooped up by the expansion St. Louis Flyers, before heading to the west coast the next year, splitting a season between the Oakland Oaks and Los Angeles Monarchs of the Pacific Coast Hockey League.
By this time, Evanshen’s wife, Jackie, still by his side to this day, was beginning to come into the picture.
“Back in those days, it was tough to make hockey a career,” Evanshen said. “You weren’t making enough money to sustain you for a whole year. When you finished hockey in March or April, you came home and looked for a part-time job.”
Involved with local old timers hockey by the early 1950s and operating a sporting goods store just steps away from the Sudbury Arena from 1951 to 1967, Evanshen was as involved as anyone in the area when it came to the world of local sports. That knowledge came in handy, as Evanshen stepped in, from time to time, covering for long-time CHNO sports announcer, Joe Spence.
If Evanshen’s career as an athlete revolved mostly around hockey, his long-time officiating career was marked moreso by his involvement in football, a sport that he spent more than half a decade serving.
“Hockey was far less burdensome on me than football,” Evanshen said. “In football, we ran up and down the mud pads at Queen’s Athletic Field and all different schools, across poorly lined fields, potholes, through rain and even snowstorms.”
A true gentleman in every sense of the word, Evanshen understood his role within the game.
“You have to learn to referee each game as it progresses,” he said. “If the game was 0-0 at half time, and there’s a little bit of holding to the right and the play is going to the left, you turn a blind eye to that.
“We wanted to let the players play the game, not the referees,” Evanshen added.
Through it all, the stories, emanating from his involvement with sports, continued: enjoying a round of golf, in Sudbury, with “Rocket” Richard before the Montreal sniper visited Evanshen’s house for photos with his children; and sharing a night-club table, during his time in Los Angeles, with Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante.
Yes, few in the area can bring back to life the era that Nick Evanshen has lived. And now it can be shared with generations still to come, at some point in time, when even the revered old Sudbury Arena will be a thing of the past.
Posted by Laurel Myers