’50 Stories of 50 Years’ – Presented by Kal-Tire: Dave Duchak

A team’s effort through the year pays off with Dave Duchak Trophy

A man who believed that hard work should be rewarded is now honoured each and every year by the AJHL with the presentation of the Dave Duchak Trophy, hardware that goes to the team with the most points in the regular season standings.

Dave Duchak, who was the first commissioner of the AJHL, was also a skilled hockey player in his own right and actually turned down tryout offers from three NHL teams, said his son Gary, because he was more concerned about providing a good life for his family than he was in playing pro hockey.

In the amateur game, Dave was the winner of two Allan Cup championships, first as a player with the Trail Smoke Eaters in 1937-38 and then as a player/coach with the Calgary Stampeders in 1945-46. He was also a runner-up in the Allan Cup championship with the North Battleford Beavers.

A severe injury suffered on the ice curtailed his playing days but as it turned out, Dave made the best of the situation and many benefited from that happenstance.
Living in Edmonont at the time, Dave accepted the role as the AJHL’s initial commissioner in 1964 and one of the first decisions he made back then is still evident today. He felt it only right to reward the best team during the regular season with a championship trophy and the award, which he purchased with his own money, continues to be handed out to this day.

“After that first year when he purchased the cup, he never saw it again until he presented it five years ago to the Spruce Grove Saints,” when he was a spry 95-year-old, his son recalled, noting his father was transferred to Barbados with his employer where he spent the next five years.

But the first commissioner and the one of the first trophies the AJHL awarded weren’t to be separated forever.

In 2009 the father and son journeyed to Spruce Grove where he passed over the trophy to the captain of the Spruce Grove Saints that year, Connor Hardowa.
Of that reunion, the AJHL recorded the elder Duchak, who then lived in Edmonton as saying, “It was a thrilling experience, it really was.”

Then, recalling the past, he noted, “It (the trophy) was much smaller in those days (when he first purchased it). It has really grown over the years.”

In recalling his father’s thoughts of guiding the AJHL during its formative first season, Gary noted he hoped it would become something important in young men’s lives, and as such would be delighted to see it today.

“He hoped it would be a very good junior hockey league and he was the manager of the Calgary Buffalos back in the day, so he had some experience with that level of hockey. His hope was that this would be the start of that age league in Alberta, if not Western Canada.”

In having his father’s name still tied to the AJHL Gary noted, “I guess his prime thought would be that quite often the winner of the season isn’t the winner of the finals and there should be something that rewards the year’s effort as opposed to the luck of the draw that decides the championship at the end.

“He was very focused all through the years that there be trophies for league winners (with the Calgary Buffalos organization). This was just more of the same mentality. It’s important to give recognition to somebody that has strived the entire year to be the best in the league.

“He perceived sports as a way forward in life and that effort should be rewarded.

The competition was the important thing. He saw hockey and sports as a way to keep people off the street, keep them focused, keep them athletic and lead them into a better life.”

Dave Duchak passed away in Edmonton in July of 2011 but not before he was honoured with admission into the Alberta Sport Hall of Fame and to this day is saluted for his early work with the AJHL by having the regular season championship trophy bear his name.

By Gord Montgomery