By John DeCoste
With the release of his eleventh book on Nova Scotia sport, Kentville author Burton Russell arguably now qualifies as prolific – if he wasn’t there already.
Russell began writing sports books in the early 1970s, and over the years, has tackled a variety of athletic endeavours, including baseball, hockey, golf and an overview of the first 100 years or so of athletics at Acadia University.
For his latest offering, Russell, a dedicated long-time fan of the hockey Axemen, has chosen to chronicle the history of hockey at Acadia.
“I had several ideas in mind, but I kept coming back to Acadia’s Hockey Axemen,” Russell said. “I grew up with both hockey and baseball. I attend all the Acadia hockey games and I just love the program and its history.”
As a follower of Acadia hockey for more than 50 years, Russell recalls with fondness the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s, when Maritime-born and developed players made up the bulk of the university rosters – “players you likely had watched play.”
Growing up during that era, Russell admittedly “fell in love with Nova Scotia sport” – a love that can still be seen in his writing and in his ever-increasing collection of scrapbooks of clippings and other sport memorabilia.
“The Valley hockey league in which Acadia played (in the late 1940s and early 1950s) might not have been the best, but it was certainly exciting.”
Moreover, the Axemen teams coached by Major Fred Kelly “had their share of successes,” including winning a pair of Maritime titles.
In more recent years, Acadia has followed the trend of recruiting top junior players who had completed their careers, making for a higher level of skill and competition.
“University hockey today is almost semi-professional,” he says. “But the quality of the hockey keeps you going back.”
Today, support for the hockey Axemen is Valley-wide.
Russell’s research indicates hockey was first played at Acadia in the 1890s.
“I began filling scrapbooks in 1946, and I always considered that time to be the ‘golden age’ of spectator sports.”
In more recent years, Acadia has been one of the more successful varsity programs in the country, winning CIS championships in 1993 and 1996.
“It’s great hockey from a spectator’s perspective, and being at the games is a great place to socialize and make and develop friendships.”
The book includes all the big moments from Acadia hockey over the years, including the night in 1950 Connie MacNeil scored three goals in six seconds during a game against Kentville – a feat NHL president Clarence Campbell termed “unbelievable.”
More recently, the Axemen qualified for CIS nationals five times in seven seasons between 1992-1998, winning it all in both 1993 and 1996.
Extra attention is given to more recent teams, including the 1992 Axemen who won Acadia’s first conference title in 43 year, the two national championship squads and the other Axemen teams that made it to nationals.
Russell, who says Acadia’s Hockey Axemen is the first book he’s written on the computer, began writing Nov. 15 of last year and finished the book in March.
Though he was a little apprehensive at first, he found using the computer likely saved him a couple of months of work.
Now 77, the retired high school teacher and athletic coach insists he isn’t done yet. “If my health allows, I have an idea or two for maybe a couple more books,” he says. “At age 77, every day is a bonus.”