A moment in history: Dec. 13, 1961

A moment in history: Dec. 13, 1961

· The Pulse

On this day in 1961, the University of Alberta's Golden Bears hockey team was getting pumped for its game against the Edmonton Oil Kings.

The Golden Bears players in this photo weren't leaving much to chance as they prepared for the match-up. Accused of "lacking conditioning" in previous exhibition games, the team was focusing on its workouts.

The Golden Bears have a strong claim to being Edmonton's most successful sports team, with a history that stretches back 115 years. The varsity hockey team was organized in the fall of 1908 by the first cohort of University of Alberta students. The team was known as the school's Varsity Ice Hockey team then, and it joined teams from Alberta College and Edmonton high schools to form the Twin City Intercollegiate Hockey League. McKernan's Lake, which used to exist south of the U of A campus, hosted home games in this period.

Despite their eventual dominance, the varsity team's opening season wasn't exactly a success — it lost all six of its games. The varsity team fared better in their first game against another university in 1911, which they won 16-0 in Saskatoon.

The First World War saw hockey suspended, along with other university sports. After the war, the U of A banded together with other institutions in B.C. and the Prairies to form the Western Canadian Inter-Collegiate Athletic Union (WCIAU) league in 1919. A little less than a decade later, the U of A built its first indoor rink for the team.

The mid-1930s was a golden era in the team's history. In 1934, the varsity team won the WCIAU championship, a feat they repeated for the next dozen seasons. In fact, between 1934 year and the league's reorganization in 1962, the U of A team only failed to win the championship in eight years. Five of those years were due to hockey being suspended during the Second World War.

The 1930s were also the period that the varsity team became the Golden Bears. The university's football team picked up the name in 1935, and the rest of the school's teams followed suit.

The Golden Bears hockey team had success through the latter half of the century, much of it under the stewardship of head coach Clare Drake. Drake spent three years as assistant coach of the team, until taking over as head coach in 1958. He would lead the Golden Bears to 17 conference championships, as well as six Canadian championships. (He is also the only person in Canadian university sports to coach two championship-winning teams in the same year, as coach of both the hockey and football teams in 1967.) After 679 career wins, Drake retired from coaching in 1989. The next year, the university named the Clare Drake Arena in his honour, where the Golden Bears and the Pandas play to this day.

The Golden Bears last won a national championship in 2018. But the team keeps coming tantalizingly close. They ended their last season in second place overall, with a 3-0 loss to the University of New Brunswick in March. It's the third year in a row the Bears have ended up losing in the final championship game.

This clipping was found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse of @VintageEdmonton.

Correction: This file has been updated to correct the name of the team the Golden Bears were gearing up to face.