Even the best of teams can only have so many star players.
In fact, it is the best of teams who make good use of the grinders.
And it was during the Ontario Hockey League glory years of Sam McMaster as general manager and Terry Crisp as coach that the powerhouse Soo Greyhounds twice made trades with the lowly Kingston Canadians in which they exchanged high scoring forwards for fibrous left wingers.
With Crisp as coach wanting to add more grit and grind to the Greyhounds lineup, McMaster as the GM first went to Kingston early in the 1981-1982 season when he swapped small-sized scorer Ron Handy to the Canadians for a pair of hulking forwards in Jim Aldred and Chuck Brimmer.
All three players were 18 years of age at the time.
Handy had been a dandy goal scorer for the Greyhounds, denting the twine 43 times as a rookie during the 1980-1981 season. And he had 15 goals in just 20 games to begin the 1981-1982 campaign when, at Crisp’s insistence, Handy was dealt by the Soo to Kingston for Aldred and Brimmer.
While Handy would continue his scoring ways in Kingston over the ensuing season and a half, the Canadians would remain a lowly team at or near the bottom of the OHL standings.
Aldred, though, was to give the Soo the size and added toughness that it needed on the forward lines.
While Brimmer did not pan out for the Hounds — he was subsequently traded to the Brantford Alexanders and then the Windsor Spitfires — Aldred would become a physical, fearless presence while patrolling the port side for the Soo.
Nicknamed ‘Jungle Jim ‘ by yours truly for his wild ways, Aldred would finish up the ’81-82 season with the Greyhounds by scoring 16 goals, 15 assists, 31 points while piling up 179 minutes in penalties in 43 games before adding four goals, three assists, seven points and 54 penalty minutes in 12 playoff outings.
Aldred would then finish his OHL career in style in 1982-1983 with another winning Hounds team by producing 22 goals, 22 assists, 44 points and 176 penalty minutes in 63 regular season games before adding two goals, eight assists 10 points and 46 penalty minutes in 16 playoff matches.
A year later, with Crisp looking for more brawn on the forward lines, McMaster again traded skill for size with Kingston when he dealt goal scoring machine — and local lad — Kevin Conway to the Canadians for tough winger Chris Brant.
An overage player to begin the 1983-1984 season, Conway was coming off of a 1982-1983 campaign when he netted 64 goals, playoffs included, for the high flying Hounds.
Brant, on the other hand, was a defenceman turned winger who, while two years younger than Conway, was considered a disappointment by Kingston management after the Canadians had drafted him in the first round, seventh overall, at the 1982 OHL priority selections draft.
And while Conway would continue to light the lamp with Kingston after the early season trade from the Soo, the Canadians would miss the playoffs in 1983-1984.
Brant, meanwhile, would fill a rugged and needed role with the Greyhounds and become a very useful player while keeping opponents on edge.
Brant would total 10 goals, 14 assists, 24 points in 75 games — regular season and playoffs included — in ’83-84 while spending time on the third and fourth lines for yet another contending Soo team.
The big kid would then really prove his value to the Greyhounds during their OHL championship season of 1984-1985.
Playing through injuries, Brant managed 16 goals, 33 assists, 49 points and 110 penalty minutes in helping the Hounds to a 54-11-1 regular season record — and a perfect 33-0 record on home ice. And Brant would electrify an overflow crowd at Memorial Gardens when, in the final game of the regular season, he scored the winning goal in overtime, beating London Knights goalie Jeff Reese to preserve the Hounds unbeaten home record.
Brant would then finish his Greyhound and OHL career with a bang come playoff time by scoring eight goals, nine assists, 17 points in 16 games as the Hounds skated to their first ever playoff championship.
They were never big goal scorers, these two refugees from Kingston. But they become invaluable performers after their arrival in Hound town.
To be sure, Jim Aldred and Chris Brant were hustling, bustling left wingers who more than helped the Greyhounds to big seasons during their time in the Soo.