by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media)
He captained the Soo Greyhounds to an unbeaten and untied regular season on home ice and their first Ontario Hockey League championship.
He is the highest scoring defenceman in franchise history and holds the Hounds single-season record for most points by a rearguard.
That was nearly 40 years ago.
But if anyone thinks Chris Felix regards those achievement as merely ancient history, they’d be wrong.
Now 57, the Bramalea, Ont., native is both appreciative and proud of his time in the red and white.
“It was a real honour to be the captain of this team,” said Felix, a strong skater with a wicked shot who was chosen by the Soo in the fourth round (56th overall) of the 1981 OHL draft. “I never expected or dreamed to have that success.”
But those achievements, Felix added, had a lot to do with the players around him.
The 1984-1985 Greyhounds went a perfect 33-0-0 (wins, losses, ties) at home, and beat Peterborough 9-5 in the eight-point, OHL championship series. Felix finished with 29 goals, 72 assists and 101 points – a franchise record for defencemen.
He didn’t slow down in the post-season, notching seven goals and 21 assists for 28 points in just 16 games.
“(Wayne) Groulx, (Graeme) Bonar, (Bob) Probert and (Wayne) Presley – we had a really-good team and so everybody helped everybody (succeed),” he said. “I take a little bit of credit, but we were so good, we always found a way.”
That was especially true en route to turning back all challengers at old Memorial Gardens.
Felix explained how the ’84-’85 Hounds wanted to get off to a good start – something all OHL teams aspire to.
When their home-ice winning streak “hit four, five, six, we figured we had a pretty-good team,” he added. “Boom, boom, boom, now it’s 10, 11, 12 and then it’s 17, 18, 19. When we hit about 25 we started to think we better not blow this.”
Finally, when Chris Brant scored the winner in Game 33 of what was then a 66-game regular season, the Soo had achieved perfection.
“We pounded visiting teams pretty good,” Felix recalled, noting how some visiting players, unwilling to pay a physical price, seemed to come down with “the Sault flu” when it came time to play here. “Our toughness and size helped us.”
It also played a role in winning the first OHL title since the Hounds entered the league in 1972.
The ’84-85 Greyhounds finished the regular season with a 54-11-1 mark.
Groulx (59-85-144), Bonar (66-71-137), Mike Oliverio (38-48-86). Derek King (35-38-73) and Probert (20-52-72, in just 44 games with the Hounds) paced the attack. Felix, Jeff Beukeboom, Tim Hoover, Rob Zettler and Ken Sabourin led the defence.
The Soo stopped Kitchener 8-0 in the Emms Division quarter-finals, earning a semifinals bye.
The Hounds then eliminated Hamilton 9-1 in the Emms final before facing Peterborough for the J. Ross Robertson Cup. The Petes stunned the Greyhounds by earning a 3-3 tie in the opener and a 5-3 victory in Game 2 – both at Memorial Gardens.
“We’re not supposed to lose at home,” said Felix, thinking back to the start of that series. “It was devastating, nerve-racking.”
The Soo won two straight in Peterborough, to take a 5-3 lead in the eight-point series, but lost Game 5 at home, 7-5. In Game 6 in Peterborough, the Hounds secured a 4-3 decision. They followed that up with a 5-2 win in Game 7 here.
“I’m proud to have been a part of that,” said Felix, who finished his four-year career with 79 goals and 198 assists, good for 277 points in 265 regular season games.
He heaped praise on general manager Sam McMaster, who made in-season trades for the likes of Probert, Presley and netminder Scott Mosey.
“Probert was a prime example,” Felix said, of McMaster’s ability to identify talent and fill needs. “Without him, I don’t think we have that success.”
“An unbelievable coach,” were the words he used to describe Terry Crisp. “He was a player’s coach and a very, very smart guy. If he told you to go through a wall, that’s what you did. You didn’t ask why.”
Felix spoke of how Crisp taught his young players to act professionally, both on and off the ice. He instructed his kids to never walk away from someone who had requested an autograph.
“He reminded us that fans pay the bills. They made it possible for us to do the thing we love,” Felix added.
After a truly memorable season, the Greyhounds were unable to finish it off with a victory at the Memorial Cup, held in Shawinigan and Drummondville, Que.
After completing round-robin play with a 2-1 record, the Soo dropped an 8-3 semifinal decision to the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League.
Felix recalls how NHL general managers buzzing around at the Memorial Cup took away some of the Greyhounds’ edge.
“I don’t know how focused everyone was as they looked ahead to playing in the NHL,” he said. “The funny thing is that you can’t wait to leave junior, but once you do, you think back to how amazing it was and you wish there was one more year.”
Felix skated for the Canadian National Team in 1987-88 and the club finished fourth at the ’88 Olympics in Calgary. He also made the NHL’s Washington Capitals as a free agent, playing parts of three seasons and finishing with a goal and 12 assists in 35 NHL games.
“I was insurance for them” while stationed in the American Hockey League, Felix said, as he recalled the outstanding talent and depth on the Capitals blue-line in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
With an opportunity to make considerably more money, Felix said he jumped at the chance to play in Europe, spending seven seasons there, mainly in Austria.
Felix wound up skating in three Spengler Cup Tournaments and retired saying he had no regrets.
“They treated me great and we loved it there,” said Felix, who’ll mark 20 years of employment at Tenaris Algoma Tubes in September.
He met his wife, Terri, here and the two are happy to call the Sault home. Felix also talked of how proud the couple is of son Justin, 28, and daughter Taylor, 26.