Former Hershey Bear legend Mitch Lamoureux grew to be one of the most popular players in the history of the franchise, but what some modern days fans of the club may not realize is that the compact 5’6” 185-pound centerman and AHL Hall of Fame member started his career off being scoffed at by the HERSHEYPARK Arena faithful.
“It really was intimidating,” said Lamoureux, when asked if it was daunting task to play in the Bears’ barn during the early seasons of his pro career with the Baltimore Skipjacks. “All of the fans would be hanging over the glass and banging on the glass and yelling obscenities and all of that fun stuff because it was not so much a small building, but an older building compared to the Giant Center. The Hershey fans used to love heckling me during those years.”
In his rookie season with the ‘Jacks in the 1982-83 season, Lamoureux lit the lamp 57 times for the boys from Charm City and set an AHL rookie record for goals scored, a mark that has since been eclipsed.
“I was very fortunate to a have a good, solid right winger all year in Mike Gillis (who became a Bear the next season) he was a veteran guy and really taught me the pro game. He was the right type of player for me, and we jelled early in the season and went on from there.”
From his sophomore season through his fourth pro season, Lamoureux spent 70 games with Baltimore’s NHL parent team the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he also spent a portion of each of those campaigns with the Skipjacks skating for head coach Gene Ubriaco, who played for the Bears for three seasons in the mid 1960’s.
“I started my second year up with the Penguins, and then I got sent back down because I wasn’t quite ready for the NHL. Gene was a pretty good teacher and somewhat of a philosopher, I guess you could say. With me being young I didn’t quite understand what he was talking about, but later when I looked back at what he was telling me back then, I wished I had listened to him; I still had a little growing up to do, I guess. Gene’s a really good man, and he’s still in the game (Senior Advisor/Directory of Hockey Operations with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL). It’s always good to see him, and when I see him every once in a while, he always smiles and gives me a big hug.”
Another former Bear, Gary Rissling, was a teammate with Lamoureux in Baltimore and later became a foe in the last year of his career. Rissling surmises that if Lamoureux played in the NHL now with the rules being much more conducive to scoring compared to when Lamoureux played when obstruction and other stick infractions tended to be a huge hurdle to clear for smaller players, things could have worked out a lot differently for the Ottawa, Ontario, native.
“Mitch was such a talented young man who took the body, and when he got the puck on his stick, he knew how to put it in the net. For such a small guy, he took a tremendous amount of punishment standing in front of the net, yet with his low center of gravity, he was virtually immovable when camped out there. In today’s NHL with the new rules and given the chance, I think Mitch could score 50 goals.”
Finally, after four years of wearing the silver and black of the Penguins/’Jacks, Lamoureux, who said he “really didn’t think about it” when asked if he was worried whether the Bears’ boosters would accept him right away, saw the light and wore the Chocolate and White for the Bears for the first time in the 1986-87 season, a season in which he netted 43 goals.
“I know when I played for the Skipjacks I found the HERSHEYPARK Arena a really tough place to play for a couple of reasons. One was I always thought it was really dark in there, and at that time the Bears had a really physical team back then. They had Hexy in net and Steve Martinson, Joe Paterson and Don Nachbaur just to name a couple, and that group of guys is a pretty tough bunch. When we came in there, it was a war all of the time. I’d come out of games in Hershey, and I would be black and blue; they made it a real tough place to play. When I signed with the Flyers in the summer of ’86, a couple of those guys were gone, but they still had a tough nucleus and the fans took to me pretty quick and I learned to love the place. When I was a visitor, I wasn’t a big fan of coming to Hershey. I don’t know whether it was the hour and a half ride coming up 83 or what, but once I became a Hershey Bear I learned to love the place, and the fans were fantastic.”
The next season, Lamoureux earned three games with the Flyers, but laced ‘em up for 78 contests with the Bears, finding the back of the net 35 times during the regular season and netting nine more markers in the Bears’ 12-0 run to the Calder Cup title.
“My role was to provide offense. I had a couple of rookie wingers who were pretty good in Glen Seabrooke and Brian Dobbin. Seabrooke got hurt at the end of the season and then we had a Swedish kid come down from the Flyers by the name of Magnus Roupe, and he took over as my left winger. We had three really solid lines, and back then you didn’t have four lines, you only had three lines with one extra forward, so you always had plenty of ice time.”
Lamoureux continued, “Magnus adapted pretty well to Dobber’s and my style. I had an up and down winger in Dobber who could shoot the puck, and Magnus was a hard worker who was very skilled. I just went to the net and collected all of the garbage. We had three solid lines: mine, then the Don Biggs, Ray Allison and Ross Fitzpatrick line, and then we had the Donnie Nachbaur, Al Hill, Mark Lofthouse line, which was a scary big tough line that could shutdown, and they could also score. Our defense was also good; we had Kevin McCarthy, Steve Smith, and John Stevens and then we had Wendell (Young) in net.”
“We peaked at the right time. We got our 50 win on the last game of the season on the 50 anniversary season of the Bears, and that was really neat because we were the first Bears team to get to 50 wins. We were so well-prepared by John Paddock, our coach, and at the end of the season, he brought in a buddy of his to help out by the name of Andy Murray. Andy went out and did a little pre-scouting for us, and then he would come back and report what he saw. Those two guys had us so well prepared that we knew what knew what the other team was doing before they even thought of doing it. We didn’t start out planning on going 12-0, but we got on a roll and nothing was going to stop us.”
Paddock, who also guided the Hartford Wolfpack to the Calder Cup later in his career, and whose brother Gord played for the Bears in the late 80’s, made comments that mirrored Lamoureux’s when I asked him to talk about Mitch’s role on the club, but also added further insight.
“In the regular season, he was really the cornerstone of the club (leading the team in scoring with 87 points), but in the playoffs that year we had a bunch of guys who scored 15 or more points in those 12 games and we had depth at scoring. His role was to do exactly what he did, go out and play hard and get points and goals and compete like crazy.”
Paddock continued, “I don’t think you can play the game without being competitive, but Mitch was much more competitive guy than the average player. He wanted to do whatever he could for the hockey team, especially to score goals, but he was also a great faceoff guy and great on the power play. He was a small guy, but that stocky build really did him well when he planted himself in front of the net. Guys couldn’t move him and he was able to deflect pucks like nobody else could.”
After a 75-game, 25-goal season with the Providence Bruins in the 1996-97 season, Lamoureux went into retirement, but he was lured back onto the ice first by a former Bears’ teammate, and then by the Bears.
“My good friend Al Hill was the coach up there (B.C. Icemen of the UHL). He called me up one night and said that he needed some help. I hung up on him, and he called me right back. My buddy needed help, so I went up to help him out. That’s all it was. He was a good friend and former teammate who needed help and that’s what you did. So, I went up and helped him out, and it ended up being for longer than the one weekend that he needed help for.”
Prior to answering Hill’s call, Lamoureux said he hadn’t been skating much but “got the itch to play again” with the Icemen, and then another ringing of the phone brought him back to the Bears again.
“The Bears had a couple of injuries and such, and then late one Saturday night about eleven, I was down in my basement watching TV and vegging out, and I got a call from Bob Hartley (Hershey’s head coach at the time). He said, ‘Hey, Mitch, we play tomorrow night at 5:00, and I got a couple of guys who went down tonight and I need a body. Do you think you can play tomorrow?’ I told him that there was no way in heck that I was playing tomorrow. He asked me why not, and I told him that I hadn’t skated in two weeks and I wasn’t going out there and embarrassing myself. He told me I wouldn’t embarrass myself and that he just needed me for a couple of shifts as a tenth forward. I asked him if there was any ice tomorrow morning and he told me they had some ice in the little rink in the back (of HERSHEYPARK Arena). After getting to bed late, I got up about 8:00 and went down to the rink, and I got suited up and got some equipment to fit me and skated for about an hour and then I was dog tired after that skate.”
With his skating audition out of the way, Lamoureux then headed home to have lunch and take a nap, but he was unable to get any shuteye and arrived at the arena that night with the assumption that he would the 10 forward and take that odd shift; but you know what the say about assumptions.
“I took my first shift and was on the ice and got off after about 20 seconds before I got in trouble; I was nervous. The next thing you know, Eric Veilleux gets whacked on the hand and almost breaks his thumb and can’t play the rest of the game, and he goes into the locker room. So now I’m playing a regular shift, and I’m so out of shape. By the third period, both of my legs started cramping up. I was dying out there, but I didn’t embarrass myself or hurt the team, so it wasn’t too bad.”
With the Icemen, Lamoureux had a pretty sweet gig suiting up for Hill’s squad in only home games, but with that “itch” back, he eventually became a true “Iceman” and ventured onto the road with club.
“I’d leave (the Hershey area) at 6:00 in the morning, get up there at 9:00, go to the pre-game skate, go to lunch with Hilly. Then I’d go to the hotel, take a nap, go play the game and then come home unless we had back-to-back games. All of the kids on the team were like, ‘Come on, Mitch, you’ve got to go on the road with us!’ I said, ‘Boys, I don’t do road trips. This is my only road trip coming up here and playing a game and then going home.”
Lamoureux continued, “They eventually talked me into going out on the road and playing three games. They flew me out to Quad City. It was a Thursday night and Friday night in Quad City, and we bussed to Muskegon for the game Saturday. We played three games in three nights. We did okay; I got everybody all excited in Quad City and they all wanted to kill me. We played in Muskegon and just got spanked.”
By now you know the story. Yes, the phone rang again.
“After that game (in Muskegon), I got a call from Doug Yingst, and he asked if I was flying home tomorrow and what time I got in. I told him yes and I was getting in at three. He told me that they would have somebody pick me up and that I could play for them at five that night. Here I’m supposed to be retired from playing hockey.”
“One thing led to another and one night in Albany I told Bob (Hartley) that I was done, and that he had to sign me to a contract or I was done. So, they signed me for the rest of that year, and I signed a one year contract to play in 98-99.”
Now in the 14 year of his real retirement from the game, Lamoureux, who is the Director of Business Development for PA Central Credit Union and can be seen on the scoreboard at every Bears’ home game this season doing a promotional spot for his employer, has settled into the Hershey area permanently.
“How it happened is, I met my wife when I was playing in Pittsburgh,” said Lamoureux, explaining his decision to make his home in Hershey and not his native Canada. “She’s from Pittsburgh and that’s where my son was born, and we came to Hershey when he was one or two. That was in ’86 and we liked the area; it was quiet. It wasn’t in Pittsburgh and it wasn’t in Ottawa. It was a good place to raise a family, and it wasn’t far from anything. That’s why we ended up here. I love it and my wife loves it. My son lives here. He is married and lives in Lebanon County. This is home.”