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Past Times

Dundee Rockets heroes to fly in for reunion fuelled by memories of ‘blessed’ time in city

Dundee Rockets sent a host of records tumbling and made history in the 1980s - and the team will reunite for a special 2024 event. reports.
Graeme Strachan
A reception for the Dundee Rockets was held at the City Chambers in 1983. Image: DC Thomson.
A reception for the Dundee Rockets was held at the City Chambers in 1983. Image: DC Thomson.

Dundee Rockets sent a host of records tumbling and made history by winning three ice hockey Grand Slams in three years in the 1980s.

Tom Stewart’s Rockets made a clean sweep of every trophy from 1981 to 1984.

They were beamed into the nation’s living rooms every Saturday and became household names when BBC Grandstand and ITV’s World of Sport covered the games.

Red and blue ribbons around silverware became a fixture at Kingsway Rink as the Rockets continued their winning ways, fuelled by a team chemistry like no other.

Roy Halpin, Allard Leblanc and Chris Brinster are among the favourites returning to share a stage at the Whitehall Theatre on June 26 2024 to mark the 40th anniversary.

The players will meet the fans while sharing stories and cherished memories.

The Rockets swept all before them

The team at the start of the 1981-82 season was made up of fantastic local talent like Mike Ward, Joe Guilcher, Dougie Scrimgeour, Graeme Lafferty, Jock McGuff, Kenny Urquhart and brothers Ronnie and Ally Wood.

George Reid was the captain with an additional three full-time import players, who were Chris Brinster, Roy Halpin and Kevin O’Neill from Concordia University in Canada.

Dundee Rockets imports Kevin O'Neill, Chris Brinster and Roy Halpin in 1981. Chris and Roy will be at the reunion.
Kevin O’Neill, Chris Brinster and Roy Halpin after arriving in 1981. Image: DC Thomson.

The team won the Northern League, Scottish League, Autumn Cup and the British Championship when they defeated Streatham Redskins 3-2 in the final.

Roy Halpin found his way into the Guinness Book of Records during 1981/82 for the most goals in one British League game, netting 14 against Durham Wasps.

The Canadian winger was also the holder of the British senior record for a season with 151 goals and 254 points in 48 games in 1981-82.

Every time I step into my home pool room and bar, I scan all the Dundee memorabilia and reminisce about the great times I was blessed with.”

Roy Halpin

He told me: “Positive personal experiences are vivid and timeless.

“Dundee shared a multitude of special moments, events, team-mates and fans now and forever etched in my heart.

“Not a week goes by where an incident, conversation or thought doesn’t bring me back to Dundee.

“It was a privilege to play there and meet all the people who became friends.

“Every time I step into my home pool room and bar, I scan all the Dundee memorabilia and reminisce about the great times I was blessed with.

“Forty years apart, it feels like yesterday.”

Roy Halpin on the ice.
Roy enjoyed unimaginable success with the Dundee Rockets. Image: Supplied.

Roy said “climbing Everest” would be easier than choosing one special highlight from the “four years of victories, joy, celebrations and pints”.

“I absolutely look forward to our reunion,” he said.

“I have been fortunate to return to Dundee several times since my last season of hockey but none of these compare to my looking forward to this coming June.

“There will be many great hockey memories to share with the fans but what excites me the most is catching up on their lives since.

“Hopefully this will be complimented with a wee dram to toast the wonderful championships once again!”

Dundee Rockets proved to be marathon men

The Rockets were invincible when they were at the height of their powers and found a trump card when Kevin O’Neill decided to leave at the end of the 1981-82 season.

Allard Leblanc was an instant hit and scored 68 goals and made 57 assists when the Rockets won the league and play-off titles in the reformed British National League.

The Rockets won the Grand Slam after first winning the two-legged Scottish final against Murrayfield Racers 12-9 on aggregate following a 26-game season.

Roy Halpin, far left, and Chris Brinster, far right, with Roy's wife Marielle and Allard Leblanc. Image: DC Thomson.
Roy Halpin, far left, and Chris Brinster, far right, with Roy’s wife Marielle and Allard Leblanc. Image: DC Thomson.

Allard told me: “We were 8-7 down from the first leg on home ice and to come out victorious from Murrayfield was the epic moment of the year for the Rockets.

“I am extremely proud of what we accomplished as a team.”

The Rockets would go on to defeat Durham Wasps 6-2 in a memorable British Championship game at Streatham Ice Rink in London.

Allard said: “We won the British title in London and celebrated on a sleeper train – to be on time to participate in the Dundee Marathon the following morning.

“We celebrated with eight cans of beer split between us on the train ride!

“I did swear a few times under my breath when we got to the starting line but I’d do it all again tomorrow, if I had two good hips that would take me round!

“I am truly looking forward to coming back to Dundee for a reunion to meet the players and also the fans whose backing always made you go up that extra gear.

“It will be very special.”

Allard Leblanc has never forgotten his special season in Dundee colours. Image: DC Thomson.

The Canadian went back to New Brunswick in the summer of 1983.

The Rockets continued where they left off and won a third Grand Slam in 1983-84 and Roy set an all-time single season record with 128 goals, 106 assists and 234 points.

NHL legend Garry Unger arrived in 1985, after Roy retired through injury, but soon the results started to became average and the silverware started to dry up.

Playing with the Dundee Rockets alongside so many tremendous players during that period of time from 1981-1984 made me the person I am today.”

Chris Brinster

The 1987 season marked the end for the Rockets dynasty when Tom Stewart relinquished his ties with the team and the Rockets were no more.

They were renamed the Tayside Tigers in 1988 before being dropped from the top flight in 1989 following the closure of the Dundee rink.

American Chris Brinster was a firm favourite at Kingsway Rink during the 1981-84 clean sweep and said those years have become more special as time passes by.

Chris Brinster poses for a picture in his hockey gear on the rink
Chris Brinster was the defenseman who didn’t suffer fools gladly on the ice. Image: DC Thomson.

He said: “When you’re young, you don’t really realise or understand the profound impact of what we achieved or the effect that this had on our lives at the time.

“We did something as a team that had never been done before nor maybe ever will be done again in the future of British ice hockey.

“Sweeping the boards and winning every single ice hockey trophy available to us for three consecutive years was quite an undertaking.

“At the time it just happened game by game and trophy by trophy.

‘The players were my brothers’

“Playing with the Dundee Rockets alongside so many tremendous players during that period of time from 1981-1984 made me the person I am today.

“To look back now at all we accomplished is such an incredibly satisfying experience.

“We forged everlasting friendships and memories that to this day are as strong as they were when they first happened – maybe even stronger today because of time.

“We were family and the players were my brothers.

“And everyone was always there to support and defend one another.

“We spent more time together with one another, than we did with our real families and that translated into a trust and desire to perform game in and game out.”

The Dundee Rockets line up for the 1983-84 season, with the players lined up on the rink in full gear
The Dundee Rockets line up for the 1983-84 season. Image: DC Thomson.

Chris said it will be the “trip of a lifetime down memory lane” when he shares those memories in 2024 at the event, which is being organised by Events 105.

Rockets owner Tom Stewart won’t be far from his thoughts.

He built the foundations of ice hockey in the city and managed the Rockets during the Grand Slam successes and is still much-missed following his death in 2021.

“At some point you have to hang up the skates,” Chris told me.

“But these connections that have been made go farther and deeper than one could have imagined.

“Scotland became my home at an early age and it has remained a big part of me since when I first stepped foot on the ice at the old Kingsway Rink.

“The unfortunate thing about getting older is you sometimes lose important people that you walked alongside.

“And at those times, we then have a responsibility to share the memories that will keep those people alive.”


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