John Saunders- 1980

John Saunders, a native of Ottawa, Ontario, entered Acadia during the fall of 1974. Having already enjoyed considerable success in his budding hockey career, he was a natural candidate for a possible berth on the Acadia blueline.

During his rookie season with the Don Wells-directed icemen, defence stalwart Saunders and his teammates enjoyed one of the Axemen’s most successful hockey seasons since their glory days of the late forties. Finishing second during the regular schedule behind a powerful Saint Mary’s Huskies squad, the Axemen climaxed their season with an eight-game winning streak and victories over such strong aggregations as U.N.B., U.P.E.I., Dalhousie and the University of Moncton.

In playoff action, rookie Saunders in the midst of such accomplished veterans as Michel Paimont, Peter Baldwin, Claude Lambert and Jon Bickerdike, contributed to the Axemen’s 7-3 triumph over the University of Moncton. Against the Huskies, destined to win their seventh consecutive Conference title, the Acadia skaters were swept aside.

The ’75-’76 campaign, due to injuries to major performers, was a disappointing one for interim coach Pierre Gagne and his charges. A 1-0 victory over Dalhousie was one of the season’s highlights. Having impressed the hockey experts with his strong fundaments and on-ice leadership abilities, Mr. Saunders opted to depart from the Acadia scene during the ’76-’77 hockey season, becoming a member of the Quebec major Irving “A” circuit.

Returning to Wolfville for the ’77-’78 intercollegiate hockey campaign, John again wore the Acadia garb while skating alongside such teammates as Bill Young, Steve Axford, Mike Alcoe, Mark Roberts, Barry Callaghan, Bob Dugas and Chris Kotsopoulos, the latter a one-time Windsor SpitfIre who was destined to play defense for Toronto, Hartford and the New York Rangers of the N.H.L.

In a U.P .E.I. Invitational Tournament that season, the Axemen polished off Mount Allison, 4-3, as Lee Gilbert scored the overtime winner and John, with three assists, shared the plaudits with tournament all-stars Mike Alcoe, and net minder Hal Baird, in a 6-5 championship win over Dalhousie.

The Axemen’s ’78-’79 season, with eleven newcomers in uniform, was an up-and-down one for the Acadia pucksters. In an exhibition victory over the Kentville Junior Colonels, John registered a couple of markers.

In the pre-Christmas portion of the league’s schedule, Saunders, Axford, Roberts, Roger Surette and John Verran were among the luminaries as the Axemen posted six consecutive victories -earning them a rating among the top ten intercollegiate squads in the nation. A late-season slump, however, prevented the Acadia team from advancing to the playoff round.

The ’79-’80 Axemen’s hockey season was one of personal triumphs for John Saunders. In an early-season 6-4 triumph over the York University Yeomen at the Ottawa University Invitational, John and teammates Keith Holbrook and Juan Strickland were prominent. Defence ace Saunders was selected to the all-star team, being considered the best blueliner in the competition. Later he was named to the Conference’s all-star squad, again being hailed as the loop’s top rearguard.

To climax his outstanding career as a hockey Axeman, the Ontario native became Acadia’s first hockey performer to be selected as an AII-Canadian. For the record, another decade was to pass before this honour was accorded another Acadia competitor. At the annual Fred Kelly Sports Banquet during the spring of 1980, John shared with basketball star Mike Hazard the prestigious Male Athlete of the Year award.

Departing from Acadia as a top hockey prospect, John played a couple of seasons of professional hockey in the Eastern and International Hockey Leagues.

Subsequently he graduated as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, being stationed in Western Canada. During the fall of ’88, John returned to the Acadia campus, becoming a member on that occasion of the Hockey Honour Roll.

What a pleasure it is to welcome back again to the campus for induction to the university’s Sports Hall of Fame, Mr. John Saunders, the first hockey Axeman to be named an intercollegiate All-Canadian.