What is your favourite Newfoundland and Labrador song about senior hockey?
Having trouble finding one?
Good. When I was asked that same question a couple of months back I had the same response.
That's when my boss pointed me in the direction of Khaki Dodgers, by Matthew Hornell and the Diamond Minds.
Centered around the Town of Buchans and named after the cookie treat given to miners in the middle part of the century, the song is a trip through time that follows Matthew’s grandparents through their connection to that period.
James Hornell Sr. arrived in 1949 to work in the Newfoundland mining town with an eye on playing for the Miners.
Hailed as a magician with the puck and a strong skater, Jim was a right winger with the Buchans Miners until 1954 and won three Herder Memorial Championships with the club.
Matthew Hornell was 20 years old when he started learning a bit more about his grandfather, and his connection to the Minors.
He was inspired by what he learned and ended up writing a personal song about his family.
I was first exposed to the song by my former boss at the Western Star. He walked into my office earlier this year and asked me what was the best song about provincial senior hockey.
I was stumped.
I started thinking about the goal songs for the CeeBee Stars as maybe that held the answer to the query
When I couldn’t produce an answer, he plopped a copy of Matthew Hornell and the Diamond Minds’ record on my desk and told me to check out the fifth track.
The song was catchy, tinged with emotion and offered a glimpse into a time that you don’t see or hear a lot about.
You can read about the history of the league, sure, but senior hockey conversations tend to live in the now and centre. More on how to keep the league alive rather than on older teams.
It is a stark, musical thematic break, whereas many musicians in the province have no trouble producing ballads about the province's yesteryear.
In Khaki Dodgers, Matthew shows a world obsessed with senior hockey – as any community with a team was – and how a town got behind its team.
“It was the only form of entertainment in those days,” he said. “It made quite a bit of sense to write a song about it.”
When you worked at the mines in those days, you got some time to go on the road with the Miners to watch them play.
Matthew’s grandmother, Marion, had fallen for his grandfather and decided she was going to watch as many games as she could. That meant risking the chance of crossing her father.
Her father was the time keeper at the mine and if she wanted to hop a train bound for Buchans from her hometown of Millertown Junction, she would've had to sneak past him.
Matthew’s song came together a lot quicker than some of his others.
“The song came in and out over a half hour,” he said. “Sometimes it takes me a year to write a song.”
Originally, it had 10 verses but Matthew pared it down significantly until it reached the final product. The song is named after the cookie given to miners, the khaki dodger.
When he sat to wrote it, he had found some old video cassettes at his parents’ place in Saskatchewan when they were moving places a decade ago.
Using some of that old footage and hearing stories about his grandfather growing up, Matthew pieced together a tribute to his grandparents as well as the town they called home.
“I wrote it as a senior hockey song, which there aren’t a lot of, and a song about Buchans, which there aren’t a lot of,” said Matthew.
He doesn’t play live as much as he used to. The song is more than a decade old. But when he was playing it regularly, Matthew was often stopped by people who either knew his grandfather, or was from Buchans. HIs grandfather was a teacher in the town after senior hockey, and also started the James Hornell Boys and Girls Club in Buchans.
Usually, people would great him with a yarn and a handshake.
“It was a well-enjoyed song,” he said.