Reflections of Ponoka: Former Ponokan still enjoying exciting hockey career!

I got to know Marcel Comeau in the 1960s while working as a sports reporter for the Ponoka Herald.

Marcel Comeau as a member of a Ponoka Minor Hockey Association team in 1965. Today

Marcel Comeau as a member of a Ponoka Minor Hockey Association team in 1965. Today

I got to know Marcel Comeau in the 1960s while working as a sports reporter for the Ponoka Herald. Sitting up in the wooden stands of Ponoka’s first cold, old arena, I vividly remember him as a small but flashy and speedy centre/right winger who had all the nifty moves and could really put the puck in the net.

Born on March 1, 1957, Marcel is the son of Emile and Anita Comeau, who had moved to our bustling community with their family to set up a new Massey-Ferguson Implements business. Comeau Brothers, under the ownership of Bob and Emile Comeau did very well, while the young families became very much involved in the community!

After playing his early hockey in the very active Ponoka Minor Hockey system, Marcel Comeau became a member in 1970 of the junior A Stampeders, which was our community’s first and only team to play in the prestigious Alberta Junior Hockey League. While attending the Ponoka Composite High School, “Muz” also enjoyed playing baseball, fastball and other sports. After playing shortstop with the junior fastball club, he later joined Jack McMillan’s great Ponoka Royals squad, and yours truly was one of his teammates for several super summer seasons.

Comeau’s first season with the Stampeders was outstanding, with the diminutive 18-year-old sniper scoring a league-leading 42 goals and 38 assists for 80 points in 49 games to earn the AJHL Rookie of the Year Award. The following season Comeau joined the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WCHL, going 6-12 (18 points) in 11 games. In the 1971-72 season he earned 45 points (16 goals and 29 assists) in 48 games. In 1972 the five feet 11, 165-pound Ponoka star was chosen 148th overall in the 10th round of the National Hockey League amateur draft by the Minnesota North Stars.

Although Marcel Comeau never got to play in the NHL, he went on to fashion a colourful and illustrious professional hockey career as a player, coach, manager, scout and avid promoter that is now in its 43rd year, and still going strong.

Comeau joined the Saginaw Gears of the Eastern Hockey League in 1972 and would skate for 11 great seasons with the team — two as the head coach — and made the playoffs in all but two seasons of that exciting stretch. Through his pro hockey playing career, which began with Edmonton in the WCHL in 1971 and ended with a short stint with the American Hockey League Maine Mariners in 1983, Comeau played in 780 regular league and 111 playoff games, scoring 392 goals and adding 656 assists for a total of 1048 points. During his very successful stint in Saginaw, the Gears won the Turner Cup in 1977 and 1981, he received both the IHL Gatschene MVP Trophy and Lamoureux Points Leader trophy (126) for the 1980-81 season, during which he was also the assist leader (82) and was named to the International Hockey League’s First All-Star team. During his memorable stay in Saginaw, Mich., Comeau married, played some semi-pro fastball in the off-season but always looked forward to family activities, as well as enjoying some quality time back in his Ponoka hometown!

His head coaching career began in earnest in 1983 when he was named head coach of the Western Hockey League Calgary Hitmen, then accepted the coaching reins of the WHL Saskatoon Blades in 1984, a position which he held until 1989, also earning the WHL McCallum Coach of the Year Trophy for their 1987-88 season. In 1989 Comeau returned to the American Hockey League where he coached and was the director of player operations for the New Haven Nighthawks until late in the 1991 season when he accepted the position of head coach for the Winston-Salem Thunderbirds of the East Coast Hockey League. In 1991 an exciting new opportunity would come Comeau’s way when he was offered the head coaching position of the new Tacoma Rockets WHL franchise, later winning the CHL Coach of the Year after the team’s 1992-93 season. He stayed on with the team when the franchise was transferred to the Kelowna Rockets in 1995, and would continue on the coaching staff and in other capacities for several more years.

The next exciting step for Marcel Comeau’s ongoing hockey career came in 1996, when he worked as a scout for the Independent RHO Hockey Service, as well as coaching the Pacific under 17 Select squad at the 1999 USA Hockey Festival. That same year his former Saginaw teammate, Don Waddell, who had become the GM of the NHL Atlanta Thrashers, brought Comeau into the organization as a part-time scout. In 2003 he was appointed as the head scout for the Thrashers, and when the franchise was transferred to Winnipeg in 2010 he became the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Jets, a position in which he serves today at the age of 60 years.

Among the milestones of Marcel Comeau’s longstanding hockey career has to be the opportunity of serving as the head coach of the 1994 Canadian team that won the under 18 IIHF World Championship, as well as leading our Canadian squad to a gold medal in the 1995 World Junior Hockey Championship. His skills, dedication and love of the game have allowed him to enjoy a long and successful playing career, as well as the ongoing opportunity and ability to inspire, teach, mentor, and seek out many hundreds of fine young hockey players as a coach and a scout.

We can all be very proud that his outstanding hockey adventure started almost five decades ago under the excellent leadership and encouragement of our Ponoka Minor Hockey Association and an always supportive community.