LOOKING BACK - NORWICH MERCHANTS ANNIVERSARY YEAR

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LOOKING BACK

TEAM HISTORY



GREAT MOMENTS IN OUR PAST

Merchants Look-Back – 2009/10
Player Highlight: Stuart Preston


The next chapter in Merchants history we look at was is the 2009/10 season. The Merchants had just come off a Niagara Jr. C Championship when they finally knocked off the Grismby Peach Kings in the final before falling to Essex in the Schmalz Cup Semi-Finals. Norwich was looking to repeat the success from the year prior and Stu Preston was asked to help in that goal.

Stu joined the team in the 2009/10 after spending a brief time with the Tavistock Braves on the Jr. D loop. Stu would play 2 years in the red & white and he says those 2 seasons were without a doubt the best years of hockey for him. The 2009/10 season was an impressive one with Norwich going 27-7-2 to clinch another Niagara West Division Championship before falling to Grimsby in the league final. He became an assistant captain in the 2010-11 season where the Merchants set a record in points with 66 after going 32-2-2, although Norwich would lose a game 7 heartbreaker to Grismby. Stu also remembers the loss of teammate Ben Pearson that season, so it was an emotional year. Stu says his favourite memories were winning back to back Niagara West Division Championships, along with making friends that will last a lifetime. He says being able to bleed red was an honour.

On 50 years of Merchants hockey, Stu says it means stability and consistency. Now that Stu is involved in the operations side of Junior Hockey with the Woodstock Nav y Vets, he realizes how much work goes in year in and year out and being a top organization for 50 years is an amazing feat. He says everyone involved should be proud and everyone who was able to wear a Merchants sweater should be honoured.

To the future and current crop of Norwich junior players, Stu says to wear the sweater with pride and take note of the storied history behind.

Stu would like to end by saying how those 2 years were the best of his life. He said he was very happy to play in Norwich instead of going elsewhere and he wishes to thank Randy Nobbs, Tom Wright and everyone involved when he played. Here’s to another 50 years! Cheers!

Merchants Look-Back – 2005/06
Player Highlight: Ryan Hladyniuk


The next chapter in Merchants history we look at is the 2005/06 season. The Merchants had been fighting neck & neck with the Simcoe Storm this past few seasons and looked to push their Norfolk County rivals aside as the Stormed brewed up two consecutive Division Titles. Ryan Hladyniuk knew all about the Merchants/Storm rivalry.

Ryan played four seasons with Norwich from 2003 through 2007. A native of Thunder Bay, Ryan relocated south to attend the University of Western Ontario, where he tried out for the Mustangs hockey team. During those tryouts Merchants General Manager Tom Wright call Ryan to see if he would suit up in a pre-season tilt against the Aylmer Spitfires who had just rejoined the junior hockey ranks that season. Reluctant at first due to not having a vehicle to travel from London, Ryan did suit up after Norwich facilitated his pick-up & drop-off and he provided him with a bite to eat. Ryan says this is where it all started.

In the 2005/06 season, Norwich and Simcoe fought for first place right down to the wire. Simcoe would prevail by a mere point which provided Simcoe home ice advantage in the expected Norwich/Simcoe Niagara West Division Final. Ryan remembers how the hatred between the teams ran deep, how bitter the rivalry was. Simcoe had knocked Norwich out of the playoffs since Ryan’s first year and he was seeking revenge in 2006. Ryan says he still feels the built-up energy and emotion Merchant/Storm games provided. He even remembers how pumped up the team would get on Sunday night bus rides to Simcoe’s barn. The ride would be much better following a road victory. The season series was quite even, but played with a playoff intensity from start to finish that escalated when the teams met in the finals. Ryan recalls the Nor-Del Arena being packed with fans, large 50/50 draws and huge performances by unsung Merchant players (looking at you Devo and Vaughn). Norwich wouldn’t get their revenge that season falling to the Storm in the finals, but after 3 long years Ryan would get his revenge in 2007 – his final year when Norwich eliminated the Storm.

On 50 years of Merchants hockey, Ryan says it is quite an accomplishment and he is honoured to have the opportunity to play with such a historic franchise. He says the incredible achievement is brought to you by many years of excellent staff, tremendous sponsors, thankless volunteers and tireless players.

To the future and current Merchants, Ryan says to enjoy every moment of your junior career as it will truly be one of the best times when you reflect on your life. Ryan syas to remember the transferable skills you gain from being a part of the Merchants. Always strive for excellence (in whatever you do) and if you need an example, look at the staff who allow you to don the jersey. Second, remember to protect the guy beside you – you know he will do the same for you. Thirdly, you will gain leadership skills in this organization – use those skills to attain excellence. Lastly, be grateful and thank the Merchant executives, the ladies selling 50/50, the goal judge, the guys serving you beer, the bus driver and on and on every chance you get, because without them, there is no opportunity.


Ryan would like to end by thanking all the players he played with during his 4 seasons. Although life moves forward, he is still fond of the memories and relationships built in Norwich. He wishes to thank the executive for treating him with respect, honour and allowing him the ability to play for such a first class organization. He wants to thank the fans, because he says he has never been a part of an organization where the fans hold their players in such high regard – thank you for the cheers and celebrations, and lastly thank you to Danny “Hammer” Cattell for the tour of the cow processing plant.

Cheers to another 50 years!



Merchants Look-Back – 2004/05
Player Highlight: Gregory Knapp


Out next installment looks at the 2004/05 season with #16 Gregory Knapp who spent 2 years with Norwich and he made an impact immediately.
Greg’s very first game saw him get an early shower, dropping the gloves right of the bat. Greg thought he would be benched for that tilt, however he would find himself paired on the blueline with Tyler VanTyghem and the two were a formidable force or as Greg recalls a wrecking crew.

Greg has many memories of his time in Norwich including Mark Baxter’s famous Christmas Eve chicken wings. Greg also wants to point out he crushed 7 wings that year tops on the team, although the following 30 minutes Greg would be found on the ice surface with his tongue latched to the cold surface. Greg remembers the golf tournaments, the Friday night ritual of driving back to London after a big win, where Greg and the boys would venture off to Cowboys looking snazzy in their suits.

Greg also remembers having the best dressing room atmosphere. Never would a skate not be sharpened or tape withheld. Sometimes, you’d find Greg and teammate Eric Britton atop the stairs taping sticks with a big “gagger” in their lip – a term Greg still laughs about today. Next thing you know it was game time as Trooper’s Raise a Little Hell blasted in the dressing room, the boys were ready to roll.

Greg says 50 years of success is credited to Norwich being the most high caliber club Greg ever played for in Junior C hockey. He says Norwich’s mentoring and shaping of the young men who don the red & white is better than average. Greg says that from the day he walked in to the day he departed, he walked out a better individual learning a lot from his time in Norwich. He credits many people who dealt with the challenge of dealing with them, but especially wants to highlight Mark “Bax” Baxter and take this chance to apologize. Greg remembers Mark taking care of thus mislead kid trying to sneak through college who had a massive lapse in judgement at a Woodstock tournament (it was him). Greg says he hasn’t forgotten and he’s truly sorry and despite the fact that Greg never apologized, Mark never swayed in taking care of him.

Greg says 50 years of dealing with young men trying to find themselves through competition is commendable and he hopes the best during the next 50 years.

Finally Greg says to those who currently or will wear a Norwich sweater to cherish the moments, as they go by too quickly and all you’ll have is a distant memory. Work harder, play harder and ask for help when you need and never think you’re too tough to ask for help. Rely on your teammates and keep each other together as a unit. If one of you is at fault, you all are. Lastly always keep the high ground and take everything from the enemy.


We thank Greg for partaking in this series and want to highlight something the Norwich Merchants are extremely proud of for Greg. Sergeant Gregory Knapp has served this country in uniform and defended our freedom. We thank you for your service. You are an inspiration to us!

Merchants Look-Back – 2001/02
Player Highlight: Mike Bouw



The next chapter in Merchants history we look at was is the 2001/02 season. The Merchants were coming off back to back Division Championships. Mike Bouw was a member of those teams and he looked to be a part of team hoping for 3 in a row.

Mike spent 3 seasons in the red & white of Norwich, but his Merchants journey started before that. His first memories of the Merchants was actually as a fan. He remembers going to playoff games with his cousin and being brought there by 2 of the most die-hard fans the team has ever known – Bev & Ena Avey. Mike recalls the atmosphere being outstanding in the old rink. He says it seemed like the whole town was there to support the Merchants and his interest was sparked right from there.

Mike says he played on talented teams all 3 seasons and he remembers the 01/02 team being a tight-knit group. He said he’d never had so much fun playing hockey in his life. They battled hard on the ice and enjoyed hanging out just as much after. The team was a mix of talented veterans and rookies and that made coming to the rink something to look forward to each week. Norwich would battle towards another division championships, but ultimately fell to Woodstock in the division final.

He says 50 years of Merchants hockey is like being a part of a family, something he says Norwich has done for years. Seeing old teammates, friends, fans, coaches, executive and anyone else involved is proof of that family atmosphere. Mike says there is something special about junior hockey in Norwich and it’s the people that make it work.

His advice for future and current Merchants is to enjoy the ride while it lasts. You will make lifelong friends and memories along the way. Don’t take it for granted.


Merchants Look-Back – 1999/2000
Player Highlight: Bryan Hall


Our next installment in our look-back feature in Merchants history is the turn of the millennium in the 1999/2000 that ended with one of the most controversial calls in Merchants history and perhaps Junior Hockey itself.

Bryan Hall was a member of the 1999/2000 team, but in total he played 5 years. Bryan recalls a slow start to the season, but they would recover to finish with a 23-10-3 record good enough for 2nd place in the Niagara West Division – 6 points behind the first place New Hamburg Firebirds. That 2nd place finish didn’t deter Norwich as they roared through the Niagara West playoffs earning themselves a match-up against the powerhouse Chippewa Riverhawks. The teams battled hard in an intense 7 games series and in that 7th game controversy struck. Bryan remembers tying Game 7 with only 7 seconds left on the clock, however the linesman said the net was off and therefore the goal was disallowed. Things became further disheartening for the 99/00 Merchants as the next day, the Woodstock Sentinel Review published a photo that shows the puck in the back of the net, with the net still intact. Chippewa would move on to the Ontario Semi-Finals where they fell to the Lakefield Chiefs before winning a Schmalz Cup in the 2000/2001 season.

When asked what 50 years of Merchants hockey means to Bryan, he thinks back to his family. Bryan’s father Bill donned the Merchants jersey from 1972-76 as did his uncles Bob, Doug and Don. Bryan’s Grandfather Dr. Russ Hall also spent multiple years within the Merchants organization and is enshrined in the team’s Wall of Fame.


Merchants Look-Back – 1997/1998
Player Highlight: Chad Staats


The next chapter in Merchants history we look at is the 1997/98 season. The early 90s hadn’t been the most illustrious in Merchant history, but the plan was to change that in the 97/98 season that featured Chad Staats from Hagersville who would eventually go onto to play for the Kitchener Rangers on the Ontario Hockey League.

Chad played only 1 season for Norwich, coming straight out of bantam hockey, but it was a memorable one. Chad recalls his favourite memory being the playoff run that included a run-in with the league favourite Paris Mounties. Nobody expected Norwich to win a single game against the veteran laden team from Brant County. Norwich wound up winning 4 in a unique series that saw no home team win a game and that was good news for the 2nd seeded Merchants who clinched the Niagara West Championship in Paris’ barn. Norwich would move on to the powerhouse Glanbrook Rangers who knocked Norwich off in 5 games on route to an Ontario Schmalz Cup Championship.

On 50 years on Merchants hockey, Chad credits the solid foundation the club has in place and how it has been maintained and carried on through generations by dedicated people who share a common goal – TO SUCCEED. Since Chad’s playing days in the red & white, he has come across a number of people who donned the Merchants script in later years and when he talks about their time in Norwich, they all remember how they were treated, how the town supported them and all the great players they suited up beside. Chad says 50 years speaks volumes about the great coaches, trainers, volunteers, general managers and executive members who the organization continues to surround their players with. Chad says that not only do these people continue to work hard for players needs to succeed, he says they were and still are great people.

To current and future Merchants Chad simply says that your career goes by too fast, so enjoy every minute of it and congratulations on 50 years.



Merchants Look-Back – 1997/1998
Player Highlight: Derek Boersma


Our next chapter in Merchants history looks back towards the 1997/98 season. It had been many years since Norwich could hang a banner in the blueline club – the most recent was in 1989/90. That would all change in the 97/98 year – a season that feature Derek Boersma.

Derek played 3 years with Norwich from 1996 through 1999. He remembers specifically being selected for the All-Star game in 97/98 that took place down Highway 59 in Woodstock. Cecil Hill, Matt Fry and Jeremy Dekoninck were also selected for that game.

This season saw Norwich compile a 26-13-1 record good enough for 2nd place in the Niagara West – 12 points behind the first place Paris Mounties. Paris was expected to roll right through the playoffs, but Norwich had different ideas. After disposing of the Woodstock Navy Vets in the division Semi-Finals, Norwich would face off against the odds on favourite Mounties. Normally, home ice advantage would be a benefit, but the series was the complete opposite. Derek recalls how the road team won every game and luckily for Norwich they were visitors in Game 7, which Norwich would win, which in turn ended their banner drought. Norwich would move on to face Glanbrook in the Niagara Final, where Norwich would fall in 5 games. Glanbrook would end up winning their second of three consecutive Schmalz Cups that season.

Derek looks back on his time in Norwich very fondly. An Ingersoll native, if you wanted to play Junior C Hockey, odds are you were heading to Norwich or Woodstock, Derek was happy to find his way to Norwich, where multiple people played an impact on his career – folks like Randy Nobbs, Tom Wright, Bob Rachar, Mark Baxter and Bryne Wise. Derek also notes how coaches through his minor hockey career played a part in Merchants history – gentlemen like Rick Johnson, Andy Riley and Wayne Chalkley.

Now a father, who has a daughter playing hockey, Derek remembers paying a visit to the Nor-Del Arena where he got to show his girl team pictures of when he donned the red & white. Derek says it’s nice to see Norwich continuing strong almost 20 years since his last game.


Merchants Look-Back – 1995/1996
Player Highlight: Chad Howse


We now look back at the 1995/96 season where Norwich finished with a 25-12-3 record good enough for second place in the Niagara West Division just behind the Woodstock Navy Vets and ahead of the eventual Schmalz Cup Champion Paris Mounties. Chad Howse was a member of that team.

Chad played 3 years in the red & white of Norwich starting as a 16 year old. Growing up in Woodstock a teenager, but playing for Norwich may have been unpopular with some, but Chad didn’t care or regret it. In fact he would even be known to drop the gloves in the infamous Battle of 59 against the Navy Vets.

Chad looks back on his time fondly, remembering fierce playoff battles with Woodstock and Paris. Chad says those Woodstock series feature an unreal atmosphere with a number of Merchant fans packing both the home and away rinks and he points out those fans played a role in their playoff success. He notes that winning a playoff series meant 2 things – A) Advancing to the next round and B) An epic party at the bus barn.

50 years of Merchants hockey means a lot to Chad. Although his teenage years were in Woodstock, he actually spent his childhood in Otterville, which meant he was a Norwich Minor Hockey player until peewee. That also meant watching the Merchant teams of the 80s on a Friday night with his late father Keith, something Chad always looked forward to. He said when he finally got to don the Merchants sweater, it was an honour, not just for him, but for his late father who would sponsor Merchant sweaters and continue to have a fuel company in the community. He says the Merchants are a family and a community owned team who treat you as such. A Friday ritual in the Howse household saw mom, dad and grandparents venture to the rink to watch, so to be a Merchant means being a part of a great family.

Chad says for those who currently wear and those who will in the future don the Merchants sweater to respect it, have fun, win, enjoy it and go balls to the wall. It is an honour and privilege to wear the jersey.



Merchants Look-Back – 1993/94
Player Highlight: Rick Amey


We now look at the 1993/94 season with Norwich native Rick Amey who has a vast history with the Merchants as does his entire family.

Rick’s memories of the Merchants begin long before his playing days, in fact it was his childhood. Growing up in the small town of Norwich, there’s really not much to do on a Friday night in the winter, so he’d head down to the rink with his parents to watch the boys in red & white.

When Rick’s father George became a part of the executive in 1984, Rick’s first role with the team was constructed as he was the team’s stick boy for two seasons including the 1985-86 Ontario Championship team. Rick remembers the many practices and home games as well as the road trips, whether to opposing rinks across Ontario or to Buffalo to watch the NHL’s Sabres – he noticed how the team was always treated right.

Rick would become a player for Norwich in 1992. Although never the top prospect or even the starting goalie, Rick says it was a great feeling to wear the Merchants sweater and represent his hometown after watching the team his entire life. The 93/94 seasons was a down year – at least in Merchants terms going 13-15-8 in the year, but it did continue a trend that saw Norwich increase point totals from year to year. The rival Woodstock Navy Vets would claim the division crown that season – their 2nd of 3 consecutive titles.

Rick’s journey continued in 2011with two very special moments for him and his family. In February that year Rick returned home to help Grant Mountain drop the ceremonial on a military night. Rick had been deployed to Afghanistan and has since returned overseas for 2 deployments on an HMC ship. Today Rick is a Sergeant posted to CFB Halifax.

On December 23rd of 2011, Rick’s father George was inducted into the team’s Wall of Fame after all his hard work as a member of the executive. Rich says it was a great honour for his mother, sister and self to have his father remembered for all the hours he put in on behalf of the Merchants.

On 50 years of Merchants hockey, Rick says he’s not surprised they have lasted so long. He says the executive work extremely hard to ice a competitive team and to keep the stands full of fans. He says Randy Nobbs and Tom Wright were always working to make the team better and the make Norwich feel like home for all the players regardless of where they came from.

His advice to future and current Merchants is to enjoy! He says not many teams or fans can make you feel as appreciated or being a part of a family like Norwich can. Take the lessons you learn from your coaching staff and use them in everyday life.

Today Rick continues his involvement in hockey coaching his son’s sledge hockey team – the Halifax Sledge Grinders. He is always head coach of the Team Nova Scotia Sledge Hockey Team who are competing in the National Championships in Montreal in May of 2017.


The Norwich Merchants thank Rick for his participation in this project and know the Merchants are extremely proud of you for your service to our country. You are an inspiration to us!


Merchants Look-Back – 1990/91
Player Highlight: Derek Partlo


The Next year we look at is the 1990-91 season. Norwich was coming off a Niagara West Division Regular Season Championship and looked to repeat that feat in 90/91. Derek Partlo was a member of that team.

Derek joined Norwich as a 15 year old in the 1989/90. He remembers growing up watching the Merchants and always wanted to don the red & white. His 2 years didn’t feature any championship teams, but they were always competitive. He says the Merchants were a first class organization who were totally committed to icing a strong team. Norwich would lose in the league finals both years, but Derek is grateful his playing introduction to junior hockey was with Norwich. He would receive another introduction to Junior Hockey, this time in the coaching ranks in 2004 when he returned as the main man behind the bench. He says his time with Norwich was a rewarding experience.

The 1990/91 team was a tough team Derek says – nobody would push them around. They were also a close-knit group with a bunch of hard-working players who had a great time learning the game at the junior level. He has many memories including the golf tournaments, fish frys and occasional pit stops post games. He says this organization made all of the players feel welcome.

Derek says for on organization to last 50 years you have to be “doing it tight.” It starts with great leaders at the top and then ultimately the support from the community has to be there as well. He says that’s exactly what makes the Merchants last – great leadership and community support.

His advice to future & current Merchants is to just enjoy the junior experience, because it goes by very quick. Know that you are playing in front of passionate fans who will back you through the good times and bad – “Win or tie, we are behind you.”

Derek ends by saying Congratulations to everyone who has been a part of the Merchants. 50 years is quite an accomplishment. Here’s to 50 more!

Merchants Look-Back – 1989/90
Player Highlight: Shane Johnson


Our next chapter looks at the 1989/90 season where the Merchants were looking to rebound from a rough 88/89 season that saw the team finish last in the Niagara West Division with only 27 points. That rebound came to fruition where Norwich doubled their point total from the previous season finishing in first place. One member of that team was Shane Johnson who played his lone season in the red & white as a 16 year old.
Shane remembers his 1 season being a lot of fun, recalling memories such as the bus rides, the trip to Buffalo to watch the Sabres play and card game at randy Nobbs. What he remembers most however was just hanging out with his teammates, a great bunch of guys.
Following Shane’s season, he would play in the Ontario Hockey League with the Guelph Storm over two season before moving on to the London Wildcats of the Colonial Hockey League in 1994/95. He would continue to play in the Colonial Hockey League in 95/96, but this time in the United States in Wisconsin where he suited up for the Madison Monsters. He would return to Ontario playing 3 years of Senior Hockey from 1998 through 2003 playing one year with the Oxford Blues and two with the Dundas Real McCoys. Today Shane finds his rightful place in the Merchants Wall of Fame.
On 50 years of Merchants Hockey, Shane says it is being a part of a great organization and something to be extremely proud of. He knows he is and mentions a mantra repeated by many former players: “One a Merchant, always a Merchant.”
His advice to current and future Merchants is to enjoy your time in Norwich, because it flies by. The expectations in Norwich is high, so always work hard and do your best to meet these expectations.


Merchants Look-Back – 1986/87
Player Highlight: Lawrence Chesterman


Our next chapter looks at the 1986/87 season. Norwich was coming off their first (and to this point only) Schmalz Cup Championship. They would look to repeat as Champions and came so close falling in the Ontario Final to the Lakefield Chiefs in 6 games.  Lawrence Chesterman was a member of both the champion and runner-up team and we speak to him on his time in Norwich.

Lawrence was recruited to the team by Tom Wright after he spent a couple of season in Tillsonburg. Tillsonburg would move up to Junior B in 85/86 and Lawrence wasn’t interested in that level of commitment as he was a first year college student. Lawrence says Tom had to do a lot of convincing to get him to show up at try-outs and it might have been Mike MacMiilan who played a key role in getting Lawrence to Norwich. Mike played alongside Lawrence in Tillsonburg and told him that if he played, Mike to would suit up and the rest is history. Tom’s dedication and Mike Desire lead Lawrence to the dotted line.

Lawrence says being a part of the 85/86 Championship team is a memory that even after 30+ years gives him pride to say “I am a Norwich Merchant.” He recalls that season having many great memories and says the executive did a fantastic job. He never heard any grumbling from players and whatever was needed, the executive worked hard to get it for the players. He says the executive had one goal in mind that year – a Championship and that was delivered.

Lawrence says his strangest memory from that season was trying to align themselves on who to play in the playoffs. He can’t recall their first round opponents, but remembers Woodstock and New Hamburg battling each other in an intense match-up. New Hamburg would win the series, but their gas tank was on empty by the time they played Norwich.

Lawrence remembers never having a number 1 goal during his 2 years. Those teams had 2 number 1 goalies and it didn’t matter who was in net. The goalies knew they’d rotate each game and never felt the pressure of having to be the main guy. If one goalie had a bad day or wasn’t feeling well, the other would pipe up and start instead. The players never had to worry who was between the pipes, because they could rely on either –a luxury many teams didn’t have.

Norwich would take on the Bradford Blues in the 85/86 Ontario Final and Lawrence says that it couldn’t have been scripted any better. Needing Double Overtime in Game 7 to clinch the cup was fitting. He remembers the support from Norwich fans being hard to describe. He believes the arena was probably over capacity, standing room only. People would even hang off the rafters and getting to the dressing room during intermission would be difficult due to the sheer volume of fans.

The 86/87 season was tougher for Lawrence as he spent most of the season sidelined with a nagging shoulder injury, which was re-aggravated in the pre-season. Lawrence would return late in the season and help lead Norwich to their second consecutive final. Norwich would fall to Bradford in Game 6, but Lawrence believes had they won Game 6, they would have won the championship in Game 7.

One of Lawrence’s fondest memories of the 86/87 season was a playoff series against the Essex 73s. Bob Pizzey was going to university in Windsor, so instead of driving all the way back to Norwich to catch the bus, Bob would actually hitch a ride with Essex players to their home rink and then would hitch a ride back to the university. Lawrence remembers the comradery between Norwich and Essex. After Norwich would complete a sweep of the 73s, the boys would head on up to the blueline club for a cold one and the Essex players would join Norwich. Lawrence recalls Essex holding no grudges and simply wished them luck in the next round.

On 50 years of Merchants hockey, Lawrence credits dedication and always having a strong team. As a Tillsonburg player, Lawrence dreaded playing Norwich because they knew they would lose, the only question was how badly. Lawrence also credits the executive for their commitment. The number of hours spent to ensure the team is a success has been key. He also notes how some of those executive members from 30 years ago when he played and still in place today. Now that’s commitment. He says strong teams always have a strong leader and he says the executive is the #1 player on the team.

His advice to current and future Merchants is to wear the sweater with pride. Your success is only as great as the effort you put into it. You will make lifelong friends playing in Norwich, so enjoy the moment, because Junior Hockey is over before you know it.


Merchants Look-Back – 1984/85
Player Highlight: Jerry Vandenbussche


This week we take a look back to the 1984/85 season with Jerry Vandenbussche. This would be a season Norwich would dominate and perhaps a preview of what came in the 1985/86 season.

Jerry was a veteran on the 84/85 team having joined the Merchants as an affiliate player in 1980/81 – the first year Norwich participated in the Junior C category. He joined the team full time the following season and would spend the next five years in the red & white capping his Junior career with on Ontario Championship. Jerry played in an era were Norwich was constantly competing for division, league and provincial championships and Jerry credits the coaching staff and management group for that constant success. He says the players always had a strong bond that also helped make Norwich one of the top teams on a consistent basis. The 1984/85 team was one of the strongest Jerry says he has ever played on. The team lost only 4 times in the regular season and as a result were dubbed “the team to beat.” That regular season success didn’t follow through come playoff time that year, where Norwich fell in the division finals to Woodstock – a scenario Jerry says was disappointing consider the team Norwich had.

That disappointment seemed to spark a fire in Jerry along with returning teammates in the 85/86 season. That season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Norwich, but the squad didn’t listen and instead won it all, winning the Ontario Junior C Championship or Schmalz Cup in a thrilling 7 games series over the Bradford Blues. Jerry says the memory of winning it all will last forever and also learned that you do not need to be the best team on paper to win it all.

Jerry credits 50 years of Junior Hockey in Norwich to the passion and dedication that the executive, coaching staffs and the fan base have demonstrated time and time again. Jerry says he was proud to witness that passion from all sides and says that’s what the Merchants name means to him.

Jerry finished offering advice to players within the Norwich Minor Hockey system who dream of playing for their hometown squad and to those young players from outside with the same goals to always work as hard as you can in games and practices to improve yourself. Have fun, enjoy your time playing and good luck.


Merchants Look-Back – 1983/84
Player Highlight: Bob Pizzey


The next installment we look at is the 1983/84 season with Bob Pizzey. Bob spent 4 years with the Merchants, the first of those being the 83/84 season when he joined Norwich as a 16 year old after a season with the Brantford Jr. B Alexanders.

Bob recalls the 83/84 season being a rebuilding year, although the team did finish with a 21-7-2 record good enough for first place in the Niagara West Division. These rebuilding years helped lay the foundation for the Ontario Championship team which would arrive 2 seasons later.

When asked about his favourite memories, Bob says they didn’t take place on the ice. Sure there were memorable games, but the comradery off the ice is what sticks out for Bob. Events like the fish fry or golf tournaments as well as the famous chili parties and Walkathons all meant a lot to Bob. He fondly remembers the Christmas parties, bus trips, pig roasts and simply hanging out with teammates and fans in the blueline club. He also points out adventures Don “Donzo” Miller and trainer Bruno Nizzero. He says these memories and the friendships created will last with him forever.

When asked what 50 years of Merchants hockey means to him, Bob says it means much more than the game itself. He says it all starts with a great community who supports the team financially and emotionally. As a player, Bob says there is no better feeling than seeing a packed rink game after game – home or away. He says when you add in the executive, the team really starts to feel like a family. Bob says no team could perform without the building block elements found off the ice. Bob also says 50 years of Merchants hockey has created multiple friendships and stories that will last a lifetime.

To those currently donning the Merchants sweater and to those future players, he says to wear the red & white with pride and understand the history associated with that sweater. He asks these players to understand what it takes to create a successful hockey club, which goes above looking at wins, losses and points. As you give back to the community, he asks that you understand and appreciate what goes into running an organization that constantly breeds success. He asks that you understand and appreciate the time volunteers put into this team – that doesn’t happen by chance. Bob says he cannot say enough about his years wearing a Merchants sweater and how much that has meant in his life. He ends by telling players to cherish and make the most of your time in Norwich.


Merchants Look-Back – 1982/83
Player Highlight: Rick Johnson


This week we look back to the 1982-73 edition – the 15th team in Merchants history highlighting Rick Johnson on his Norwich Merchants journey.

Rick was a longtime Merchant playing for 4 years from 1981 through 1985 and even returned back to the team in the 1994/95 season as an assistant coach. Rick recalls competing in a tournament in Clinton that feature some of the best Junior teams across the province – a tournament the Merchants won by defeating the Dundas Blues in the final. The 82/83 season also feature Rick’s very own “Darryl Sittler Game” – a 10 point night against the Flamborough Colts where he potted 8 goals and added 2 assists in a game. The Merchants had a strong team in the 82/83 season compiling a 24-8-4 record good enough for second place in the division, however their county rivals were too strong as the Woodstock Navy Vets ended up clinching the division – their first of three consecutive titles.

There were many other joyous memores Rick has including around Christmastime when the team would head on over to Don and Shirley Miller’s house for some delicious chili – a tradition the team still partakes in today.

When asked what 50 years of Merchants Hockey means to him, Rick credits the work ethic of longtime executive members who he refers to as dedicated ambassadors. Randy Nobbs, Bryne Wise and Tom Wright have played a huge role in the sustainability, success and longevity of the Merchants Rick says. He also credits the many others who have played a vital role in the foundation of the club – a foundation other teams inspire to be like.

To those wearing the Merchants sweater and those who will in the future, Rick says to wear it with pride and dignity and be proud of the opportunity to wear the red and white.

We close with Rick reflecting on his experience. He says his playing days provided him with a good foundation in life and taught him how to work together as a team to achieve success.



Merchants Look-Back – 1980/81
Player Highlight: Dwayne Devos


This week we take a look back at a new era in Norwich Junior Hockey – the 1980/81 season. This was the first year Norwich was classified as a Junior C club having made the jump from Junior D after 12 years in that category. Those 12 seasons saw Norwich compile a 182-172-16 record, but now new challenges awaited as they joined the Niagara District Junior C league.

To help them tackle those challenges, local resident Dwayne Devos returned to the Merchants. He began his junior career in the 1976/77 season before moving on to play Junior B with Tillsonburg and Brantford for 3 years. The 80/81 season was the first of 2 more season Devos would play for Norwich.

Dwayne recalls the 1980/81 season being a unique situation for the Merchants with their recent jump in categories that would see a ton of new faces done the red & white and would also provide the fans with a new style of hockey. Dwayne credits General Manager Tom Wright for bringing in those new faces which would help Norwich compete. Winning wasn’t a guarantee in Junior C, but Norwich held their own in that first season compiling a 15-13-4 record good enough for 4th in the Niagara Junior C league. Dwayne still often wonders why the team didn’t have a better record – he says it was one of the better teams he was on with a number of good hockey players. Despite that, Dwayne says that first season was an enjoyable and memorable one. He would go onto to win the league scoring title that year along with the Most Valuable Player award. He also adds that he was extremely proud to play for his hometown.

On 50 years of Merchants Hockey, Dwayne credits that to Norwich having a strong organization. He says on all the teams he played for over the years, the Merchants were up there with the best in all of Ontario. The sense of community provided by the team has also been integral to their success. Dwayne says he is honoured to have been a part of the Merchants among some great players.

To those currently wearing the Merchants jersey and to those who will in the future, Dwayne tells them to simply enjoy the experience. It goes way too fast and always remember why we play the game. Just enjoy it!




Merchants Look-Back – 1977/78
Player Highlight: Brent Van Parys


This week we look back to the 1977-78 edition – the 10th team in Merchants history highlighting local resident Brent Van Parys on his Norwich Merchants journey.

Brent’s path to the Norwich Merchants consisted of hard work and dedication. When playing midget hockey in 1974, Brent broke his leg forcing him to take a rest for the year. In 1975, Brent tried out for the Merchants, but didn’t make the team. He would however practice and hang out with friends from the team when not playing for Delhi’s Juvenile squad. In 1976, Brent’s goal of making the team finally came to fruition where he stuck around for two seasons before playing for the Norwich Intermediate B team, however time commitments with his university studies forced him to leave that team, but not hang up the skates altogether – in fact Brent played hockey until the age of 57.

Focusing in on the 1977/78 season, Brent recalls not having a home rink for the most part. The arena was under construction that year forcing Norwich to practice in nearby rinks including Delhi, Langton & Burford, but that craziness allowed Brent and his teammates to be a part of the very first team in the new rink – something not many can say. Brent also recalls having fond memories of his good friend – the late Jim McNally who was trainer of the team and who Brent says was the glue that kept them together.

When asked what 50 years of Merchants hockey means to him, Brent praises the Township of Norwich for supporting their youth. Brent says there was no bigger thrill for young men than to wear the red & white (and black in 70s) Norwich sweater. Brent says the people of Norwich recognize the value of youth sports and thus have supported the Merchants organization. He understands the difficulty boys between 15 and 20 years old have finding themselves and he credits the team for providing lifelong lessons to them including the value of teamwork, commitment, community and sportsmanship. Brent credits 50 years of successful hockey to the positive environment coaches, trainers and executive members have provided to players that allow the team to consistently ice a competitive team. Brent recognizes the passion for sport, youth and community members of the team have had throughout the years. Brent appreciates how the Merchants have contributed to the community, just as the community as contributed to the Merchants.

We end with words of advice Brent would like to pass along to current and future Merchants. He says to wear the sweater with pride and understand you may not be the most popular team in opposing rinks, but understand the potential dislike comes with the territory of playing a team with a long history of success. He says the Merchants have always played a tough, physical game with a healthy dose of confidence. Don’t change that! He also says to thank the people who have made it possible for you to wear the red & white. You will be a better person because of their hard work and dedication to the organization.



Merchants Look-Back – 1976/77 –
Player Highlight: Gord Reeves

 
This week we take a look back into to the 1976/77 Norwich Merchants team featuring Gord Reeves – a goaltender for the team who spent 3 years with the Merchants from 1975 to 1978. Gord recalls the 76/77 team being an offensive powerhouse, but also had some defensive issues as on the odd night they would give up a few goals too many as well. Gord says that’s what should be expected during an era where the action was wide open and end to end play. The 70s were also the days where the broad street bullies of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers were ever-present and that seemed to transpire to Junior Hockey where Gord would recall 1 or 2 fights per game – in fact one night Gord remembers the team requiring a police escort just to leave safely.

On 50 years of Merchants hockey, Gord credits the stability of the hockey club as well as the management team for providing both a competitive and enjoyable brand of hockey. He also credits the fan base and team sponsors for their overall and consistent support through the years.

When giving advice to today’s crop of Norwich Merchants and those of the future who will don the red & white, Gord stresses to always respect and remember the people who helped you along your journey to becoming a Merchant. Be proud of your days in Norwich, always enjoy the game and be sure to give back – volunteer at some point and be sure to help the next generation who follow in your footsteps.

Gord closes by saying he is honoured to be recognized as a Merchant Alumni. His time in Norwich provided him with confidence and taught him important values he has carried forward throughout his lifetime involvement in hockey.




Merchants Look-Back – 1975/76
Player Highlight: Bob Hall


Our next chapter looking back on the history of the Norwich Merchants will focus in on the 1975/76 season talking to local resident Bob Hall. Bob began playing for Norwich in 1972, but he’s been a fan of the team since their inception in 1968 and continues to frequent the Nor-Del Arena to this day.

Bob remembers fierce battles against Waterford and Delhi in the 1975/76 season – two teams whom Norwich had strong rivalries with which was proven by the large home crowds that would take in games between the clubs. One of Bob’s fondest memories was the joy of suiting up alongside his brothers Don & Bill and the only thing that could make it better would have been able to suit up with his oldest brother Doug, but sadly when Bob came to play Junior hockey in Norwich, Doug was too old. The eldest Hall brother did however play for Norwich starting in the team’s inception year of 1968 until 1970.

Another fond memory Bob recalls is the “after hockey get-togethers” on Friday nights at the Nobbs household. After a hard fought game, the players along with management and friends would venture over to Wendell & Della’s home, where everyone was welcome. Bob also recalls the odd Saturday morning where the players would help out good old Fred Hartley with his mail deliveries, because Fred would wake up with a headache that took on through the night. Bob suggests that it might have been the “sulfur water.”

When asked what 50 years of Merchants hockey means to him, Bob says it’s a significant milestone and he credits the many great people who work tirelessly and who are extremely committed to making the Merchants organization what it is today and what it always has been. To him, 50 years means success. His own experience and observations show that the club can reach this plateau because of their commitment to provide fans with a competitive and exciting product. To be able to accomplish that goal, Bob says the team needs to attract players who want to be a Norwich Merchant and they are able to do that not just because of their success and reputation, but because the players are treated with compassion and generosity from the executive. Bob also points out the strong support between organization and community that the team possesses.

Bob wishes to offer the following advice to current and future Merchants. He tells that they are playing for one of the best organizations around – a team that has established a formidable reputation. He asks that players not only play with pride and respect on the ice, but the present themselves accordingly off the ice, whether it’s within or outside the community.

Merchants Look-Back – 1974/75
Player Highlight: Neil Palmer


We now look at the 1974/75 season – the lucky 7th season in Merchants history. Neil Palmer was a part of that team following in the footsteps of his brother Jim who played on the Ontario Championship team in 1969/70.

Neil remembers he and his whole family traveling to Haliburton for the final game of that 69/70 Championship series- the one where Norwich clinched the Championship (Neil says Sorry Stamps from Haliburton). Neil would soon don the red & white himself joing the team in his final year of midget hockey. Neil says he was fortunate to play for Don Izzard (Coach in 69/70 as well). He says the experience he and a couple teammates gained from the Merchants played dividends in helping his midget team making on Ontario finals for themselves where they fell to Schomberg

Neil recalls the 74/75 team being a great group of guys and friends. Neil was attending the University of Guelph at the time, so playing for Norwich allowed him to keep in touch with his hometown buddies. 1974/75 was also the last year three Hall brothers (Bill, Bob & Don) would suit up together. Norwich would go 15-15 that season eventually falling to the St. George Lions in the Championship series.

Neil says his favourite memory in Norwich was scoring against Don Edwards of the Caledonia Corvairs. Don would go on to play for the Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL amassing a career record of 208-155-74 and even represented Canada in the 1981 Canada Cup playing one game after being the back-up to Mike Luit.

On 50 years of Merchants hockey, he credits the support of the Norwich community at large. Many kids have been able to enjoy the experience the he enjoyed. Today Neil stills plays some Sunday morning hockey at the Galt Arena in Cambridge and lives near Paris & Ayr so still follows the Merchants and the Doherty Division/Provincial Junior Hockey League as a whole.

To the future and current Merchants, Neil says to enjoy every time you get on the ice whether it’s to play or practice. When an opportunity comes your way – take it. You never know where it will lead.
Neil would like to end giving a shout out and thank you to the 50th Anniversary Organizing Committee for their time & effort.


Norwich Merchants Look-Back – 1973/74 – Don Hall


               This week we take a look back at another one of the early years for the Norwich Merchants, specifically the 1973/74 season with Don Hall.

               Don began his Merchants career as a 16 year old in 1970/71. He began the season playing defense for the Norwich Midget All-Star team (Now you know them as Rep teams) when during a Christmas tournament in Tilsonburg he was pulled aside following a morning game to be informed of his call-up to the big leagues. Don was there filling in for an injured defenseman who suffered a season-ending foot injury and Don made the most of his chances. He made is Merchants debut against the Caledonia Corvairs and although he should have been tired having played two games earlier that day for the Midgets – his body sure wasn’t fatigued – it was running on adrenaline. Don helped the Merchants win having earned a fair amount of ice time – not just that night, but the rest season. Don finished out the 70/71 season playing for both the Midgets and Merchants.

               Don spent the next 4 years with the Junior D club and recalls the squad always being competitive – always making the playoffs, but falling short on their Championship goals. He also remember opponents not looking forward to play Norwich as the team was full of strong, tough men. He recalls some great saves and goals including Lambert Schaafsma dipsy-doodling his way through the opposition and even one or two goals Don himself may have scored from time to time.

               Don always wanted to emphasize the off-ice moment as well – which there were many. Before energy drinks there was the Caps Stubbs special “elixir” – a concoction the team was administered between periods that Don says smelled like horse liniment. Don recalls Coach Don Izzard’s pre-game pep talks that normally included a flying garbage can, trips on the bus where Don learned to tie a Windsor knot thanks to John Avey or how Bryan Bickell shared his unique way of tying skates and how Jim McNally and Jim Ormiston would take care of the boys. Don recalls how hard the Merchants executive worked – the players were treated like rock stars Don says and would go above and beyond for the boys who donned the red & white. He remembers a time in university when Wendell Nobbs drove to London during a blizzard to pick of Don so he could make the game and ensure he got back to school safely. Don remembers how close the fans got to the players during a game – there was no glass around the boards in the olden days. He also remembers a young lady named Barb Stubbs who demonstrated her amazing patience – waiting for Don (who was always the last one out of the dressing room) in the cold arenas to head out on for a bite to eat and something to drink. Don is now overjoyed and has been for 41 years to call Barb his wife – and she’s still patient with him today.

               When asked what 50 years of Norwich Hockey means to Don, he says it’s a testament to the commitment and hard work of the executive, the sponsors and the entire community past and present who have a love of hockey and continue to hold on to the original vision of having Junior Hockey in Norwich.

               To those who currently play for the team and to those future superstars, Don asks that they recognize they play for an organization with a rich history. Wear the sweater with integrity and respect for the organization, the sponsors and the community. Most of all, Don says to have fun and enjoy the ride. You may not realize it now, but there will come a time when you appreciate the importance of what you’ve learned and how you grew as a person.

               Finally we end with how Don views his time in Norwich, which I’m sure many former players agree with this sentiment: When you skate on the ice as young man, your time here is primarily about playing hockey, but when you look back at these milestones, you then realize how much you learned about yourselves not just in hockey, but life in general. The lessons learned today carry over into everyday of life, not the least of which is what it takes to work together as a team to achieve goals.

               The 5 years spent in Norwich for Don bridged a gap for him and allowed him to continue playing hockey as an adult showing his love of the game has never withered. He continues to lace up the skates to this very day. Don often wonders that if he never got that midget call-up many years ago, would his playing career have been done right then and there. For that he is thankful to those who started the organization 50 years ago and to those who maintain it today.



Merchants Look Back – 1971-72 – Jim Chalkley


               This week we take a look back at the 1971-72 season talking with Jim Chalkley.

               Before Jim began his Norwich career, he remembered actually being tired of hockey. He quit the game in the fall of 1970 after playing for 3 teams the year prior. Merchant coach Don Izzard convinced Jim to try the Norwich Merchant team in 1971 and that’s where Jim stayed.

               He recalls some fantastic memories, but none more important than a party he attended in Norwich at the invite of Don and Barb Hall. It was that party where he met Miss Joanne Pearson and saw something in Jim, because she became his wife and that was over 40 plus years ago.

He also recalls how times have changed, because odds are you wouldn’t get away with what happened to Jim when he was late for a game. He was caught speeding through town in his new car when he was pulled over. The police didn’t recognize Jim because of his new car and when they found out he was late, they didn’t give him a speeding ticket, but rather a police escort, sirens and all to ensure Jim suited up that night.

Jim mentions that 50 years of Merchants hockey has provided friendships from players and executives that will last a lifetime.

Finally Jim has one piece of advice for the current and future Merchants – actually its one word. ENJOY!



Merchants Look-Back – 1970/71 – Wayne Longthorne


This week we take a look back to year number 3 of Merchants hockey – the 1970/71 season. Coming off an Ontario Championship the year prior, it was players like Wayne Longthorne that were tasked with trying to repeat.

Wayne took a veteran role with the 70/71 team having been a part of Norwich since its inception in 1968 but he looked to Coach Don Izzard who Wayne recalls was an inspiration to him and taught him so much about the game of hockey. Wayne also wishes to thank former General Manager Tom Wright who took Wayne under his wing at the age of 14.

Wayne credits 50 years of Norwich Merchants hockey to the dedication many folks have provided behind the scenes to ensure the Merchants are kept on a road to success.

On advice to the current crop of Merchants as well as to the future stars, Wayne tells them to wear the sweater with pride and to always give 100 percent.

Although Norwich fell short of achieving their goal of repeating as Ontario Champions in 70/71 – the team should be looked at fondly. They actually had a better season record than their predecessors going 18-10-2 for 38 points – 7 higher than in 69/70. It was, however the Haliburton Huskies who took the title after they defeated Exeter in the OHA Cup Finals.

We end with one final quote from Wayne – which any player can live with and know to be true – “Once a Norwich Merchant – Always a Norwich Merchant!”




Merchants Look-Back – 1969/70 – Ontario Jr.D Champions
Player Highlight: Martin Wylie


              
Norwich was still new to the Junior Hockey game back in 1969/70 with that year only being the second in existence for the Norwich Merchants, but somebody must have forgot to tell the Merchants that new teams weren’t supposed to succeed so early, because by the end of the 69/70 season, the Norwich Merchants were referred to as Ontario Champions.

This week we talk to Martin Wylie and look back on his time as a member of the Ontario Junior D Champions. Martin began his journey the same time the Merchants did back in 1968/69 playing two seasons for the squad, his second while studying at university in Waterloo. When asked about his favourite memories of the season, Martin describes the entire year as a highlight he will never forget, an experience that is difficult to put into words. Martin described it as a feeling of everyone was working to the same common goal. He does recall a few snapshots including the new team dressing room, completing the league final in Game 7 in Caledonia and simply how well the team was run with exceptional coaching, splendid recruiting and a great executive.
               
Memories wouldn’t be complete without looking back on that tough 7 game Ontario Championship series against the Haliburton Huskies that saw the Norwich Merchants fall behind 3 games to none. Martin recalls the speech that Coach Don Izzard gave in Game 4 of that series that sparked the team to a 7-5 victory. Those were followed by 6-3 and 6-5 wins in Games 5 & 6 respectively culminating in a Game 7 winner take all contest in Haliburton. Martin recalls how amazed he was with the number of Norwich fans that packed the rink and helped cheer the Merchants to the Ontario Championship. One memory that will live with Martin forever was the smile on Coach Izzard’s face after winning Game 7 in Haliburton.
               
When asked what 50 years of Norwich Merchant hockey means to him, Martin says the team is something he’s proud to call himself an Alumni of. He mentions how pleased he is that the same values have been maintained throughout 50 years – those values of community, hard work and team dynamics that are still integral building blocks within the organization today.

On advice to current and future Merchants, Martin explains that the team was an important element of his development as a young adult. He says the experience provided structure, discipline, direction and demonstrated the importance of community – life lessons he hopes the current and future Merchants hold dear.

Martin wraps up with one final thought from the Championship team. He says every player from that year contributed to its success and the bond that was between players and staff is still going strong.



50th Anniversary – Player Interview – 1968-69 – Wayne Chalkley


              
It all began almost 50 years ago – the birth of the Merchants. A Junior D Hockey Club would called the small village of Norwich home. The team has gone through some ups and downs, but the Merchants have always been there – well at least since 1968. Over the next 50 weeks the team will be preparing for their upcoming 50th season in 2017/18. In preparation of this, the team will be highlighting each year of existence by conducting an interview with one member of that team per week as we look back on some of the great moments in team history while looking forward what the future holds.
              
We begin all the way back in 1968 – the first year of the Merchants highlighting Wayne Chalkley. Wayne had thought his junior hockey career was over. He along with Ken Cook had been cut by the Ingersoll Junior C team when they received a phone call from Merchants’ Head Coach Don Izzard who asked the two young men to suit up for Norwich. Although reluctant to go at first, Wayne says making the move began the best two years of his hockey career.
             
 When asked what his favourite moment was, Wayne said the entire year was a highlight. He remembers the town buzzing over the newly formed Merchants and the sense of community was apparent. He recalls heading over to Smith’s to pick-up a copy of the Norwich Gazette to take home and read the write-ups and just to talk hockey with anyone who would listen. He remembers the Sunday suppers at Doc and Helen Hall’s place. It became tradition. The bus would bring the team home following a Sunday afternoon road game and Doug Hall would invite the team for a bite to eat – and the team took advantage, however always making sure to ask if Doug’s parents were expecting the team – the answer was always yes. Wayne also remembers the very first playoff series in Norwich history – a hard fought 6 game battle with a much older Delhi team, which sadly ended Norwich’s season, but a season Wayne will never forget.
             
On 50 years of Merchants hockey, Wayne says it is a great accomplishment, especially when you look at the teams who have come and gone over the years. He mentions it’s no surprise the team has thrived when you look at how hard the team executive works and how they treat the future. He has no doubt the team will continue to be strong for years to come.
               
Wayne wraps the interview with some advice to Merchants of today and tomorrow: “Your Junior career is short, so enjoy every practice, game, bus ride and event the team organizes.”


 
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