Harvard hockey captain Bill Horton was raised in Sherwood Park Alberta, a suburb of the provincial capital Edmonton. Leading scorer Bill Hozack was born in Belfast, Ireland, but his family emigrated to Edmonton when he was two years old. Winger Murray Dea is the scion of an old Edmonton hockey clan that has already produced two members of the NHL.
The Edmonton Express was the sobriquet coined for these three linemates who have brought the hockey heritage of the Alberta prairies to the Crimson this season. "It just happened that the coach wanted to put us together and it just happened that we're all from Edmontion." Dea said. Despite its haphazard origins, the Edmonton Express is a tag that evokes the scoring chemistry and charisma of the immortal lines of hockey's heyday--Montreal's Punch Line, Toronto's Kid Line, Detroit's Production Line, Boston's Kraut Line, and New York's Gag Line.
The story of the Express begins around 15 years ago when Horton, Hozack, and Dea were energetic striplings of five and six who set out for the corner rink every Saturday. "I don't know what to do on Saturday afternoons since I came here." Hozack says, as he recalls the old days spent huddled over heaters between line changes in the sub-zero Canadian winter.
Ever since kids started throwing buckets of water onto their backyards and playing pick-up games, the Edmonton area has been the breadbasket for Candadian hockey.
Through The Ages
Generation after generation, the great players of Alberta like Johnny Bucyk, the Colvile brothers, and Alex "Killer" Kaleta learned their hockey in the small wheat growing and coal mining towns around Edmonton like Sherwood Park to the East, Red Deer to the South, St. Albert to the North, LeDuc, and Beaumont. If they didn't make it to the NHL, they played for the old local sime-pro teams: the Edmonton Flyers, the Olds Elks, and the Crow's Nest Pass Lascars.
Horton, Hozack, and Dea also learned to skate on Edmonton's outdoor rinks but these days there is a much more highly organized junior program.
Hozack and Horton were teammates for a season on a midget league team in the Southside Athletic Club Conference, one of four Metropolitan conferences. Dea, who lives on the other side of town in a hockey hotbed by the name of Rio Terrace, played against his current linemates while a member of the Knights of Columbus spurs, another midget team.
Dea, unlike Horton and Hozack, went on to play junior hockey with the Spruce Grove Mets. His team won the Canadian Junior Championship and received the Centennial Cup for its efforts. Spruce Grove beat a squad from Guelph. Ontario for the championship after a 60 game regular season and a 40 game playoff grind that stretched from September to May.
Junior League has been the traditional gravy train for pro players ever since teams like the Trail Smokesters and the Pendicton V's won the world hockey championship. Dea's father played Junior hockey, and he has two cousins in the NHL. One is Billy Dea, who played from 1953-58 before going down to the minors and then resurfacing in 1967 with the expansion Pittsburgh Penguins. His other cousing is Don Murdoch, who has acquired the nickname "Killer" after leading the Rangers in scoring this year in his rookie season.
Dea is only a sophomore, but Horton had a tougher time breaking into the varsity lineup. Horton had to play on the Junior Varsity his sophomore season even though he went on to be elected captain. "I was more proud of just making the team," he said. "You don't go out and try to get yourself elected captain so I didn't feel it was that much of a personal achievement."
Horton and his linemates had to adjust to a faster, less hard hitting brand of hockey when they arrived at Harvard. "There's a lot more contact in the play I was accustomed to," Horton said. "Here I was hampered by the fact that I'm not a naturally graceful skater."
"There's much more intimidation in Canada," Dea adds. "No one backs down from a fight."
Hozack, the Edmonton Express' senior center who Dea describes as "really cute with the puck," decided to come to Harvard without any outside prodding. He doesn't regret his departure from the high-pressured hockey of his hometown, as he says that in Edmonton "You're really aware of what's happening in Junior hockey. That's where the struggle to make it is. There are a lot of guys all around you who are trying to make it and don't produce. When you see that kind of thing it doesn't make a good impression on you."
What makes Hozack's line produce is that Horton and Dea, who learned their aggressive forechecking way back in midget league, are able to dig in the corners and get the puck to him. The result of such a combination is very often a picture-perfect goal and a roar of appreciation in Waston Rink or Boston Garden that might make the Edmonton Express remember the roar of the Canadian Pacific Railroad as it crosses the lonely prairies of Alberta.