Many in Ottawa’s Jewish community recognize Len Potechin as a successful entrepreneur, a supporter of philanthropic causes, and a regular ‘minyanaire’ at Kehillat Beth Israel. Few, though, are aware of his athletic prowess.
Len Potechin was born in Montreal in 1926 and developed an early passion for our winter pastime. He played midget hockey with Doug Harvey and Sam Pollock, and junior B hockey in Lachine, Quebec.
A questionnaire attached to Potechin’s 1944 university acceptance asked if he was active in sports. When Dalhousie’s hockey coach discovered a junior B winger in their list of freshman, he immediately recruited Potechin. However, upon learning that his brother, Norman, had been wounded in Italy, Potechin enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy.
Our armed forces believed that sport was a morale booster and encouraged men to compete in regional leagues as team rosters had been depleted by conscription. Every effort was made to keep the university and junior leagues active in the Maritimes, and the Navy advised Potechin to play hockey in Halifax and finish the year at Dalhousie.
Potechin played for both the Dalhousie Tigers and the junior A Halifax Centrals that year. Players were responsible for their own skates and, although sticks were supplied, breaking one was frowned upon. Potechin recalls the better players would sometimes find a $25 bonus in their pocket after a game or practice.
While the Tigers lost the City Intercollegiate Championship to St. Mary’s, the Centrals proved to be a powerhouse with forwards Blakeney, LeBlanc and Potechin leading the way. Several newspaper reports called them the best line in Maritime junior hockey.
The Centrals won the Halifax league title and edged Truro to advance to the provincial championship where they defeated Glace Bay for the Nova Scotia hockey crown. Their successful playoff run came to an end in the Maritime final at the hands of the Moncton Bruins. In eight of the nine playoff games, Potechin racked up an impressive four goals and four assists.
Following the academic year, Potechin was told by the Navy to report to Toronto, where he again found his athletic prowess in demand – this time in track and field. And, with the end of the war in the Pacific, Potechin’s 15-month stint with the military ended. He was honourably discharged on December 18, 1945.
Potechin entertained serious thoughts of trying out for major junior hockey. At the time, teams were sponsored by NHL affiliates and were always looking for talent. But the late Isidore Potechin was not enthralled with the possibility of his son playing in the OHL. Len laughs and quotes his father, who told him to go to work, that he’d sit Shiva if he embarked on a hockey career. “Ich vol sitzen shiva. Gay arbeiten,” his father said.
Potechin took his father’s words to heart and went to work – first in the restaurant business and later with Regional Realty in Ottawa.
Potechin and wife Mary now spend the winter months in Florida, and he still maintains a keen interest in hockey and follows the NHL closely. He is in good health and great shape and still looks like he could help the Ottawa Senators’ power play!