For any local hockey player to be successful, their talent needs to be cultivated and fine-tuned all the way through the development process. In the case of Victor Gervais, the scoring touch and offensive instincts he developed at a young age took him on a journey as a player.
After completing his years within Prince George Minor Hockey, Gervais starred on the Spruce Kings during the 1985-86 Peace Cariboo Junior Hockey League season.
Gervais was just one of many stars who tore through the league and its opponents, lighting the lamp 415 times en route to the franchise’s third-consecutive league title. They made short work of the Williams Lake Mustangs in the final, dispatching them in five games.
However, returning home was a stroke of luck for Gervais after failing to crack the Seattle Thunderbirds as a wide-eyed 16-year-old.
“We had four lines that could play and six defensemen who were all-stars in (in the PCJHL) and we didn’t lose too many games,” said Gervais. “I remember losing a game in Quesnel where our head coach Len McNamara decided we were going to wear our equipment home on the bus and when we got home we put on our skates and were bag skated for about an hour and a half.”
The Spruce Kings went 44-6-0 that year and featured studs like Stu Malgunas and Tony Twist who became future NHLers in rather short order.
Gervais, while not the biggest guy on the ice, had plenty of success offensively, notching 70 goals and 85 assists in just 55 games. Playing on the same team as a tough customer like Twist made the Spruce Kings play a little bigger.
“Tony made you feel like you were six-foot-two instead of five-nine. He gave us a lot of room and I remember playing with Mike Van Sickle and Randy Zulinick, all I had to do was pass them the puck and score goals, so it was easy. Tony was young too and he was fighting the heavyweights in that league, all those guys were tough guys and he fought them every night.”
The Spruce Kings pushed each other to be better
Gervais noted that while the brand of hockey was quite physical at the best of times, the hatred always seemed to run deep while playing against Williams Lake.
“There would be five-on-five brawls if the game was out of hand every time and (it) would happen near the end of the game with five or six fights mixed in. The last five or six minutes of a game if we were up by a few goals, I wouldn’t play – we would put our fighting line out and Lenny was good about protecting his top players.”
He added while most teams are judged by the level of competition they play against, it was the internal drive among teammates that made the team click.
“The funny thing was it was always a competition. You had (brothers) Everett and Lyle Rose’s line and it was always a competition in practice to see who would score more, so we pushed each other that way. We knew we were a team that practiced hard and (it) made us better in the games.”
Fun fact about Victor Gervais: He is 1 of 4 Breakers/TBirds all-time to have both 200+PTS and 400+PIM for a career. He had 398PTS 530PIM.
— TBird Tidbits (@TBirdTidbits) March 13, 2015
After his fun-filled season with the Spruce Kings, Gervais finally stuck with the Thunderbirds as a 17-year-old. However, Seattle found itself in a lengthy rebuilding process, going 21-47-5 in the 1986-87 campaign.
But, Gervais found himself to be one of the biggest beneficiaries with an increased role right off the hop and accumulated 43 points in 66 games playing alongside superstar Glenn Goodall, who potted 63 goals.
“It probably took me 40 to 50 games to figure out the league. I thought the PCJHL was a tough league but going up to the Western Hockey League was a jump because there were five or six heavyweights on every team but back then, they respected the goal scorers. No one was getting jumped as you always had guys looking after you.”
Soaring with the T-Birds
“We were young, we had a lot of young guys, and kudos to management who stuck with us. We started playing better in the second and third years,” Gervais said.
In 1987-88, Gervais and the T-Birds still found themselves mired near the bottom of the standings with a 25-46-2 record. There was one particular stretch where nothing went right.
“I think we lost 18 games in a row. It wasn’t fun and we were playing well – all those games we were losing, we played as good as we could, but we found a way to lose it and that was tough.”
During his time with the Thunderbirds, Gervais played with several Prince George-born players who also carved out a niche in the WHL including Malgunas, Turner Stevenson, Kevin Malgunas and Tom Sprague.
Having so many familiar faces around during the latter half of Gervais’ junior career made it all the more enjoyable.
“I grew up playing sports with the Malgunas boys and went to school with (them). Kevin and Stewart are a couple of my best friends. I still talk to Stew all the time and having them there made it a lot easier. I didn’t know Turner that well but (he) was a guy who wasn’t the most skilled. But (he) had pretty good hands for a big guy and (was) so tough and a beast on the walls.”
“I’ve always told people that I played with some good players but I always thought Kevin Malgunas was the best player I played with in junior and pro. He competed and fed me the puck and if anybody looked at me sideways he would have his gloves off pretty fast. He was like a big brother.”
In 1988-98, Seattle marched its way to a respectable 33-35-4, narrowly finishing out of the playoffs but made an 18-point improvement from the previous season. Gervais led the way offensively with 54 goals and 65 assists to go along with 158 penalty minutes.
Saving the best for last
In his final season with Seattle, Gervais and company finally wreaked havoc on the WHL, going 52-17-3 and lighting the lamp 444 times.
While many of the pieces were already in place, the arrival of future NHL star Petr Nedved gave that team another gear as the young Czech notched 145 points as a 17-year-old rookie.
As skilled as the T-Birds were, opponents often found them tougher than a two-dollar steak as 11 guys finished the season with 100 or more penalty minutes.
“It was special. You had to give a lot of the credit to our manager Russ Farwell. He came to Seattle after winning two Memorial Cups with Medicine Hat, so he knew how to build a team and he did that for two years.”
“Bringing in a kid like Nedved made the team more special and acquiring Peter Kasowski at the deadline was great. We had a team that was deep with four lines (who) could play and we only lost three or four games that year at home and they were all against Kamloops. We couldn’t beat them.”
At the end of it all, Seattle fell in the West Division Final to the Blazers, putting a bow on Gervais’ junior hockey career.
Bouncing around the minor leagues
Gervais was a ninth-round selection of the Washington Capitals in the 1989 NHL Draft but found himself buried in the organization’s farm system, bouncing between the American Hockey League’s Baltimore Skipjacks and the ECHL’s Hampton Roads Admirals.
In his rookie season, Gervais split time between the two leagues and posted 34 points in 36 games.
“It was tough back then. I know most teams, especially Washington, who kept their team (together) for years. There were barely any guys who would move away, not like there is now with free agency. I was there for four years and they basically had their whole team set and had guys in the minors who were first round draft picks (who) weren’t playing. They didn’t get a sniff at the NHL.”
“So, a guy like me who was a ninth rounder, I had to do something really special. I didn’t start off real well as I didn’t have my confidence (and) they gave me all the opportunities to gain it but for some reason I didn’t feel like I was big or strong enough at that level (in) my first year. I got down to Hampton Roads and I loved playing there because we had eight or nine thousand fans a game.”
“Our coach John Brophy was a nutbar, but the players loved playing for him. He was the greatest guy when you were winning but as soon as you lost, it was like a nightmare,” added Gervais.
Over his first four seasons, Gervais continued to be shuffled along in the minors but always found his best success with Hampton Roads. After a slow start with the Skipjacks, Gervais was back in the ECHL and amassed 73 points in 44 games during the 1991-92 season.
In 1992-93, Gervais took his game to another level in the ECHL, scoring 118 points in 59 games, which included 80 assists, the most in the league that season.
“I think at that level I was a big fish in a little pond and at the American league I was a smaller fish in a bigger pond and I was two different types of players. It was weird. It felt more like a team in Hampton Roads and we had a tough team, so it felt you were always protected on the ice. When you get that protection, the skilled players play better.”
— Norfolk Admirals (@NorfolkAdmirals) September 12, 2014
Even while playing hockey in a non-traditional market like Virginia, the Admirals had quite the following.
“We had a booster club of about 700 members and we had busloads of fans watching games. It was like the movie Slapshot – we had fans like that where we would end up back at the hotel and (you) had fans cheering you on when you came in. It was like playing in the NHL. It was totally different from Baltimore where no one followed you.”
Between 1993-97, Gervais found himself primarily in the now-defunct International Hockey League with the Cleveland Lumberjacks where he amassed 122 points before landing a 14-game stint with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The Prince George product found his way back to Hampton Roads for two more years, eventually securing a Kelly Cup title in 1998 where he led the team in scoring during the regular season and playoffs.
“We were a good team right from the beginning, but we barely made the playoffs. In the last month of the year, we lost guys to both the AHL and IHL, while others were injured. (It forced) us to bring in players from everywhere. At the end of the year, we got everyone back and had to win all three games. We were fighting with Columbus, who needed one point to clinch, and they didn’t get it.”
“We had five Russians who played together and all three of our lines could score and the goalie was from Quebec and played out of his mind after his grandmother passed away. He won us the championship.”
Making the jump to the German Elite League
Gervais spent the last six years of his hockey career in Germany playing in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga for the Frankfurt Lions. In 250 games, he accumulated 160 points and looking back, regrets not making the move overseas sooner.
“I could have gone there after my first year of pro, but (once I got there) it was unreal. It was awesome and in my first year, I played on an amazing team with great guys. I remember going to Toronto for training camp and we were altogether and we would eat and go to the bar and that’s how it was the whole year. We could have won that year.”
“Win or lose after every game the trainer would come in with two crates of beer, (we’d) have a good time and then go home.”
Settling on Vancouver Island
After his playing days, Gervais found himself in Victoria looking after Len Barrie’s family and coaching his son Tyson, which helped land him a job with the Grizzlies.
He was the head coach and general manager with Victoria from 2009-12 before moving on to the Westshore Wolves of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.
Gervais has also been a scout for the BCHL’s Prince George Spruce Kings. He is currently a coach/mentor with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association.