One of a series of stories of conversations with ex-cadets from Royal Military College, as they reflect on their time at the college, their sporting endeavours and what they've been up to since graduation.
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Brian Collict’s father couldn’t figure it out.
In a University of Toronto-centric household in suburban Scarborough, what would possess the youngest of his four children to want to attend some place called Royal Military College?
“I have brothers and sisters, they all went to U of T,” Collict was saying on the phone. “My Dad’s a U of T grad, my mom’s a teacher. Mom and Dad had zero military involvement, zero military connection. My Dad’s, like, ‘Why are you going to RMC? I don’t understand this. I don’t know anyone who’s graduated from RMC.’”
One of the things Collict’s father did as part of his career, however, was work as a labour arbitrator, and one day he found himself on a tribunal with a man named Frank Collom, who was on the faculty at the School of Business at Queen’s. “He came back one day and said, ‘I met this fellow Frank Collom. He says RMC is a fantastic place,‘ so I kind of got the thumbs-up from my Dad.”
If any doubts lingered in the elder Collict’s mind, they were doubtless erased four years later. By then Brian was in his final year with the RMC hockey team, and the Redmen were bound for West Point, N.Y., for the annual hockey game with the U.S. Military Academy.
“My highlight was I scored two goals and we won 4-3 and in their brand-new athletic complex,” Brian said, "and my parents were there. We got a bus to come with all our parents (and) my Dad actually snapped a picture of me scoring one of the goals.”
A reprint of that photograph, with the puck in the net, Collict’s arms raised and the referee pointing to him as the goal-scorer, hangs proudly in his family room.
(By the way, it just so happened that Frank Collom wasn’t finished making cameo appearances in Collict’s life. “In the chapters of It’s A Small World, doesn’t my roommate from first year end up marrying Frank Collom’s daughter,” Brian recalled.)
The day Collict came home with his post-secondary bombshell came after he had a conversation with high-school buddy Gord Plue, who academically was a year ahead of his neighbourhood pal. The two of them had grown up playing soccer and hockey in Scarborough. “His parents were from the Kingston area, and I’m not sure if it was on a lark or what but he applied to RMC and decided to try it,” Collict said. “I kept in touch with him and in Grade 13, through some convincing by Gord, I decided that I’d apply.
“By that time, Gord had connected with the hockey team and (coach) Dr. Wayne Kirk and he said, ‘Geez, you know, Brian, if I can make the hockey team, you can make the hockey team. It’s a great program, you figure out how to deal with all the military stuff, the academics are good and I think it would be a good fit for you.’”
Collict arrived in Kingston in the fall of 1983 to study civil engineering and, at first, it wasn’t his cup of tea. “In my first year and second year,” he said, “I wasn’t a very happy person, generally speaking, but once you figure it out you realize you just need to get your act together, and understand what the expectations are, whether it’s academic, whether it’s military, or whether it’s organizing your life so you can do the sports.”
With the Redmen hockey team, Collict met people like Steve Molaski, Andre Labrie, Shayne Wizniewski and others, and it was those budding friendships that saw him through the dark moments. “I have these amazing memories of great young guys who had tons of fun, and I’ll call it good clean fun.”
For instance, Collict spoke of the rookie initiation to the hockey team.
“At that point in the recruit orientation camp, as they call it at RMC, you’re living this pretty Spartan lifestyle: in bed at 11, not allowed out, up at 5:30 or 6, going for runs at 6, back for a quick shower, inspection, lunch, class, people ragging on you—it was just a disastrous life. One day the hockey guys, the third- and fourth-years, came to our rooms and said, ‘You’re going out tonight.’ Meanwhile, we’re not supposed to leave the campus.
“They took us to a bar downtown that shall remain nameless, but it was pretty scary. We had a bunch of beer, which for some young guys who were getting beat up and hating life, was awesome, (a lot different than) some of the nasty hazing that you hear about.”
There were no pretentions about hockey at RMC, Collict said. The first priority was the beat West Point, the second was to beat Queen’s, and after that get as many points in league play as they could. In his four years, Collict played for Kirk, a professor at the college who endeared himself to his players.
“Wayne was a real mentor to a lot of us. In my first year, we had seven or eight first-years. Let’s face it, I only played junior B in Toronto, and really kind of gave up on hockey by that time because I knew I wasn’t going to be an NHL player; I wasn’t playing OHL, I wasn’t good enough.
“Wayne was a great guy, 100 per cent behind hockey and the players. He was a very serious guy but at the same time, he had a fun, quirky sense of humour. We all loved him because we knew how much he supported us and worked on behalf of the hockey program.”
The Redmen were 2-2 against Army in Collict’s four seasons—“a middling record”—winning his first game in 1984 8-5 at the Memorial Centre before losing the next two times, 6-4 at the Point and 9-7 back in Kingston, before the memorable 4-3 win in Collict’s final season.
“I’m not sure it has the same cache from the West Point folks,” he said of the exchange, “but it’s huge, it’s exciting, a measure of pressure, particularly when you’re in first and second year. Everyone’s interested in it, there’s a real heightened awareness, not just for the people playing in the events, whether it’s hockey or volleyball; it’s getting to go there, on a world stage, because I think you could argue West Point might be the most well known military educational institution of them all. To see that, to see the size of it, that location on the Hudson River—and the hockey game is great.
“I’ll use the word pathetic that they didn’t play it for a couple of years. I thought it was sad.”
There were other highlights of RMC hockey for Collict, beating a powerful Western team, winning a Christmas tournament at Ryerson—“that was pretty cool”—of always playing well against a perennially tough York team—“they would never blow us out but we could never steal a point”—and one night gaining a tie against Queen’s, which was, at the time, among the league’s elite, having been to the national championship just three years earlier.
“I remember my first year, we either tied them or beat them and it was like we won the Stanley Cup,” Collict said. “The guys in fourth year were over the moon to think that we tied them. It was quite an experience.”
Measuring success in small doses was discouraging at times, he recalled. “Sure it was,” he said. “We were good players, but we weren’t great players, compared to some of the other teams. Our first year, U of T won the CIAU and their team was just ridiculous. They had a guy named Andre Hidi who was drafted by the NHL, out of U of T. They were just awesome. So you go into U of T, and you’re playing in Varsity Arena, and you know that you’ll be lucky to get out of there without losing by 10 goals, so it was a little bit discouraging—but we fought hard.”
Hockey players weren’t encouraged to play two sports at the time, so there was never much chance that either Collict or his old buddy, Plue, would ever play soccer at RMC but Collict recalls the summer after he graduated, he played in the Kingston men’s league with the Italo-Canadian Club.
“I was a much better soccer player than a hockey player,” said Collict, who nonetheless had a soccer experience at RMC. The academic advisor to the soccer team was Dr. Vandeven, a language teacher, who organized a trip to France one spring. “They had a few extra spots, so Gord Plue, myself and another guy, Jamie Williams, trained with the soccer team and we went over after exams and did a 10-day tour in Belgium and France.
“Basically we were players No. 14, 15 and 16. We didn’t really play but it was a good life experience.”
One of the sort that makes Collict’s memories of the college special.
“I’m a chump. I’m just an average guy,” Collict said. “I really enjoyed RMC, enjoyed playing hockey there, but I had no illusions about my skill and capability. More than anything, my whole experience was about relationships, about the people that I met, people like Wayne Kirk, all the hockey guys, Andre Labrie, Steve Molaski—I could list so many names.
“RMC offers this fantastic all-round education (but) it’s not for everybody. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that. When I was there, to be honest, the concept of someone being in charge of my life for eight years was just not palatable at all, but what happens is you graduate and you blink and your friends have done their four years of obligatory service time. It’s not as long as you think, and it’s a great foundation, particularly in today’s world where the job market is going to be increasingly challenging for young people.”
Collict, who attended RMC on the RETP plan, worked for seven years in the oil and gas business for Shell before getting his MBA at Queen’s in 1996. He worked in the printing ink business for 12 years, and rose to be the Canadian president of Sun Chemical. He did some teaching in the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson and now runs A.R. Monteith, a Mississauga company that manufactures industrial and specialty coatings.
He and his wife, Jennifer, a Grade 3 teacher in the Region of Peel, live in Port Credit with their twin five-year-old sons, William and Bryce.
“I’m working very hard to make them the next Sedin twins,” Collict said with a chuckle. “I think my odds are very slim, but we’re having fun. We go down to the arena every Saturday and have a blast.”