Michigan State By Mistake

Former Canadian National Team member Ross Parke tells the story of how he winded up playing college hockey at Michigan State.

Born in Winnipeg on February 18th, 1932, Ross Parke grew up in the neighbourhood of River Heights, playing hockey at the local rinks. He went to Kelvin High School and later played junior hockey for the Winnipeg Monarchs, a team he grew up idolizing.

“I used to sneak into the Amphitheatre and hide until the Monarchs game started with my buddies,” recalled Parke. “The Monarchs were my heroes. We would get broken sticks from them and take em home and fix them to then use on the outdoor rinks. We weren’t going to waste anyway!”

With the Monarchs, Parke reached the 1951 Memorial Cup final before falling in four straight games to the Barrie Flyers. An MJHL all-star the following season, Parke turned down an offer to turn pro with the Detroit Red Wings organization to attend Michigan State on an NCAA scholarship.

“At the Memorial Cup, every pro scout was there knocking on your door to sign a C Form. But I had maintained my amateur status throughout the whole process and realized I should take advantage of some of these college scholarships I had available. Since I was on Detroit’s negotiation list, I had attended their training camp with the likes of Sawchuk, Howe, Lindsay, Abel, Delvecchio, etc. I didn’t make the team, and I also noticed how some of my buddies who I thought were really good also didn’t make the NHL. So I figured the college route was the smarter option for my future.”

Parke went on to be the Michigan State Spartans top scorer for three consecutive seasons while studying business administration. After graduation, he joined the Winnipeg Maroons senior team in 1957, and for many years he played with them in many memorable games versus international competition.

Parke once scored six goals in a 1965 Geneva tournament game against Czechoslovakia and was named tournament MVP. In 1964, the Maroons won the Allan Cup, with Parke leading all playoff scorers with 26 points in 13 games.

In 1965, Parke and several Maroons teammates formed Canada’s first National team at the World Championships in Tampere, Finland.

A few years later, in 1972, Ross played in Russia with the Canadian Old Timers against the Soviet Old Timers. How that all came about is a story for a future article!

I had a wonderful visit with Ross a few weeks back at his lovely and very historic River Heights home. For 89 years old, he sure has a great memory as he was able to recall plenty of stories from as far back as 70+ years ago. We had a blast!

For this article, here is Ross telling the story of how he ended up playing college hockey for the Michigan State Spartans:

My school odyssey to Michigan happened 67 years ago in 1954, long before the days of Google Maps or GPS! I knew roughly where Michigan was before I headed off to college with my hockey skates and my folded-up road map.

Why was I heading off to Michigan? When I was 20, I played with the Winnipeg Monarchs, and many of us were contacted by NHL scouts and American universities. The Detroit Red Wings had put me on their negotiation list, and I went to their training camp. But because there were only six teams in the NHL, I felt my chance of making the Red Wings was slim.

I knew Tom Rendall and a few of my other teammates had made arrangements to attend the University of Michigan on an NCAA hockey scholarship.

I made my decision to do the same. I asked my mom to pack me a lunch, said goodbye, and headed off in my old Chevy for Michigan.

Arriving at the ferry to cross the Straits of Mackinaw, I enquired where the Michigan university was, and I was told to travel straight south to Lansing. It was dark and late when I arrived in Lansing. I asked someone who the hockey coach was as I had left all of my correspondence at home. Oops!

I was told Amo Bessone, and I looked up his number in a phonebook and called him. He gave me my marching orders to stay put, and he would come and get me. When we arrived at his home, he said it was too late to talk and that we would have to get up early in the morning for late registration.

He helped me with my registration – which turned out to be a nightmare – and after registering, he mentioned that I would be rooming in Phillips Hall. I asked if my teammates, Tom Rendall and the others, were staying there as well. Amo casually told me that they must be enrolled at the University of Michigan, not Michigan State. It was then that I realized what I had done.

I had registered at the wrong university. I couldn’t believe it!

I phoned Rendall at the University of Michigan and told him that by mistake, I had registered at Michigan State.

“No problem,” he said. “I will come to Lansing to get you.”

We met a few hours later in a Lansing bar and had a number of drinks. Now Tom was an aggressive hockey player, but he could get very aggressive after a few drinks!

If I had made a mess of my first day at college, my second day was about to get worse! We ended up in jail – left there to get sober! We spent the night in the drunk tank, and the next morning I was allowed one phone call.

“Hello Amo – I’ve got a problem. I’m in jail.”

“WHAT! You Canadians are all the same… You can just stay there!”

And he hung up.

But thankfully, Amo showed up two hours later and got us out of jail! Good old Amo – he must have had connections because we didn’t even get fined!

Since my arrival at Michigan State, Amo had put me up in his home the first night, helped me enroll in classes the next morning, found me a room and a roommate at Phillips Hall, got me out of jail – and if I could have read into the future, would be a positive influence in my life and a good friend until he died in his 90s.

With a coach like Amo, it was little wonder I made the right decision and stayed enrolled at Michigan State.

And yes, sadly, I played against my Monarchs teammates for all of my college years!