Sudbury natives are proud of their skyscrapers, the smokestacks and the nickel refineries that rise as high as 1,250 feet into the fogbound northern Ontario skies.
The residents are less enthused with the area's reputation as a second moonscape. Yet, so scarred is the countryside that the astronauts came here to practice rock-collecting techques before heading for the moon.
"People really got upset when they said it looked like the moon," recalled Yvon Labre, the Capitals' captain whose hockey career began on the frozen outdoor rinks of the Sudbury playgrounds.
Don McLean, the ailing capital who toiled for the Sudbury Wolves junior team, recalled that "I had an apartment near the nickel mines and there were cracks in the walls from the blasting. The building would shake. When friends would come to visit me, I'd take them to the slag dump. It was just like a volcano. That was the excitement up there."
The Numismatic Park, which sits among the smokestacks, features a 30-feet stainless steel Canadian nickel, a 10-foot Kennedy half dollar and a 10-foot Lincoln penny. It is a sightseeing attraction in the summer, but now, outlined above the snow, it is merely the object of long-distance stares from passing vehicles on Highway 17.
The action this weekend was at forzen Minnow Lake, where Flanagan's Fair - named for the man who discovered the nickel - featured chuckwagon and chariot races, motorcycle races, a polar bear dip, wrist wrestling, log sawing and nail driving.
There are action of a different sort at the Sudbury Arena, where the Wolves' new coach, Noel Price, answers the phone with the standard "Wolves country." Price's wife and children were introduced to the crowd before Friday night's game against St. Catherines, and he might regret that gesture.
Price is the Wolves's eigth coach in their six-year existence and general manager Joe Drago acknowledged that "our owners are tough, and this is a tough town to work in."
Jerry Toppazzini, thrown to the "wolves" last month after taking Sudbury to the Ontario final against Catherines in 1976, left abruptly because his wife had been subjected to abuse at games.
Although the Wolves led the six-team division, fans sat behind the Sudbury bench taunting Toppazzini, who had received the prestigous Sportsman of the Year award, with the chant "Sportsman of the Year '76, Donkey of the Year '77."
The Wolves average about 3,000 fans a game, a pretty good figure for the struggling Ontario major junior league, and 4,049 were there Friday, grimly holding their 50-50 sweepstakes tickets and watching the visiting Fincups wipe out their Wolves, 5-1.
The 50-50 lottery is an important weapon in the struggle for financial survival, and its operations are simple. Half the pot goes to the team, the other half to the person holding the winning number. In Sault Ste. Marie, on Thursday, the winner, carted home $550. Here, the payoff was only half that figure.
Programs, prepared in September for all Canadian junior teams by a Toronto firm, are updated by means of an insert, which also contains a lucky number and a bingo card. Each time the Wolves cscore, three bingo numbers are called and the first five to get bingo receive modest prices. There were no winners Friday.
Full-page spreads on players long since traded are not condusive to program sales and, although the covers were marked $1, they sold for 50 cents here, 75 cents in Saulte Ste. Marie.
Attendance in the Ontario league is off more than 100,000, a drop that the owners, like their National Hockey League compatriots, tend to blame on the September Canada Cup series that sated hockey appetites with high-caliber performances.
Chuck Kruse, sports editor of the Sudbury Star, thinks the route to the fan fallout lies deeper.
"Some people think the world revolves around hockey," Kruse said. "But the biggest sport up here, both in participation and people watching is bowling. Skiing is very popular and Laurencian University attracts 1,500 for basketball. The day of the community stopping for hockey is over. Small-town hockey is supposed to be the backbone of Canada, but I hope Canada has more backbone than that. I've seen real deterioration in junior hockey up here."
There has certainly been a deterioration in the relations between the Star and the Wolves. The Star reporters are not permitted to talk to the Sudbury players and any player quoted in the Star is subject to a fine by the club. Drago claims the Star misquoted officials and players, used off-the-reocrd material verbatim and published items of a personal nature, gleaned by a reporter riding the team bus.
Kruse replies that it is merely a case of the team expecting the press to serve as a cheerleader and "I look lousy in a skirt and pom-pons."
Since the players won't talk to Price, a genuinely class guy who has bounced around pro hockey for 20 years at all levels from Stanley Cup winner with Montreal to noncontender with the Baltimore Clippers.
Price signed for the remainder of the season, at his own request, to see if he really wants to be a coach.
"It's different," he said after the loss to St. Catherines. "When you're playing, you can skate or hit or do something to relieve your frustrations. I find myself just kicking the bench. It's tough on the shoes."
The Wolves invested $2,500 in gymnasium equipment several years ago and it went unused under Toppazzini, who made the program voluntary. Price has instituted a 30-minute weight session each day.
"Can you imagine kids this age doing anything on a voluntary basis?" Drago asked. "There wasn't one guy who did any work on it."
Price said he has not heard a single complaint from the players about the new program. They are probably pleased with the chance to do something besides watch the slag dump.
Although Sudbury is saddled with an image comparable to the end of the world, hockey scouts in the tradition of Christopher Columbus found a path to the foggy north.
Washington general manager Max McNab and scouts Billy Taylor and Rudy Filion were among the viewers Friday, eager to watch the Wolves' Ron Duguay and the Fincups' Dale McCourt in a duel of highly rated, draft-eligible centers.
"Would you believe it?" NcNab said. "All the way up here to see them and neither scored a point."