Celebrating a 1964 Olympian - Henry "Hank" Akervall

If you are a student of the Olympics you might follow former Olympic athletes after they retire from formal competition. Many of these athletes go on to write books, become motivational speakers, coaches, volunteer and humanitarian work.

For this blog I've chosen Henry "Hank" Akervall to profle.

1963–64 Canada men's national ice hockey team
1964 Olympics fifty years ago. Some famous names on that team but Father David Bauer was the heart and soul of national hockey in those days.

There were many player stories came from that team. A story that is rarely told though is that of the team's captain Henery"Hank"Akervall.

I met Hank in 1978 when we were both going to grad school at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley Colorado. Hank was there working on his Doctorate and I was there doing a Masters degree.

The 3 Canadians shared many classes and spent a great deal of time together. Hank, Bernie MacDonald,  my wife Cathy & daughter Carrie and I.

We knew right from the beginning that Hank was a very special individual. He was very humble and it took a lot of digging to get him to open up even the slightest.

Hank grew up in ""Port Arthur". The piece from the Northwest Ontario Hall of Fame lays out his story very well.

The sign of a truly exceptional all-round amateur athlete is the ability to compete in a wide variety of sports, and excel in them all. Such is the case with Henry Akervall, whose amateur athletic career spanned close to a half century and included involvement in close to a dozen different sports.

Henry (Hank) Akervall first exhibited his outstanding athletic abilities while attending high school in Port Arthur where he competed in football, basketball and track and field, setting a district record in the Junior Boys' pole vault in 1952. At the same time he was also active with local hockey and baseball teams, earning the 1950 Port Arthur Minor Bantam Defenceman Award and contributing to the Port Arthur Giants' 1955 Senior Baseball League title.

In 1956 his outstanding talents led him to the OHA and the Hamilton Tiger Cubs where he was voted a 1958 Junior ‘A' All-Star defenceman. Choosing to follow the academic path, he made his way to Michigan Tech in 1959 and enjoyed an impressive college sports career with the Huskies. A three time WCHA All-Star, he was a two-time member of the U.S. National All-Star Team, Assistant Captain of the 1962 NCAA Division I Championship team and lettered in javelin and discus.

At the conclusion of his university career, he went briefly to Finland where he became the first foreign born player to take to the ice for the Finnish Tappara hockey club. His talents attracted the attention of Father David Bauer, who was overseeing the Canadian national team. Recruited to the national squad, he went on to serve as the Captain of the 1964 Canadian Olympic Hockey Team. Following the Games in Innsbruck, he played a season of senior hockey in Minnesota, before returning to Thunder Bay where he continued his hockey career with the Port Arthur Bearcats and the Thunder Bay Twins.

In 1966 he joined the faculty of Lakehead University and served as their Director of Athletics, setting the ground work for the development of the school’s Physical Education Program. The first coach of the Lakehead Norwester hockey team, he held the position from 1966-69 and 1971-75. Under his direction the team claimed the 1966-67 International Collegiate Hockey Association (ICHA) title and the 1972-73 Great Plains Athletics Conference crown. He rounded out his 30 year university career retiring from Lakehead in 1997 as the Director of the School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism.

In addition to the sports mentioned previously, he also participated and excelled in fastball, golf, skiing, curling, bowling, squash, fishing and flat and white water canoeing. In an ironic twist of fate, it was while playing in a pick up game of hockey in February of 2000 that this exceptional and versatile athlete passed away.

Inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, September 17, 1988 (Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame)

Akervall to be Awarded World Hockey Bronze

May 9th, 2005

Hockey Canada announced last week that the 16 members of the 1964 Men's National Hockey Team would be awarded World Championship bronze medals by the International Ice Hockey Federation.  The captain of Team Canada 1964 was the late Henry "Hank" Akervall; former Lakehead Athletics Director; former Lakehead Norwesters men's hockey coach; and member of the Lakehead University Sports Wall of Fame, the Michigan Tech Sports Hall of Fame, and the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.

The IIHF has decided to award the 16 members of Team Canada the bronze medals they rightfully earned as third place finishers in the world championship portion of the tournament.  In 1964, as was the practice, the World Championship was held in conjunction with the Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria. The Soviet Union won the gold medal for both the World Championship and Olympics, while Sweden took the silver for both.   The problem came with the bronze medallists, which in the Olympic games was Czechoslovakia, while Canada won the bronze medal for the World Championship event. However, officials only awarded the Olympic medals to the Czechs and the Canadians went home without their medals.  Now, 41 years later, the Canadians will receive their bronze medals as the long overdue oversight is being corrected by the IIHF.
The '64 Innsbruck Team Canada squad, coached by the legendary Father David Bauer, consisted of Captain Henry Akervall, Ken Broderick, Seth Martin; Barry McKenzie, Terry O'Malley, Rod Seiling, Gary Begg, Gary Dineen, George Swarbrick, Roger Bourbonnais, Terry Clancy, Brian Conacher, Ray Cadieux, Paul Conlin, Bob Forhan, and Marshall Johnston.
According to Hockey Canada, the 1964 Innsbruck bronze medals are currently being produced, and are expected to be presented in approximately a month at a ceremony at an undetermined location to the 15 surviving members of the team as well as to Akervall's family; wife Lorna, son Chris, and daughter Kelly. 
Henry Akervall was known affectionately as Hank.  Hank was born on May 11, 1937 in Port Arthur, Ontario (now part of Thunder Bay) and he excelled in football, baseball, track and field, and curling but hockey was his true love.  He grew up to be a hard-nosed and skilled 5-foot-11 defenseman. 
Hank then crossed Lake Superior to Houghton, Michigan where he played three seasons (1959-60 to 61-62) for a powerhouse Michigan Tech Huskies team and he was Assistant Captain of the 61-62 squad that won the NCAA Division I national championships.  Hank was selected a WCHA All-Star in each of his three seasons, was named a First Team All-American in the 59-60 and 61-62 seasons, and was also chosen to the NCAA All Tournament Teams in 1960 and 1962.  
After winning the NCAA title, Hank flew to Finland where he played the tail end of the 1962-63 season.  It was there that he attracted the attention of Father Bauer, who invited the 26-year-old Akervall to try out for the Canadian national team.
Akervall received an offer from the Detroit Red Wings to play professional hockey but instead chose to don Team Canada colours.  After the Innsbruck Games he played for one year with the Warroad Lakers senior team in Minneapolis and then returned to Thunder Bay where he chose to become an educator and coach.
He joined the Lakehead University faculty in 1966 as a teacher in the Forestry Department and also served as the Director of Athletics.  While in these positions he was instrumental in starting the Physical Education Program.  He also laid the foundation for the establishment of the Outdoor Recreation Program. 
Hank, a Level 5 Hockey Instructor, coached the Lakehead Norwester men's hockey teams for seven years from 1966 to 1969 and from 1971 to 1975.  He led the Norwesters to an International Collegiate Hockey Association (ICHA) title in 1966-67.  Akervall also led Lakehead to their only Great Plains Athletics Conference Championship in 1972-73 and their first ever CIAU (now CIS) national championships appearance.  That same season saw the Norwesters also place second at the NAIA Division I championships against then ICHA archrival Bemidji State (now NCAA Division I). 
Akervall (96-82-6) held the record for most wins by a Lakehead hockey coach until this season when Lakehead Thunderwolves Head Coach Pete Belliveau set the new mark.            
In 1990 Akervall was inducted into the Michigan Tech Sports Hall of Fame and in 1999 he was inducted into the Lakehead University Sports Wall of Fame as a builder and as the coach of the 1966-67 Men's Hockey team.   From 1993 to 1997 Hank was a member of the Board of Governors at Lakehead.  He taught at the university for 30 years and at his retirement he was the Director of the School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism.  
Sadly, on February 18, 2000, Hank passed away from a heart attack while playing a game of pick-up hockey, the game he loved.  Each year Lakehead University honours his memory with the Hank Akervall Award; given to the senior varsity student-athlete who best exemplifies great dedication, commitment, community involvement, and leadership.  Two Hank Akerval Memorial bursaries are also given each year to third and fourth year students in the Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism Program at Lakehead.   
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Last Edited: May 9th, 2005

Many wondered why Hank never played in the NHL. He was drafted/carded by Detroit Red Wings when he was in high school. Hank's dad wanted his son to get an education before he tried pro hockey. Back in those days once a player was carded his rights were owned by the NHL Club. When Hank and his dad decided to follow the education route Detroit black listed him.

Hank's story has often made me think of the movie "Field of Dreams". He never played in the NHL but he contributed so much to his country, his community, Northwestern Ontario and to his beloved university; Lakehead University. Hank traveled many, many, many, miles in Northwestern Ontario working with coaches and teaching in the NCCP (program).

Hank did finish his doctoral work and received his PHd. 


Kelli said…
Thank you for keeping my father's memory alive.
Anonymous said…
Uncle Henry, we still miss you 18 years later. The warmth when he was around. I was lucky to have been able to play pick up hockey with him, spend Christmas, birthdays, eat kalla mojakka at Silver Islet and have a good steam in the suana. I felt like I was the only person in the world in Hanks company, this is how everyone felt in his company. I am glad to read this article and see how he touched so many others.
your nephew Cameron

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