Gatto Helped ‘Horns to Improbable U Cup Run
Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
Reading down the list of Canada West men’s hockey champions,
the lines start to blur together.
Year after year, if it’s not Alberta, it’s Saskatchewan. And if it’s not
the Bears or Huskies, it’s Calgary.
Except this particular row, where the name is di erent.
One might assume it to be a misprint. It’s not.
In 1994, under the masterful guidance of coach Mike Babcock,
the Lethbridge Pronghorns not only won the Canada West
championship, they went all the way to win the University Cup.
In 45 years of Canada West men’s hockey, they are the only team
not called Bears, Huskies, or Dinos, to capture a conference or
“For us to do that was just a remarkable feat,” says Greg Gatto,
who played ve seasons at forward with the Pronghorns.
“You don’t realize that until you sit down and read some of Mike
Babcock’s (quotes). His biggest accomplishment, he still thinks,
is winning the championship with us, which is pretty cool. World
juniors, world championships, and Olympic medals - he says the
hardest one was (the University Cup) because it was the most
The Pronghorns’ championship run will always hold a special
place with Gatto, who’s had a remarkable hockey journey, from
playing all over the Western Hockey League to lacing up the
skates in Britain; from standing behind the bench at his alma
matter to present day, which nds him traversing Texas in the
former tour bus of Reba McEntire.
“I’m 47 years old, I’ve been in hockey my whole life,” says the
head coach and general manager of the Odessa Jackalopes of the
North American Hockey League. “I’ve still never had a real job.”
Now a decade and a half into his coaching career, Gatto has long
drawn on experience playing under the vaunted Babcock, who
now coaches the Toronto Maple Leafs, along with knowledge
32 CANADA WEST YEARBOOK
acquired studying education at the U of L.
“I’ve taught probably one year since I graduated … but as a
coach, I consider myself to be a teacher anyway,” he says.
Gatto can relate to the teenagers that comprise the Jackalopes
roster. Once upon a time, he was them; a junior player lled with
aspiration and happy to go anywhere with an ice rink.
“I played two years in the (WHL) and I played with four di erent
teams – never even made it to a team picture,” the native of
Cross eld, Alta., says with a laugh.
“I started in Portland, got traded to Regina, missed both team
pictures. I got traded to Spokane, I got traded to Brandon, missed
both team pictures again.”
After playing 114 games total over the 1990-91 and 1991-92
WHL seasons, Gatto enrolled at the U of L. In his rst year of
university hockey, the six-foot-one winger racked up 40 points
en route to receiving the 1992-93 Canada West Outstanding
Freshman award while also being named to the All-Canadian
Freshman team. The Pronghorns were not nearly as successful,
however, winning just nine of 28 games.
Expectations weren’t any higher when the 1993-94 season
began, but Lethbridge started strong and then caught re,
winning 11 times in a 12-game stretch spanning the end of
October and early January, before ultimately nishing atop the
standings with a 19-7-2 mark.
The Pronghorns defeated Calgary in the Canada West nal to
capture the Dr. W.G. Hardy Trophy, then traveled to Toronto,
where they beat Guelph 5-2 for the University Cup.
“Probably not until Christmas did we even think we were legit,”
says Gatto. “(Babcock) even says the rst couple practices he was
almost in tears thinking it was his last job. We just got better and
better and … started clicking and by Christmas we were on a
real roll, and then all of a sudden we just stared thinking, ‘hey,
we can win this thing’. And sure enough, lo and behold, we go