Wednesday, September 7, 2011

NHL Alumni Interview with Colin Patterson

Looking back at the Calgary Flames’ rosters during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, it could be
argued that the Stanley Cup would have found a permanent home in Calgary year after year if not for the Edmonton Oilers teams of that era. When speaking with several members of the Flames 1989 Stanley Cup winning team for various NHL Alumni articles, one player that is commonly mentioned as a key contributor to the team’s success and Stanley Cup victory is Colin Patterson.

A veteran of 504 NHL games, the Rexdale, Ontario native entered the league during the 1983-84 season and was an outstanding left winger that excelled as a defensive specialist. Throughout his career, he was relied upon to shutdown the opposition’s top forwards on a nightly basis. Like many Canadians, Patterson grew up loving the game and watching Hockey Night in Canada. While attending Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, he was discovered by a scout and soon found himself in the NHL as a valuable member of the Calgary Flames. While hockey fans celebrate every goal that is scored, there is an art to being a defensive specialist and Patterson was a master.

“That was my role in the NHL,” Patterson said on the phone from Calgary. “If I didn’t want to play that role then I probably wasn’t going to play in the league. It was a role that actually suited me pretty well. Naturally, you would love to score more goals but my job was preventing them and that allowed our guys to score.”

During his ten seasons in the NHL, Patterson’s Flames captured the Stanley Cup in a hard-fought six game series against the Montreal Canadiens in 1989. It was the second time the two organizations had battled for the historic trophy, with Montreal winning the first time around in 1986. After a gruelling regular season schedule and knowing that they had lost to the Canadiens once before, I asked Colin if there is a way to describe the feeling when the final buzzer sounds and the realization sets in - you are a Stanley Cup Champion.

“You know what, there is a great commercial about that,” he said. “Where guys are being asked what it is like to win the Cup and they can’t really answer because of the exhilaration of the moment. When I look back at the end of our game in the 1989 Final, there was a face-off in the Montreal zone and we were up 4-2. I think there was only about ten seconds left and Terry Crisp was calling me over while I was on the ice. I was thinking, ‘I don’t think things are going to go that badly that they are going to get down the ice to score a goal, line up and score again’ but I went over to hear him out. What he wanted was for me to get the puck for him after the game!”

“When we won, there was that moment of relief for us. We had been to the Finals before against Montreal and didn’t win. We had a top team for a few years and didn’t get back to the Stanley Cup Final. There was a lot of pressure, so it was a relief to win. It really is a grind to get to the Final. We played twenty-two games to win the Cup. That’s a lot of hockey when you add in the 82-game schedule and the pre-season. You play a lot of games to get to the end.”

The Stanley Cup win in 1989 took on a special significance for the franchise in the months that followed. Their friend and captain, Lanny McDonald, announced his retirement and had the rare opportunity to walk away from the game as a Champion.

“Winning the Cup was a great moment for all of us, as a team,” Patterson reminisced. “For Lanny though - what a great way to finish a career! At the time, we didn’t know he was going to retire but we had a feeling that if we won he would be.”

The transition to life after hockey can be difficult and it can often depend on the circumstances that lead to the decision to retire. Patterson retired from the league at the end of the 1992-1993 season. After the success in Calgary, he finished his NHL career with the Buffalo Sabres, but had to battle through injuries in those final campaigns.

“I didn’t find it as difficult as others, but when it hits, it hits home. I had the good fortune of going to Europe to play hockey for a year and probably could have gone back, so it really was my decision to decide to shut it down and move on to another job.”

“The big thing that you miss is the camaraderie, being around the guys and that routine of being a hockey player too - I used to love the afternoon naps before a game,” he said with a laugh.

Along with being an active member of the Calgary Flames Alumni, Patterson serves as the Vice-Chairman of the NHL Alumni Association. With a career in the business world, as well as helping to organize and attending alumni events, it can be difficult to find a balance and have time for it all.

“Typically, the people that you work for are very understanding. The companies that I have worked for since I have retired see how important the Alumni is to me. They also see the benefits to the company as well, so they have been very open and very supportive of my work.”

The NHL Alumni members work tirelessly to assist numerous charities, but that is not the sole mission of the organization. There are several programs available for recently retired players and long-time alumni members who may be in need of assistance. The Alumni Association also takes their responsibility as the guardians of the game very seriously, ensuring that the game they love continues to flourish at all levels. There is also the added bonus of getting together again, sharing stories and building new friendships.

“That’s the beauty of the NHL Alumni Association,” Patterson said. “It’s about helping guys transition to a new career after the game, while at the same time, promoting the game itself. It is also about looking after our former players and making sure that we are carrying on with our charitable endeavours. We have a great Calgary Flames Alumni too, so I am very fortunate. We do lots of things in Calgary with our local alumni.”

“When you go to the alumni events, it’s great because you see a ton of guys that you played against that you sort of know but you get to know them on a different level. Plus, meeting the guys that pioneered the game - it is because of them that I was able to play. I could listen to those guys forever!”

Since 2008, Patterson has worked with Just-In Case Fire Ltd, a company that designs, manufactures and distributes fire suppression systems under the brand name Fire Caddy. A friend’s brother invented the equipment and brought the product through the certification process. When Colin moved on from his previous job, he saw the immediate need for the equipment and took on an active role with the company. There are many applications for the Fire Caddy products - they can be used in homes, motor homes, farms, construction sites, at marinas and on boats. The products have also been used effectively to help suppress wildfires.

In preparing for my conversation with Colin about the Fire Caddy products, I realized that most people, including myself, are not as prepared to deal with a fire as we think we are. The various Fire Caddy products can be used from a safe distance and the goal of the company is to help bridge the gap in response time, when lives are most at risk.

“Most people are unprepared for a fire and that is what we are trying to get through to the public - bridging the gap between the fire extinguisher and the fire truck,
Patterson said about Fire Caddy’s mission. “They have done a great job with building supplies and non-flammable, flame resistant materials, but it is also the products within our homes that burn at a much greater heat now than they ever did. It is all about life safety and getting people out of buildings. It’s not about trying to become fire fighters, because we do not want that. What we want is to enable people to get out of buildings safely, so that when the fire fighters do arrive they don’t have to go in and risk their lives to save someone.

“We have a residential unit now, with a hose station or stations, that can go anywhere in your house. It can give people up to three minutes of fire-fighting time to evacuate and get out safely. There is a company called Albi Homes here in Calgary that is going to start putting our products in their new homes.

“The market in Canada and North America is very good but our products also have a great appeal internationally because they don’t have the infrastructure and the fire departments that we do. They don’t have the luxury of picking up the phone and calling 911 for help. In some areas that we work with, the people say, ‘we have a fire department but they might not show up.

During a fire, the water used to extinguish the blaze can actually cause a great deal of the damage to the home. The fire suppression systems designed for the Fire Caddy products consist of biodegradable, environmentally friendly foam, a factor that insurance companies should embrace - less damage is a good thing. However, Patterson explained that being recognized by the insurance industry is a difficult process and there is a long way to go on that front. In the meantime, the company continues to develop new products and discover additional avenues for distribution; they have witnessed a steady growth. The company has found success in the markets outside of Canada and Colin discussed a few examples of how their products have benefited other countries.

“One of our biggest customers is the country of Nigeria and they use our equipment for many different applications,” he explained. “One of the methods is using it to protect their cell phone towers - in case of fire our foam takes away the heat, which protects the towers from further damage. Another circumstance in Nigeria they are looking at is protecting their banks. It’s quite interesting to see the different uses.”

“Our products are also used by the Special Forces in Bahrain, using it to put out tire fires. They have some youth gangs that set tire fires, almost on a nightly basis. They would run into the problem that the Special Forces vehicle would arrive and be unable to put out the fire, so they would call the fire department. In the meantime, gangs are shooting stuff at the Special Forces soldiers. Now they are able to put out the fires themselves.”

One of the goals for the company is to see their products available in retail outlets, but as is the case with any new retail items, timing is very important when entering that market.

“We think there is an opportunity but it will probably be further down the road. We have a little unit that can attach to your garden hose that shoots out fire-fighting foam and water - you would be able to put out barbeque or backyard fires. To get into retail stores, you need someone that sees what you are doing, believes in what you are doing and wants to be an agent of change.

The line of Fire Caddy products not only help save lives and limit the damage to property, Patterson said that it was also designed with the environment in mind as well.

“There are two sides to the environmental work for us. On one side, the foam is environmentally friendly; it is biodegradable, non-toxic and has US Forestry approval. The other side is the amount of water that is saved, which is also great for the environment. In Canada, we typically dont appreciate the conservation of water because we have so much, but when you are putting out a bonfire in your backyard or a campfire and you think about how much water you pour on it; all of a sudden you are helping the environment by cutting that usage down.

It is always fascinating to speak with NHL Alumni members; seeing how they apply the same focus, drive and determination that brought them to the NHL into the next chapter of their life. For Colin Patterson, the same qualities that made him a key contributor on the Calgary Flames and ultimately a Stanley Cup Champion, have helped make Fire Caddy’s life saving products a success as well.

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