Friday, August 9, 2013

TVOS Thought of the Day: 25 Years Later - The Gretzky Trade

This one is for you Ed!!

TVOS Thought of the Day:
25 Years Later - The Gretzky Trade

Twenty-five years ago today, the hockey world shook with the news that The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, had been traded from the high-powered Edmonton Oilers to the lowly Los Angeles Kings (sorry Kings fans, but it was true at the time!).

It was called a trade, but there is little doubt that Gretzky was sold to the Kings - If you have read Stephen Brunt’s Gretzky’s Tears, you will know what I am talking about - if you have yet to read it, you should!

The “nuts and bolts” or the “how and why” of the trade is not the intention of today’s thought of the day - it has certainly been analyzed again and again (and again!) over the years. Today’s thought revolves around the reaction to the 25th anniversary...

First off, thank goodness we did not have the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, 24-hour sports channels, etc, at the time of the trade. We would have been overwhelmed with non-stop coverage for weeks and/or months. Throughout this week though, and especially today, there has been a great amount of complaining about the coverage the 25th anniversary has received. “It is too much” is the common refrain.

Well, if you are a Canadian, and of a certain age (I’m a year away from 40 - yikes!), it is not too much. The Gretzky trade is my generation’s Armstrong on the Moon or the Henderson goal in ‘72. The news of the deal went beyond the hockey world and shook an entire nation to its core. I was about 14-years old at the time and like folks in ‘72, I can clearly remember where I was and what I was doing that day.

Just weeks after his wedding to Janet Jones, Canada’s very own Royal Wedding, the news was announced and Wayne was made out to be the villain in the early days of the trade by the Oilers owner. Canadians wondered how a good, kind-hearted young man from Brantford, Ontario could turn his back on not only his team and his fans, but his Country as well. Hockey fans, not just in Edmonton, openly wept at the news. Canadians asked their Members of Parliament to pass a law banning the deal! The exact details would eventually emerge and we would all become aware of the fact that Wayne was just an actor in the drama cooked up by Pocklington. Cold, hard cash was needed for his other business ventures and Wayne was his greatest asset.

It is important to remember the timing of the deal and the year - 1988. It was more than just a hockey transaction for Canadians. In many ways, Canada lost part of its innocence in 1988... The world was changing - the Berlin Wall would soon come down, the USSR would fall too; Canada was searching for its place on the world stage too.

Of importance politically in Canada at the time, was the freshly conceived Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States. While the politicians cried out that it would usher in a new era of business and opportunities for Canadians, many citizens opposed the agreement. The overwhelming sentiment in my part of the country at that time was that the FTA was simply the first step that would lead to Canada becoming the 51st state of the United States. Real or imagined, the fear was there and so, something as basic as a hockey trade became a question of national identity.

“It is our game,” they said and “Wayne is our hero. How can our hero be sold to the United States? If we cannot even keep Wayne here, what chance to do the rest of us have against the mighty dollars to the South of us?”

It was not only the trade that shook the nation; it was the timing of the trade. That is what makes this a memorable day...

So, if you think there is too much coverage of the 25th anniversary, I certainly will not say you are wrong, since we do have the Internet and 24-hour sports channels now. However, keep in mind where this hockey trade hit Canadians the hardest - in their hearts.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

NHL Alumni Interview with Perry Berezan

Just as the NHL Alumni and its members raise much-need funds throughout Canada, the United States and around the world, individual team alumni associations help their communities at every opportunity as well. On May 30th, the Alumni Masters Golf Tournament, which is organized by members of the Calgary Flames Alumni Association, raised over $110,000 for Hospice Calgary and the Calgary Cerebral Palsy Association.

“In the very early years, it was a little bit smaller,” former Flame and active alumni member Perry Berezan said of the tournament. “We have pretty much maxed out every year though and in some ways, we have had to pull back a little bit. These tournaments can get so big they almost lose their appeal. The neat thing about our tournament is that even though we use 27 holes, we don’t want to jam it full of people, which would make it a six or seven hour round of golf.”

“We want people, once they get there, to just play golf and enjoy each other’s company and not worry about a whole bunch of other distractions. Raising money is very important, but bringing the guys together, as well as bringing together people from the community, is what we keep going back to as far as our mandate is concerned.”

Every two years, the tournament changes the charities involved, which provides the Flames Alumni members the opportunity to contribute to a greater number of Calgarians on a regular basis. With almost $2.5 million raised in the 19 years the tournament has taken place, the event has touched and enriched many lives. This year’s charities not only helped the community, but assisting one charity in particular, the Calgary Cerebral Palsy Association, enabled the former Flames to salute a former coach - Terry Crisp.

“Terry Crisp’s grandson lives here in Calgary and has Cerebral Palsy,” Perry explained. “There was a connection there and we thought that this was a chance where we can actually do something nice for Crispy’s grandson. We spent some time with the organization and saw that they are such great people; we just love the people there.”

“They have a program where they convert bicycles to allow these kids to ride bikes. Their muscles just don’t work and for these kids to be able to ride a bike, it is a thrill of their life! So, we really wanted to help their bike program.”

“Everyone knows what a hospice is for,” Perry said of also contributing to Hospice Calgary. “However, what I didn’t realize was just how much counselling they do there. They really help by counselling people after a death or during someone’s stay at the hospice.”

“If a 10-year old girl has lost her mother, well, she needs counselling. The hospice is prepared to deal with that and is so aware of how traumatic it can be. Maybe someone has lost a sibling, a parent, a grandparent -it could be anyone. So, the focus for the money we raised this year was to help fund this program to make sure that they can continue the counselling for the kids that are out there and are in need.”

With a rich and storied history in Calgary, the Flames are very much a part of the community. For their former players, this event has become a family within the Flames family, as members take part year after year. After playing in 378 NHL games, 152 as a member of the Flames, Perry explained in our conversation that there are approximately 110 former NHLers that call the Stampede City home - these NHL Alumni members are included in events as often as possible as well.

“We have Lanny McDonald, Jim Peplinski, Joel Otto and Colin Patterson - that group of guys that were part of the Stanley Cup team that are around and still very involved in the community,” he said. “Then there are other guys that were here as a Flame for a shorter period of time and maybe didn’t make as big of an impact, but they are back here living in Calgary and they want to play a big role. Then there are the former players that never played a game for the Flames and want to be involved in helping out.”

“You are part of something right away,” Perry said of living in Calgary after playing in the NHL. “A guy like Russ Romaniuk just moved here. Russ had a good career in the NHL and he never really had any affiliation with the Flames, but he moved to Calgary for a job and you know that when we have alumni skates, heck, Russ is probably going to be there. He’s a good example of someone that has decided to make Calgary his home.”

It can be difficult to juggle family, work and an active alumni schedule, but Calgary is known as a very community-oriented city and the Flames are very much a part of the fabric that makes up the city. For former Flames and NHL Alumni members wishing to give back, their employers are very understanding. Staying involved in the community also continues the legacy of giving back that has been a part of the NHL for decades.

In a past NHL Alumni interview, Laurie Boschman explained that as he entered the league with the Toronto Maple Leafs, players like Ron Ellis and Darryl Sittler taught him the importance of giving back. When he became a veteran player himself, Laurie taught the same lesson to the young players. The same scenario played out for Perry during his time in the NHL and has continued on with an active alumni association in Calgary.

“When you put that Flames jersey on, you realize that maybe in other cities you were not as in demand for doing charity events, but when you arrive here it is mandatory. When you settle here, it is something you can continue on with because the alumni are doing it, so you realize you can stay involved if you want.”

“You always hope that some of the younger guys that just retired stay involved,” Perry continued. “Here, we have Rene Corbet, Jeff Shantz, and Martin Gelinas to name a few, and they are all great! Martin is coaching with the Flames and he is on the golf tournament committee - he wants to help out. You see him at appearances all the time. There is a new crop of guys here that are recently retired that want to be involved, which is great.”

“There is another side of it, which I think is really important for the guys,” he said. “I have been retired since 1993; this is my 20th year of retirement and people still care to see me - that feels pretty good. You still want to come watch me play if I’m on the ice or if I make an appearance somewhere? Wow, that’s pretty special!”

Having an active alumni association enables the friendships that formed during a playing career to remain strong. Likewise, if you played in different eras or on opposing teams, new friendships can take root and flourish. Perry recalled a recent trip that illustrated that point perfectly.

“We actually just came back from an alumni trip to Hong Kong. Seven former Flames and our wives, plus two Oilers Alumni and Yvon Cournoyer. We took part in some hockey clinics and attended a gala event. While we were there I was thinking I have known these guys - Lanny Murzyn, Patterson, Macoun, Peplinski and Otto, for thirty years of my life; that’s a long time!”

“These friendships are the same 30 years later as they were when I arrived as a Flame when I was 20-years old. That is pretty cool! We are still travelling together with our families and having a great time because of those bonds. They don’t change and it is like you are still playing together.”

Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Flames Alumni Masters Golf Tournament and the team will also be celebrating the 25th anniversary of Calgary’s 1989 Stanley Cup victory. With their family-first attitude, there is no doubt that it will be a very special day on the calendar for Calgarians and alumni members alike.

To participate, sponsor or contribute to next year’s Flames Alumni tournament, keep an eye on the “News” section at the Calgary Flames website.