One of my heroes passed away a few weeks ago. Gord Strate was a member of the Fort St. John Flyers back in the early 60’s when I first became a hockey fan. He’d played for the Detroit Red Wings (with Gordie Howe) back in the days when there were only six teams in the NHL. One of my cherished moments was being able to introduce Gord before he spoke to an assembly of young hockey players. I told the audience how I remembered watching him carry the puck up the ice while blood ran down the side of his determined face. Even more than being a great hockey player though, Gord was a gentleman.
One is Andre Larmand, who played on the “Kid Line” and wore number 11. Andre handed his stick over the boards to me just after the Flyers won yet another South Peace Hockey League Championship. I was proud to wear number 11 when I played for the Flyers a few years later.
Rod Fonteyne was the playing coach and one of the reasons that the Flyers organization became so strong. Rod was my grandfather’s favourite player. A few years ago Rod dropped by the school where I was principal with a number 11 Flyers jersey and asked me if I would like to have it. I couldn’t help but think of my Grampa and what he would have thought of Rod actually coming to visit me… let alone giving me a jersey. The Flyers were bigger than the Maple Leafs or Canadiens to him.
And then there is Jimmy Anderson. He is who I wanted to be during every shinny game I took part in. Jimmy was a goal scorer and the fastest skater. To me he was a hero in the movie cowboy sense. Quiet and cool. I remember how excited I was when I got to sit in his “stall” in the Flyers dressing room as a Peewee (all of his equipment was still hanging there… we didn’t have to be told that we shouldn’t touch it!). Years later, Jim’s wife Audrey was my secretary at Alwin Holland Elementary School so I had several chances to reminisce with (and probably embarrass) Jimmy. Again, my Grampa would have been so impressed!
As I think about these gentlemen and how much they meant to me, and to this community, I find it even sadder that our game is currently “locked out”. Hopefully it will give us all pause to think about the guys (players and management) who committed to the game when money wasn’t a factor. Much can be learned from them about commitment, community and team work.
A few years ago Jim Hughson, of Hockey Night in Canada fame (but more importantly a homegrown Fort St. John boy!), produced a 3-minute video segment for “Hockey Day in Canada”. The theme was “rivalries”. Wow… the memories it brings back! Click here to watch it!