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Cornered Coach: It's a Small (Hockey) World

 

Last week, the NHL celebrated its 100th anniversary season by naming the 100 Top Players in league history.

It was a marketing gimmick ripped right off the "no brainer" page, but an effective exercise nonetheless.

As expected, the century list is populated by the highest forms of puck royalty. But especially in Canada, where the roots of our national game run deep, it's amazing to see how the lives of many hockey greats have intersected with people from all walks of life. For example, as a longtime broadcaster at both the local and national level, I've been lucky to accumulate a number of personal snapshots of some of the legends on the NHL list.

So, without further adieu, here's a sampling of a few of my own memories when it comes to the true greats of the game.

Martin Brodeur
No question, he was one of the best goaltenders in hockey history. However, unlike many of his more tightly-wound puck stopping brethren, Brodeur was calm and cool as a cucumber. I remember broadcasting a game for Sportsnet in New Jersey and accompanying former goalie-turned TV analyst John Garrett into the Devils dressing room. Most goalies refused to talk to the media on the day of a game and I was a little reticent about approaching Brodeur. But Garrett assured me that Marty was a different cat and I can still remember enjoying a pleasant conversation with a smiling Brodeur while he sipped a leisurely cup of coffee. It was a much different scene than Glenn Hall, for instance, and the legendary tales of how "Mr. Goalie" suffered from a nervous stomach that would force Hall to sprint to the toilet to toss his cookies before most games.

Pavel Bure
The Russian Rocket was one of the most skilled forwards to ever grace the game. But Pavel Bure is a pretty smooth operator off the ice as well. When Bure was tearing it up with the Vancouver Canucks in the early 90's, NHL teams were still flying on commercial airlines. That meant Joe and Jill Traveller could sometimes find themselves sitting next to a real life hockey star. I happened to be sharing an airplane with the Canucks on one NHL broadcast trip and sat across the aisle from Bure. Seated beside him was a chatty older woman who proceeded to talk Pavel's ear off for a few hours. To his credit, however, Bure couldn't have been more patient and he treated the lady with the utmost kindness. Since retiring from the NHL, Bure has dabbled in politics back in his Russian motherland, and that day on a public airline Pavel displayed the slick people skills that would definitely impress PR-conscious politicians such as Justin Trudeau. 

Bobby Hull
When it comes to public relations, Bobby Hull was the absolute master. The Golden Jet was famous for holding up the Chicago Blackhawks bus while he stood outside in the cold honouring as many autograph requests as humanly possible. Of course, Hull was also a brilliant player – a muscular left winger who owned one of the most feared slap shots in hockey. I had the pleasure of watching Hull notch his 50th goal (on a slapper, of course) during one of his all-star seasons with the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association. But my favourite Bobby Hull memory occurred after he was long retired from the game. Still one of hockey's greatest ambassadors, Bobby made an appearance on our Calgary television sports show in the early 90's. Unfortunately, Hull arrived at the TV studio shortly after attending a local sports celebrity dinner. During the feast, Bobby had imbibed in a few cocktails at the head table, and let's just say he was in good spirits when he arrived for his TV gig. My co-host conducted the Hull interview and tossed out a routine question to get the conversation rolling. Bobby proceeded to take the ball and run with it, launching into an answer that travelled a long and winding road. It was so lengthy, in fact, that by the time he wrapped up his opening answer, the interview was over.

“Well, Bobby," said my co-host, "It looks like our time is up."

"What do you mean?," roared The Golden Jet, "I was just getting started!"

"Well, be that as it may," replied my buddy, "We'll be right back after this message."

Classic.

And with the great Bobby Hull in mind, it looks like our time is up for this week's blog.

So how about we hook up again next week for part two of our stroll down memory lane, as we celebrate a few more members of hockey's top 100 club. 

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