|Young Saskatchewan Hockey Players
In the early 1970’s Lorne Henning was a skilled player who was an important member of the New York Islanders when the team was winning Stanley Cups. I knew him better as a fastball softball pitcher for the Resource Cardinals. I played against him several times in local sports days.
Rex Jennings would drop into the family farm to discuss wildlife and water fowl issues with my father. His son, Grant, grew up in Melfort and reached the NHL as a defenceman with the Pittsburgh Pennguins. We talked several times about playing professional hockey. Grant married the daughter of a Melfort judge.
In the book Darrell never caught up with Wendel Clark, a star with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Wendel grew up at Kelvington about 175 km from Melfort. During the mid-1990’s I remember talking to Wendel as a reporter after he had returned to Toronto for the first time after being traded to the New York Islanders. He had a special bond with the fans of Toronto and even with the media of the city. Until that night I had never seen a Toronto sportswriter invite a player for a drink later that evening. I think his willingness to patiently talk to people including reporter after reporter asking the same question reflected his Saskatchewan upbringing. He was a star without pretention.
Todd and Jeff Nelson are from Prince Albert. Their maternal grandmother is from Meskanaw which is my hometown.
Dave “Tiger” Williams was a rough tough junior hockey player for Swift Current. One of my best friends in law school played junior hockey with Tiger. He told me 40 years ago about Tiger inciting a brawl one night before a game even started.
After his NHL career ended Marc Habscheid turned to coaching. He was the coach of the Melfort Mustangs, the local junior team, in the late 1990’s and I spoke with him often about hockey.
I take exception with one statement in the book. Darrell says Derek Boogaard grew up in Regina. He actually grew up in Melfort where he was in the same grade as my older son in elementary school and junior high before he left to pursue a hockey career. Derek was by far the biggest guy in each grade.
Derek used his size and determination to reach the NHL as a fighter and an enforcer. Tragically his addiction to prescription painkillers led him one night in Minneapolis to combine too many pills with too much alcohol and he died at 27. I continue to wonder about the transformation of the big young boy I knew to the addicted man at his death.
Tyson Strachan, who has spent time in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues and Florida Panthers, was a good friend of my sons. I coached him for several years in minor baseball.
In our province there are 1,100,000 people. With 487 NHL players from Saskatchewan in the last 96 years it is not a surprise there are many personal connections with professional hockey players.