Published on February 11, 2014
Montreal Canadiens alumni Chris Nilan (left) and Boston Bruins alum Jay Miller pose for a picture prior to the NHL Legends game at the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts on Feb. 8.
Photo by Nicholas Mercer/The Compass
Published on February 11, 2014
Former Calgary Flames star Theo Fleury is shown here with Compass reporter Nicholas Mercer prior to the start of the NHL Legends game at the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts on Feb. 8.
Photo by Dean Franey
As you enter the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts through the back entrance, it’s a left turn to head towards the two dressing rooms being used for the National Hockey League Legends game.
It is just after 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 8, and there is a rush of emotions prior to heading into the dressing room.
I’m set to skate with the Legends and walking through the doorway there is a sense of nervous anticipation mixed with what can only be described as dread.
On the other end are just under a dozen former NHL athletes. Among them are Stanley Cup champions, NHL all-stars and an Olympic gold medallist.
It’s not long before I get welcomed into the fold.
We’re using the dressing room of the Conception Bay Junior Stars. It has a door that sticks on the rubber flooring when it’s closing.
“Who left the door open?”
I’ve only been in the National Hockey League Legend’s dressing room for 30 seconds and I’ve already made a mistake.
Coming around a foldable table in the middle of the room is former Montreal Canadiens tough guy Chris Nilan. He’s pointing at the open door behind me.
In his thick Boston accent, Nilan lets me know where I am and how I am supposed to act.
“You’re in the inner sanctum now!”
It’s kind of scary. Nilan goes by the nickname Knuckles and has a slew of hockey fights under his belt.
Lodged between Ken Linseman and Bob Sweeney, Theo Fluery and Nilan are sitting directly across the room from me. To the right, former Boston Bruin Jay Miller is pulling the plastic out of his hockey pants and getting ribbed by Linseman about how Miller’s knee feels.
As everyone is getting ready, one thing becomes quickly apparent. These games are about nostalgia.
And, it’s not just the fans either. The players share stories just the same as the fans share memories before the game.
In the dressing room Nilan, Fluery and New York Ranger alum Ron Duguay are chatting about Mario Marois. Nilan and Marois fought in 1984, while Marois and Duguay were teammates with the Rangers in 1979.
“He was a good player,” Fleury noted.
In the far corner, former Washington Capital Don Maruk and Edmonton Oilers alum Mike Krushelnyski are chatting about former player Jim Nielson when Port de Grave MHA Glenn Littlejohn exclaims, “Chief!”
Across the room, Andre Dupont, in his thick French accent, mentions Nielson played with Tim Horton.
It is not long after that exchange when someone asks Duguay what Cher was like. The two were romantically linked in the early 1980s.
The conversation shifts to local senior hockey as Littlejohn is having a conversation about 1967 CeeBees' goaltender Gary Simmons.
Earlier at the meet-and-greet, fans lined up for their chance to get a piece of memorabilia signed. The young children look on star struck because of the NHLers sitting around three foldable tables at the centre of the Lions Club.
The young players look on in awe of the athletic celebrity in the room, but it’s the older fans reliving their youth as they watch these retired players.
With each pen stroke made by the likes of Dupont and Maruk, the adults are reliving the moments they’re watching Dupont’s Philadelphia Flyers playing Maluk’s Capitals on television. They might have been inches from the screen or on their father’s knee, but they remember.
They get it. To the adults, these players are more than just names and faces. They’re idols. They’re rock stars.
In the hallway
Just before going on the ice, I’m handed a No. 30 Chris Nilan jersey. Taking in my hand, it stings a little.
As a lifelong Leafs fan, the colours of the despised Les Habitants singe the soul. But, I’m not complaining. There are five of us playing with the NHL guys.
Myself, Littlejohn, Snodden, Matthew French and Chris Crosbie are all wearing jerseys supplied by the tour.
Snodden and Littlejohn are clad in Duguay’s No. 10 New York Rangers jersey, while Crosbie has on a Linseman and French adorns a No. 33 Marty McSorley Los Angeles Kings jersey.
McSorley was supposed to play but was unable due to an illness in his family.
Crosbie is especially excited. As we line up before the game, he is wearing a smile a mile wide.
“This is wicked,” he said.
In the hallway, the players line the right side with the Legends in front of the Bay Roberts team.
A mixture of players from around the community, goaltender Darryl Peddle leads the group.
Clad in the orange and black jerseys provide by the Town of Bay Roberts and his initials painted on his old style CCM helmet, Parsons wants nothing more to have the first shot hit him square in the chest before covering it up for a whistle.
Ahead of Parsons, Jay Miller is holding an iPad, capturing the experience. CBC meteorologist Ryan Snodden is using his iPhone for the same thing.
During player introductions, Fleury received the loudest response from the some 600 people in attendance.
“I really love meeting the people,” he said moments after the game.
After a team picture, it’s time for the puck drop.
Snodden is still filming.
“I’m hoping to get some footage for Monday’s show,” he noted.
It’s not long before the cell phone draws the ire of Mike Krushelnyski.
“Put the phone away!” he bellowed.
Fleury, Maruk and Nilan start for the Legends. Moments after the game has started, it becomes apparent these guys can still play.
They move effortlessly with and without the puck.
A minute in Nilan already has his first. Before the buzzer sounds, the Legends are up 4-0, and Nilan has two.
Halfway through the frame, referee David Crane throws his left arm up for a penalty, but that is quickly squashed.
“Not yet,” Krushelnyski yelled from the bench.
Two of the Bay Arena novice teams take the ice with five minutes to go in the first. The Legends play a spirited game with them.
From my spot on the bench, it’s a joy to see. The novice players go for the puck, sometimes the Legends keep the puck away and sometimes they don’t.
Maruk even jumps in goal.
When the buzzer sounds , these same novices make the rounds for autographs. At the same time a boy walks up to me looking for an autograph, Duguay is signing the pink gloves of a female player.
I smile politely and point to Bob Sweeney next to me. He’s the one they want.
Chatting with Linseman, I learn this isn’t his first trip to Newfoundland or even Conception Bay North. He travelled with the Boston Bruins alumni two years ago when the team played the Eastlink CeeBee Stars in Harbour Grace.
But, that’s not the only time he has been in the bay. Linseman, a surfer of 25 years, has been to New Melbourne on the south coast of Trinity Bay to catch the swells.
“I like coming up during hurricane season,” he said.
The second period begins much of the same. We pot two quick ones off of the sticks of Maruk and Ron Duguay.
Maruk scored 110 goals in the show between 1980-82 for the Capitals. When the puck comes out in front, he knows what to do with it.
With 4:43 gone in the second, Bay Roberts get on the board as Steve Barker beats Todd Baird. Matt Hiscock and Deputy Mayor Walter Yetman get the assists.
Ten seconds after that goal, Nilan has his hat trick and Fleury his fourth assist.
Before the end of the period, the Legends are up 10-2. Hiscock beat new goaltender Roy Nolan with a nifty one-arm tuck.
I picked up my one and only point with 5:08 in the second. Dupont hit me on a curl up the middle. After a touch pass to Snodden, he beats new goaltender Ian Flynn.
“Nice play fellas,” Dupont said skating up to us.
Again, two novice teams take the ice to the delight of parents both on the ice and in the stands.
Again, the novice teams and a select number of fans arrive in the dressing room.
Nilan looks at his hands after the novices lead.
“I’m tired of using these things for bruising,” he said referring to his hat trick.
The third plays the same as the other two. The Legends make plays that they shouldn’t and the Bay Roberts squad have trouble wiping the smiles of their faces.
Frankie Carpenter starts in goal for Bay Roberts, while locals Littlejohn and French hit the back of the net for the Legends.
“You’ve got a shot on you,” one of the NHLers would tell French.
It’s true too. French has a rocket.
Using goals scored in the novice game, the score is now 11-5. It finishes 13-8.
Sometimes when a puck would come up the boards, a NHLer would play it from the bench. Sometimes a play was made, sometimes it wasn’t.
“We should’ve used the bench guy more,” Sweeney noted in the room after the game.
When the game has ended, both teams salute the crowd and Upper Island Cove’s Wade Reid is named player of the game.
During the game, players are in the moment. It’s not about remembering who they are playing with or against, it’s about playing the game. The stakes are a little higher, but it’s about trying to make a play.
In the Legends room after the game, Bay Roberts players start filing in. They’re looking for autographs and a conclusion to the stories they will share with children, grandchildren and friends about the night they played their idols.
Nostalgia has returned.
— Nicholas Mercer is a reporter/photographer with the Compass. He lives in Bay Roberts and can be reached at email@example.com