Hockey’s modern legends and a selection of current on-ice talent gathered in Vancouver Monday for a fundraising gala for Hockey Canada, governing body of Canada’s game. While the gala was a private event, media were invited to meet with a panel of hockey thought-leaders and ask questions. The Pink Puck was on the ground in Vancouver to meet with them.
First up, a panel of six greeted us. From left-to-right sat Hockey Canada executives Jim Hornell, Jim Treliving, and George Melville, plus honorees Clare Drake, France St-Louis, and Steve Yzerman. The latter three – all inductees into a smorgasbord of sport and hockey halls of fame – received the Order of Hockey in Canada for their efforts in furthering Canada’s game and they all spoke fondly of their lives involved in hockey. Clare Drake’s remarks were particularly moving.
“Hockey has meant everything to me during my life,” said hockey veteran Clare Drake. Drake has accolades to his name almost too numerous to mention. Most notably, the 86-year-old Saskatchewan native guided Team Canada to their first ever gold medal at the Spengler Cup tournament in Switzerland in 1984. In 1983, Drake became the first coach in CIAU history to win 500 games, and on October 8, 1985, he become the most successful coach in inter-collegiate history with his 556th victory. When he retired after the 1988-89 season, he had 697 wins under his belt for a .695 winning percentage. Drake also worked with NHL teams the Winnipeg Jets (the first time around), and more recently the Dallas Stars.
Drake was inducted into the University of Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, and joined the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame two years later in 1989. He has an award and a hockey rink named after him. He has conducted coaching workshops and clinics throughout North America, Europe, and Australia, where he has been recognized as one of the leading Canadian authorities on the game. Drake’s family were on hand to see him receive his Order of Hockey in Canada award and it was humbling to witness.
Honoree France St-Louis also has an impressive list of accolades. From gold medals, World Championships, MVP titles, captaincies, and a recent chef de mission role for Canada’s Olympic team in Sochi, the Laval, QC native admits hockey has given her so many memories. “I wish I was younger and could go back and start again!” she said, prompting a chuckle from the throng of media and VIPs.
Third and final honoree Steve Yzerman spoke passionately about the growth of the game in Canada during his lifetime, proudly stating “The level of play has grown exponentially.” Yzerman played 22 season in the NHL, all for the Detroit Red Wings. He is VP and General Manager for Tampa Bay Lightning, serving in that role since 2010. Yzerman has also served as Executive Director and General Manager for Team Canada at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi 2014 and Vancouver 2010, where the team claimed the coveted gold medal both times. He represented Canada on the ice on eight occasions, including two Olympic Winter Games, two World Cups of Hockey, three World Championships, and one World Junior Championship.
After the three honorees received their awards, it was time for part two of the news conference – Olympic edition. In front of us sat six modern hockey greats, with a coach and a captain from each of Canada’s two Olympic hockey teams plus the National Women’s Under-18 team. The panel included double gold medal winner Sidney Crosby and Team Canada men’s coach Mike Babcock, along with Caroline Ouellette and Kevin Dineen representing the Olympic women’s team.
With many of Hockey Canada’s events taking place in Toronto or Calgary, the event marked a rare opportunity for Vancouver-area media to meet with hockey’s finest talents. For me personally, it was humbling and somewhat surreal to be in the presence of Sidney Crosby and Mike Babcock. Having looked up to both of them for longer than I care to remember, it was quite an experience to finally see them in person. I went home that night and noticed I have books on both Crosby and Babcock sitting on my bookshelf – one covering Crosby’s meteoric rise to the top of the game, and another book written by Mike Babcock himself entitled ‘Leave No Doubt,’ a nod to the slogan adorning the men’s hockey locker rooms during Vancouver 2010.
I digress. It was time to talk Olympic hockey, and Crosby set the tone from the start. When asked how he feels about competing on the international stage in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain and MVP said with a smile, “Well my past two experiences were pretty good,” prompting laughter in the room of media outlets and VIPs in the downtown Vancouver hotel.
Hockey Canada coach, who led Team Canada to gold medal victories at both Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, Mike Babcock spoke of his pride representing his country, noting there is no greater feeling than hearing ‘O Canada!’ as you stand on the ice after a gold medal win. Babcock spoke to the recent departure of Hockey Canada legend Bob Nicholson, assuring Canada there is plenty of talent to help further the game from coast to coast.
“I am really confident. The group at Hockey Canada have done great things and have lots of different people,” said Babcock. “That’s part of it. Different people get opportunities. They grow from it and they move on. A new group will get an opportunity and that’s great.”
“You take a lot of pride in being the best,” Babcock continued. “In order to be the best you have to find the best to win. We’re going to have to continue to grow our game over the next four years. If you want to have success at the next Olympics, 2014’s effort won’t be good enough to win the next one. We have to keep getting better.”
Crosby rounded out the 2018 Winter Olympics discussion in his trademark articulate style, “To represent your country, and have those opportunities, I don’t think that ever gets old, no matter what the situation is. As a player, I think you’re always looking at those opportunities, and you want to be a part of that, so we’ll see what happens.”
On competing in 2018, Crosby’s words were loud and clear.
“I would have no complaints.”