Glory days at training camp in Victoria

The Memorial ArenaThis weekend, I’ll bring readers some reports from the Vancouver Canucks training camp in Victoria. The BC provincial capital also happens to be where I grew up, and the Canucks and Los Angeles Kings both held camps in Victoria in the late 1980’s and early 90’s at the old Memorial Arena (now replaced by the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre). So heading over to Vancouver Island brings back a lot of fun memories from those years of teenage fandom:

  • Leaning around an irate, bowling ball-shaped arena manager to hand my copy of Gretzky: From the Back Yard Rink to the Stanley Cup (1984, Walter Gretzky with Jim Taylor, Avon Books) into a black stretch limo, where the Great One took the book, autographed it, and handed it back, just before the limo pulled away. It was Gretzky’s first training camp with the Kings after being traded to Edmonton on August 9, 1988.
  • Getting that Gretzky book autographed by other members of the Kings. Bernie Nicholls, who was on the threshold of his unbelievable 150-point season, stared at the cover with great interest. “Is this new?” he asked. “I haven’t seen this one before.” Starting goalie Glenn Healy scribbled his name whilst gripping a brimming cup of Gatorade between his teeth, and I was terrified he’d spill it and ruin my Gretzky signature. Ken Hammond, who didn’t crack the L.A. blueline that year and wound up playing for three other NHL clubs instead, mumbled, “Yup, that’s me,” when I deciphered his autograph and blurted ingenuously: “Hey, I’ve heard of you. You play defense, right?”
  • Being party to an Adrien Plavsic prank on Igor Larionov. The young defenseman signed my 1990 Canucks team photo behind Memorial Arena and then asked if he could borrow it for a moment. I said, “Sure,” and tagged along as Plavsic surreptitiously approached Larionov. The Russian legend was surrounded by clamoring youngsters, and kept his head down as he signed everything that was thrust his way. I’d already gotten Larionov’s John Hancock. So what was Plavsic up to? He hunched down, held the picture out like a regular autograph hound, and then when Larionov glanced up in puzzlement after noticing his signature was already on the photo, Plavsic burst into laughter.
  • Watching Pat Quinn’s cigar get treated like the Coke bottle that falls from the sky in The Gods Must Be Crazy. One day, the big Irishman, then the GM of the Canucks, came out of the back entrance and dropped a barely smoked stogie in the dirt before striding off. All the kids clustered around and stared at it. “Wow, look at that cigar!” Eventually someone scooped it up for a souvenir. Ah, those malleable young minds. No wonder Disney recently decided to ban depictions of smoking in its movies for kids.
  • Seeing the Black Aces go through their paces. Craig Coxe’s time as an enforcer in Vancouver was almost over by the fall of 1990. Best-known for his scraps with Bob Probert, Coxe wound up practicing with players mostly ticketed for Vancouver’s then-IHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, if not facing outright release. At one scrimmage, Coxe suited up alongside Patrice Lefebvre, a 5-6, 160-pound right winger who held (and still holds) the all-time QMJHL scoring record with 595 points, including 200 in his final season of 1987-88 with the Shawinigan Cataractes. An absolute magician with the puck, Lefebvre looked like Gretzky setting up his favorite fire hydrant, B.J. MacDonald. He twisted and turned deftly around his pylon-like opponents, feeding Coxe for three or four easy tap-in goals. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

Leave a Reply