Former NHLers hit ice in Placentia
Hockey fans of all ages in Placentia were treated to quite a show last week when a group of NHL alumni hit the ice for an exhibition game with a group of local players at the Unity PARC Arena. Led by Stanley Cup champion Ray Bourque, the NHLers gracefully moved around the ice and provided plenty of highlight reel plays.
Sharing the ice with some of your childhood idols isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
Just ask Danny O’Keefe. He and a dozen other local Placentia hockey players suited up last Tuesday to play with and against NHL alumni at the Unity PARC Arena in Placentia.
Top names like Ray Bourque, Gary Leeman and Al Iafrate, to name a few, took to the ice for the exhibition match.
“There were times when I caught myself being a fan out there,” O’Keefe said moments after the final horn sounded and players from both teams met at centre ice for a group photo op. “The game was a great bit of fun. They treat you like you’re one of the boys.”
It was not O’Keefe’s first skate with a former pro hockey player. He’s previously taken part in the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s now-annual Hockey Heroes tournament held in the metro region.
For this game, he donned the familiar red and blue of the New York Rangers and scampered around the ice with the No. 6 stitched to his back. O’Keefe lined up next to the gargantuan Mathieu Dandenault and across from a former Toronto Maple Leaf, the bearded Gary Leeman.
The former 50-goal scorer for the Leafs was a favourite of O’Keefe’s growing up.
“I’m a Leafs fan,” he said proudly, his chest puffing out at the mention of the storied franchise. “It’s a childhood dream growing up … it was interesting.
“I got a pass from Leeman, so that was great.”
The action on the ice is only half of the excitement at these kinds of events. There is also the fan experience. For adults, it’s the thought of seeing and interacting with players they grew up watching and admiring. Depending on the team they played for, you may had a strong dislike for them.
The lineups to get into the dressing room after each period was teeming with adults holding various items in one hand and a sharpie in the other. Mixed in between exited youngsters, the adults entered the room one-by-one and one-byone they exited with enormous smiles on their faces.
For William Neville, seeing some of the Bruins legends skating on his hometown ice against his son Jamie, who was in goal for the hometown team, was something else.
“It brought me back to when I was younger and I used to watch them all the time,” he said moments after the game finished. “It was great to see them in Placentia.”
It’s as much about their adult selves as it is about the big kid living inside of them.
As for the children, they hung off security gates, arms outstretched aiming for just one touch of hockey players they weren’t alive to watch play in their prime. They couldn’t possibly appreciate the defensive genius of Bourque or the offensive wizadry of Denis Maruk, but there they were bright-eyed and in awe of what they were witnessing.
They’d heard the stories from fathers, mothers, grandparents and siblings, and now they were living it. O’Keefe saw plenty of the players he coaches in the stands and perhaps on the ice between the first and second periods when the pros battled the Placentia Intertown novice lions.
“I think it’s fun for them and its fun for us,” said Bourque. “A lot of them never saw us play, but kind of know about us. It’s nice to see them light up when they come into the room. They take pictures and their parents talk to them about when we used to play.
“Now, with technology they can go on, look us up and kind of see some things. It’s pretty neat.”
“You get a lot of kids here. A lot of them I coach,” added O’Keefe. “It’s a great experience.”
The game brought more than a few smiles to faces of any fan of hockey that found them- selves inside the arena this evening. There were cellys from the pros, great saves from both goaltenders and some pin point passing. At times, it seemed like the pros had a sixth sense on the ice.
They would throw pucks around almost blindly and they’d hit their intended targets on the tape.
“Ray Bourque and the guys, they’re phenomenal fellas,” said O’Keefe. “They’re good for the kids and they’re good for the area. It’s just tremendous.”
Placentia Lions player Michael Gambin moves in on Alumni defenceman Al Iafrate.
Former Boston Bruins captain Ray Bourque plays keep away with the puck during the first period.
NHL Alumni Ray Bourque and Al Iafrate watch a pair of novice players, from left, Landon Kerrivan and Hunter O’Keefe, move around the net with the puck.