Gazdig was `old school’ teacher of skat­ing

The London Free Press - - LOCAL - DAN BROWN dan­brown@post­media.com twit­ter.com/DanatLFPress

You will know the names of the stu­dents, but maybe not the teacher: Eric Lin­dros, Joe Thorn­ton, Nazem Kadri, Dar­ryl Sit­tler, Chris­tine Nes­bitt.

They all learned to skate here in the For­est City, and they are all grad­u­ates of Larry Gazdig’s Power Plus Skat­ing pro­gram.

Gazdig, who died Nov. 1 af­ter a stroke on Sept. 28, taught with an “iron fist,” his daugh­ter Nina said. “He was old­school.”

She es­ti­mates her fa­ther taught skat­ing to more than 40,000 young peo­ple start­ing in 1964. Be­fore that, he had a near brush with the NHL, but af­ter a freak skat­ing ac­ci­dent, had to give up his dream of play­ing for the Chicago Black­hawks.

Re­gard­less, he had pupils who went on to be NHL play­ers, get hockey schol­ar­ships and play for clubs in Eu­rope.

“He was a lit­tle bit bit­ter about ev­ery­thing, but at the same time he found hap­pi­ness in teach­ing kids to go a bit far­ther than he did,” his daugh­ter re­called.

Leg­end has it that it was Gordie Howe who sparked her fa­ther’s am­bi­tions to teach skat­ing.

Gazdig grew up on the rink at Ry­er­son el­e­men­tary school and while play­ing with the Strathroy Rock­ets, Gazdig was scouted by the Black­hawks.

“While plea­sure skat­ing, he tripped on a wooden spoon some­one had dropped on the ice, crashed into the boards and shat­tered his wrist. His hockey-play­ing days were over,” The Free Press re­ported in 1990.

On a visit with Howe, Gazdig told the vet­eran star, “I’ll never play hockey again, but what can I do for the kids?” Howe, who was de­vel­op­ing a power-skat­ing pro­gram at the time, sug­gested Gazdig could work with chil­dren learn­ing those ba­sic skills.

“From then on, he was hooked,” Nina Gazdig said.

She de­scribed her fa­ther as “strict and fair . . . He was old-school.

Nina now teaches at the pro­gram. ``Es­pe­cially when it’s your fa­ther, and he has high ex­pec­ta­tions of you, it gets a lit­tle tense,” she said. “I guess I adopted the same at­ti­tude as he did.”

“Ba­si­cally, he loved see­ing the kids that did make it some­where,” she added.

An auto-shop teacher at Beal and Saun­ders sec­ondary schools, he de­vel­oped an on-ice pro­gram with “67 dif­fer­ent drills that teach young skaters how to do all the ba­sic moves to both the left and right side,” The Free Press noted in its 1990 pro­file of Gazdig.

Some of to­day’s most-skilled NHL play­ers grad­u­ated from the fam­ily’s skat­ing school.

“I didn’t know that I was go­ing to teach the great Nazem Kadri,” Nina Gazdig said. “I feel very proud to help him on his path to where he got to. It was what he did with those skills af­ter­ward (that mat­tered).”

She said her fa­ther’s pro­gram was based on the be­lief that “you could reach for the stars if you had the right skills.”

“He has a lot of con­trol over his own pro­gram. He built it from the ground up. It’s like a third arm to him,” Nina re­called, which is what made him a fa­mil­iar fig­ure around Lon­don.

“He’s just been such a house­hold name in Lon­don. There aren’t very many peo­ple who haven’t heard his name in Lon­don.”

“While he will be missed greatly, his legacy will live on,” his death no­tice states.

FILES

Larry Gazdig, shown here in 1990, turned to teach­ing af­ter his NHL hopes died.

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