It’s not everyday one gets to meet their hero.
All my life I wanted to meet the Rocket. He came to Orillia when I was a kid, but I was in the stands as he skated around the ice, waving to the crowd, and I never got near.
As a boy I’d write to him, and several times an autographed picture would come in the mail.
But I always wanted to meet him. Just him and me. I wanted to shake his hand. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted him to talk to me. And finally, in Calgary in about 1990, it happened.
It was at the old Corral, next to the Saddledome, and the NHL Oldtimers came to town for a charity game, and the Rocket was the referee. I went with my sister, and I watched him as he skated around, and it was a little bit like a dream. How many defencemen had tried to stop him from skating in years gone by, and there he was in front of me now, skating again.
I think he even wore number nine on his ref’s sweater.
Between periods, or maybe after the game, my sister and I went down to the Oldtimers dressing room, and retired tough guy Jimmy Mann, who had played for the Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques, was outside the room talking to someone. I went up to him and asked him if I could see the Rocket, and right away he went in and I heard him call,”Hey Rocket.” And just like that, in the blink of an eye, the Rocket was coming out of the room with his skates on and walking over to me and my sister.
He was so nice. I told him he’d sent me a Christmas card when I was young after I’d sent him a fan letter, and he said he thought he’d sent out a lot of Christmas cards back then. He said he remembered very little about the old days, and he laughed and smiled and I felt completely comfortable with him. I asked how his family was, and he said they were all doing fine. I told him his son Normand and I are the same age, and he seemed to like that.
And I asked him if he enjoyed travelling with the Oldtimers, and he said it was fun but tiring and it was keeping him in a little bit of shape.
I then got around to asking him if he would mind having my sister take our picture together, and he said of course, and he put his arm around me as she took it. As I was saying thanks, he said, “Wait a minute, I want a picture with your sister too”, and so her and I traded places, and we all laughed again.
My lifelong wish came true, and the Rocket was everything I’d hoped. He was friendly and polite, and he carried a kind smile on his face.
I believe somehow that he understood what this meant to me.