By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock will roll out the red carpet for NHL Hall of Famer Paul Coffey on March 5.
Coffey is scheduled to headline the first Timmins Rock Celebrity Sports Dinner/Fundraiser at the Porcupine Dante Club on that date and he will also be on hand at the McIntyre Arena when the Rock play their final game of the 2016-17 NOJHL regular season against the visiting Powassan Voodoos earlier in the day.
Having played part of his junior hockey career with the Greyhounds in Sault Ste. Marie, Coffey is no stranger to Northern Ontario, but this will be his first visit to Timmins.
“I am really looking forward to it,” he told The Daily Press.
The Edmonton Oilers great never had the opportunity to suit up with the Timmins Tornado, Steve Sullivan, but he can remember playing against him during his NHL days.
“He was a good, crafty, little centreman,” Coffey said.
The Hall of Famer who holds dozens of NHL records, won numerous Norris trophies, made 14 all-star appearances and hoisted the Stanley Cup four times was recently included among the list of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players.
“That’s a huge honour,” Coffey said.
“Listen, you are lucky enough to play in the NHL, you are lucky enough to win the Stanley Cup, you never even dream of being in the Hockey Hall of Fame and then, to be recognized as one of the Top 100 of all time, pretty much tops everything.
“It’s an incredible honour just to be out in California with all of those great players.”
Coffey, easily among the Top 5 defenceman to ever play the game, had the privilege, of course, of playing with both Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux during his illustrious career.
What was it like to play with those two legends?
“That’s part of what I am going to talk about when I am in Timmins,” Coffey said, suggesting readers will have to attend the dinner to get the entire scoop.
“I can tell you they were both great players and great human beings.”
Coffey will also have plenty of advice for any aspiring young players in the audience.
“There are different routes to get to the NHL,” he said.
“Luckily for me, I went to Sault Ste. Marie, played a couple of years of junior and then was fortunate enough to turn pro, but there are lots of different ways to do it. There is nothing wrong with playing college or university hockey. It’s great. An education package is good to have. You always need something to fall back on.”
One of Coffey’s sons, Blake, is currently a member of the Brockville Braves’ blue-line and is quite familiar with a pair of former Braves — Jacob Shankar and Dean Kiriacou — who are currently with the Timmins Rock.
“He is trying to get an NCAA opportunity,” he said.
“He is a good student and a good kid. He works hard.”
Being able to help coach his youngsters helped Coffey make the transition from being an active NHL player.
“I had a chance to coach my two boys while they were growing up, which helped to fill a pretty big void,” Coffey said.
“I made a commitment that I wanted to be around them when they were growing up and I have had a chance to do that and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Our oldest is 21, our middle is 19 and our youngest is 13 and playing minor bantam.”
Coffey has no regrets about his Hall of Fame playing career, or when he opted to call it a day.
“That’s the one thing about the sport, when it’s over, it’s over,” he said.
“I am always going to be a fan of the game of hockey. I love it. I think it is the greatest game in the world. There are some players I really enjoy watching. The long and the short of it is when the game is played right, there is nothing better.
“The one thing I do miss is being 25.”
Coffey was excited to learn that Doug Gilmour’s son Tyson will be on the ice with the Powassan Voodoos when he drops the puck prior to the start of the March 5 contest.
“No way, I love Tyson,” he said.
“That is awesome. It’s going to be great. I am really looking forward to it.”
Coffey, who owns an automobile dealership in Bolton, Ont., enjoys getting a chance to speak to fans young and old.
“I have done a few sports banquets here and there,” he said.
“I like to speak about my philosophy on hockey and my experiences over the years and then open things up for a little Q and A. Fans can ask me anything and everything. I will answer whatever.”
It is interesting to note, Coffey was not always a defenceman.
“Davey Keon was my favourite player when I was growing up,” he said.
“He was the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs and at that point, I was a centreman. I didn’t play defence until I was nine years old and then, of course, Bobby Orr was my favourite. How could you not like Bobby?”
Tickets for the Timmins Rock Celebrity Sports Dinner/Fundraiser went on sale Friday and Ted Gooch, a member of the team’s board of directors, said they have been selling like hotcakes.
“The response has been very positive,” he said.
“Ticket sales are going very well, especially considering they have only been on sale for about four days now.”
With only 325 tickets available for the event, organizers are anticipating they will sell out quickly.
“Anybody who is interested in coming to the event should call in to make sure they get their tickets before we sell out,” Gooch said.
The tickets, which include admission to the four-course dinner, where Coffey will give a 20-minute talk, take part in a question-and-answer session and sign autographs, as well as admission to the Voodoos vs Rock game in the afternoon, are selling for $100.
Tickets can be purchased during regular business hours at CORE Business Solutions or at NAPA Southend Auto Parts.
“There is a seating chart available, so people can see what seats are available,” Gooch said.
“People can also call me at 705-531-3355, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve their tickets.”
There will be plenty of sports memorabilia available in silent auctions at the Timmins Rock Celebrity Sports Dinner/Fundraiser.
“In addition to Coffey stuff, there will be some Montreal Canadiens stuff and some Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs stuff,” Gooch said.
“We have some Mitch Marner autographed photos. We have some Doug Gilmour autographed pucks. We have some Carey Price photographs.
“There will be a lot of NHL autographed memorabilia up for grabs. For example, we have a lot of stuff from last year’s Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. There are some Evgeny Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury items. We also have some Nathan MacKinnon autographed photos, John Tavaras autographed New York Islanders stuff.
“We also want to let the fans who are coming to the event know they can bring their own items for Paul to autograph, if they have some stuff in their personal collections, whether it is an old Edmonton Oilers jersey, or some Paul Coffey hockey cards. Paul will be more than happy to sign them for his fans.”
Season ticket holders and others who already have tickets to the March 5 contest against the Voodoos, will still receive additional tickets to the game when they purchase their tickets for the Timmins Rock Celebrity Sports Dinner/Fundraiser, which should help pack the Mac.
“We are really expecting a big crowd that day,” Gooch said.
“Those two points could be critical in terms of where we finish in the standings and we are hoping to create an electric atmosphere.”
The game against the Voodoos at the McIntyre Arena will start at 2 p.m., with the Timmins Rock Celebrity Sports Dinner/Fundraiser scheduled to get underway at 6 p.m.