By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – If the Timmins Rock show as much improvement on the ice this season as they did during the team’s second-annual golf tournament at Spruce Needles on Thursday, it might be time to clear a little extra space in the NOJHL team’s trophy case.
Certainly the addition of a pair of former NHLers — Toronto Maple Leafs legend Wendel Clark and four-time Stanley Cup champion Butch Goring — to the festivities didn’t hurt.
Prior to the start of the 18-hole four-person best-ball tournament, the duo had a chance to chat with local fans during a meet-and-greet session at Kia of Timmins, a major event sponsor for the fundraiser.
Clark, of course, is no stranger to the City with the Heart of Gold, having been here most recently for the Rogers Hometown Hockey celebrations this past November.
“A few more trips here and I am going to have to take up residency,” he joked.
The 50-year-old Kelvington, Sask., native is no slouch on the golf course, but his game is not quite at the level of Goring.
“This year, I haven’t had as much chance to play as I would like,” Clark said.
“The weather down where I am has not been conducive to a lot of golf yet, so there is a good chance of beating me out there today.
“Events like this are a lot of fun. Hockey guys love golf. It’s one of the things we love to do when winter is not around. It is one of the things we are passionate about.”
When Clark does get to play golf regularly, he describes his game as “OK.”
“Butch will likely have a better game today,” Clark said.
“He is known for being a really good golfer.”
While events such as the second-annual Timmins Rock Golf Tournament are a lot of fun, Clark realizes there is a serious side to them, as well.
“You get to help raise money for a hockey team and I come from a small community, as well, where hockey is the heartbeat of the town in the winter time,” he said.
“We have long winters in Canada and hockey teams are a focal point for their communities and we want to keep them going.”
After ending his playing days with the Maple Leafs following the 1999-2000 season, Clark is now a community ambassador with the NHL Club, is in the restaurant business (Wendel Clark’s Classic Grill & Bar, with locations in Brampton, Burlington and Hamilton) and is also involved with the Meineke Car Care business.
In addition, the makes more than 200 appearances similar to the one at the second-annual Timmins Rock Golf Tournament each year.
“You have a lot of years left when you are done playing,” Clark said.
“You are finished playing when you are in your 30s and there is a lot of time left, so to be out and about, meeting people is great. Our kids have gone through school, so they don’t want to see us as much at home anymore, so we get to go out and do a lot of great things in the community and meet a lot of great people.”
Clark was a little jealous to see Goring sporting his 1982 Stanley Cup ring on one of his fingers, noting it was one of the few things he is sorry he missed out on during his career.
“Never got a chance in 15 years,” he said.
“Butch was a hog. He has got like four of them or something. As a player, that’s what you always strive for and if you are fortunate to be in the right spot and the right time, with a great group of guys, it is the trophy to win.”
With the Maple Leafs now boasting a talented young group of players including Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander, can Clark see his beloved blue and white getting close to ending its Stanley Cup drought?
“You always keep your fingers crossed,” he said.
“The key for us is to get back in the playoffs every year. We did it last year and we want to be back there again this year. It’s kind of like baby steps. The parity in the game is so good you want to be in the playoffs every year. If you get on the right run and stay healthy, you have a chance.”
In his position with the Maple Leafs, Clark gets an opportunity to see quite a few NHL games.
“The speed of the game is where it has changed the most since I played,” he said.
“As athletes, the players have gotten better because of the training and the equipment has gotten better. There is also more coaching in the game, every detail is coached.”
When it comes to equipment, there is likely no piece of hockey equipment quite as famous as the helmet Goring wore for his entire NHL career.
“I think the helmet is more famous than I am,” he said.
“Everybody wants to know about it. I played minor hockey in Winnipeg and it was mandatory to wear a helmet as an amateur hockey player. I think it was 1961 or 1962 when that particular helmet showed up.
“It was a helmet from Sweden and I just wore it because, as you know, it is cold in Winnipeg during the winter, so we wore hoodies to stay warm and this helmet fit right over my hood. It kept my ears warm and at the same time was able to give me the protection I needed to be able to play hockey.
“As time went by, it was an adjustable helmet and I was comfortable with it. I just never saw any reason to change. It didn’t provide a lot of protection, but it was almost like … I couldn’t play the game without gloves, skates, shin guards or my helmet.
“So, I just wore it my entire career and then, some years later, notoriety started to take hold of it.”
It’s the helmet that garnered the most attention, but it was not the only piece of equipment Goring wore year after year.
“Coming out of Junior ‘A’ hockey, I had the same elbow pads for my entire career,” he said.
“I had the same shoulder pads — and they weren’t even shoulder pads, they were almost like magazines — for my entire career. I wore the same shin pads for pretty much my entire career.
“I wasn’t worried about the protection, I was more worried about being able to play the game.
“I didn’t wear the same skates, but I wore the same style of skates. I liked my equipment to be more comfortable than anything else.”
Equipment managers were constantly tossing their hands up in the air in frustration, especially when he would join a new team.
“They tried to put me in new stuff all the time, but I would have none of that,” he said.
“I didn’t want to wear big shin guards because I didn’t want to block shots like they do today. It was the same with the shoulder pads. I wasn’t going to be going into corners and trying to out-muscle people. I was all about angles.”
Acquired by the Islanders from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis prior to the first of team’s four Stanley Cups, Goring is widely viewed as the poster boy for successful trade deadline acquisitions.
“It is great to be remembered every year,” he said.
“For the past almost 40 years, my name has come up every year, with everybody trying to duplicate the Butch Goring trade. Obviously, it worked out well for the Islanders.”
Lost over time is the fact the Winnipeg native was unhappy at the time with the move to the East Coast.
“I didn’t want to get traded, but I am really proud of the results of the trade,” he said.
“I was able to contribute in some small way to the success of the New York Islanders.
“Before I got to New York, they had a really good hockey team. They finished first overall in the league in 1979. Butch Goring didn’t suddenly make them a great hockey team. Butch Goring, I think, made them a better hockey team.”
The Islanders boasted a talented roster than included star blue-liner Denis Potvin, talented forwards Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, as well as money goalie Billy Smith, to name but a few.
“We really did have tremendous chemistry,” Goring said.
“One of the unique things about that team is they didn’t necessarily like each other off the ice. They weren’t like buddy, buddy or best friends., but as soon as they walked into that dressing room, they were a big family, with one purpose in life.
“Everybody contributed in their own way. If you look back at the New York Islanders winning four Stanley Cups in a row, it wasn’t just bout Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy. Yes, they played huge parts, along with Denis Potvin and Billy Smith, but I can remember the line of John Toneli, Wayne Merrick and Bobby Nystrom. The number of points they put up on the board is mind boggling for a third line, with no power play time.
“The depth they had led to the success of the Islanders. We could play a fast game. We could play a physical game, it just didn’t matter.
“It was a special team and I was fortunate enough to play with them.”
These days, Goring — who works as a colour commentator on Islanders broadcasts for MSG Network — is as at home on a golf course as he used to be on an ice surface.
“I play a lot of golf about five months of the year,” he said.
“I don’t get to play 12 because of work, but I do play an awful lot of golf. I am a pretty good golfer and I work hard at golf, as I do with anything I undertake. I enjoy the game very, very much.
“I enjoy events like this one because it gives me a chance to meet people and talk hockey. At the end of the day, people who come to golf tournaments, that’s what they want to talk about … hockey, not their golf game.”
Goring enjoys getting the chance to visit communities like Timmins in the off season and lend a helping hand to groups like the Timmins Rock.
“I have a lot of respect for small towns,” he said.
“I lived in Dauphin, Man., which is a town of 12,000 people, so I am very comfortable in small towns.”
Goring finished his Junior ‘A’ career playing for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League Kings in Dauphin.
“When you play for or against teams from small towns, the fans are always into the game,” he said.
“It’s like the only thing to do and the only thing you should be doing, so the support is always great and I understand the support here in Timmins is fabulous and I would expect nothing less.”
While Clark drove up to Timmins this time around, Goring flew into the community.
“I really enjoyed the flight in to Timmins,” he said.
“I couldn’t help but notice this winding river going back and forth, back and forth. It looked very interesting.”
In addition to the two former NHL stars, a number of Timmins Rock players including forwards Wayne Mathieu and Stewart Parenell, defenceman Lucas Dolanjski, goalie Eric Jackson and affiliate players Evan Kentish-Stack and Cameron Svec took part in the tournament.
“I played with a couple of the young guys and we had a good time,” said Mathieu, now one of the elder statesmen of the NOJHL squad.
“We weren’t really that competitive out there. We just had some fun.”
Two other Timmins products — forward Danny Katic, of the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, and forward Derek Seguin, of the Brantford, 99ers, of the GOJHL — also took part in the tournament.
Rock president Ted Gooch was also smiles while contemplating the success of Thursday’s event.
“Registrations are up and the weather is perfect,” he said, while waiting to tee off on No. 10.
“We have the celebrities out here hitting balls onto the par-threes giving the golfers a chance to win entries for some prizes by out-hitting the pros. We have had a lot of feedback from the golfers and they are very happy with who we were able to bring in for this year’s tournament.”
“Fans have an intimate environment to talk to Wendel and Butch while they are on the course and during the dinner that follows.”
A prime rib dinner was held at Spruce Needles after the final putt was sunk on Thursday, with plenty of silent auction items to help raise a little extra cash.
Some of the more popular items were a seat from the Montreal Forum autographed by Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur that brought in $1,050, a personalized and autographed Wendel Clark jersey that raised $600, as well as framed and autographed Mitch Marner and Carey Price photos that each went for $400.
“I believe last year we raised about $5,000 with the golf tournament,” Gooch said.
“Anything north of that this year will be a bonus.”
Final figures were not available at press time, but it certainly seems this year’s event should have well exceeded that 2016 total.