GALLERY: Rock golf delivers new vehicle

The foursome of Mitch Gagnon, John Pilon, Chris Brousseau and Riley Brouseau hoisted the championship trophy at the conclusion of the third-annual Timmins Rock NHL Celebrity Golf Tournament Saturday at the Hollinger Golf Club.

Thomas Perry
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It was Bruno Gendron, however, who had the biggest smile on his face following 18 holes of golf.

After all, sinking the first hole-in-one in your life and winning a 2018 KIA Soul would be enough to make anybody smile.

With former New York Islanders star goaltender Billy Smith looking on, Gendron drained his ace on No. 8.

“I have been playing golf for years, but I am not very good at it,” Gendron said.

“I never get a good swing, so I had no idea the ball was going into the hole. Everybody else said, ‘I can’t see the ball,’ it looks like it is gone.”

Gendron didn’t really have any aspirations of greatness when he stepped up to the tee on No. 8.

“All I wanted to do was win the Billy Smith jersey (drawn from all the golfers who were able to out-drive the retired goalie on the hole),” he said.

“I didn’t expect to win the car, a nice KIA.”

Like the vast majority of the golfers taking part in the tournament, Gendron had just one simple goal in mind when the day started.

“I was just looking to support the Rock,” he said.

“This was a really great event. I think (former NHL star) Shayne Corson shook everybody’s hand four times.

“Billy Smith is really funny. He was on the hole that I won the car. I didn’t get a chance to see (two-time Stanley Cup winning former Pittsburgh Penguins star) Kevin Stevens yet, but hopefully I will see him in a while.”

Gendron and his teammates — Cederic Bradette and Rock assistant coaches James Daschuk and Marc Bisson — have taken part in all three of the tournaments the Rock have organized since the franchise returned to Timmins from Iroquois Falls.

“Last year, we won the tournament,” he said.

While Smith and Stevens each took turns trying to out-drive the four-person teams when they came to the par-three holes they were stationed at, Corson was unable to swing a club on Saturday.

“I am a terrible golfer and I am not going to be hitting any balls today,” he said during a press conference before the start of the tournament.

“I have had four hip surgeries in the last year or so. I will be chatting with the golfers, signing some autographs and posing for some pictures.”

Like Timmins’ own Frank Mahovlich, Corson played for both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens among his NHL stops — although in reverse order — and like the Big M, wore No. 27 for both Canadian NHL clubs.

“I was definitely a Frank Mahovlich fan, for sure, but I was also a Darryl Sittler fan,” Corson said.

“Growing up in Barrie, 45 minutes north of Toronto, I was a big Leafs fan and I loved Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Mike Palmateer and Ian Turnbull.

“That was one of the reasons I wore No. 27. Another reason was when I got drafted by Montreal I had worn No. 9 in junior and I wasn’t going to get to wear No. 9 in Montreal. There was some guy (Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard) there whose number was retired.”

Corson misses playing the game of hockey, but he has no problems keeping busy.

“We are very active in the community and I try to give back to charities,” he said.

“We do a lot of work with the NHL Alumni, the Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni, the Montreal Canadiens Alumni.

“We make a lot of appearances at events like this to try and help organizations like the Rock raise money. We really enjoy working with charities and helping communities raise money for sports.”

Between this past weekend and this coming April, Corson already has 60 events booked.

“They are just staring to roll in,” he said.

“Some months I will do 15-18 events. I try to do as many as I can because I enjoy getting out and meeting people.”

Corson got to play a game he loves during his NHL days and in two cities where hockey is king.

“Montreal and Toronto are two of the greatest sports towns, never mind just hockey towns,” he said.

“To be able to play a game I love and get paid to do it was just incredible. I loved playing everywhere. The personal stats and all that are great, but the memories and the friendships you create playing hockey are great.”

If there is one regret Corson has from his days as an NHL player, it’s that he never got to hoist the Stanley Cup.

“Everybody always has to bring that up, but yes, every time I am asked about the biggest regret I have from playing hockey, I have to say it is the opportunity to actually raise the cup,” he said.

“The closest I got was in 1989 when we lost to Calgary. They beat us in Game 6 in Montreal, which wasn’t fun.

“This year, one of my son’s buddies, Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals, won the cup.

“So, we got invited to the Stanley Cup party. I got pretty close to it, but I didn’t touch it. You have to earn the right to touch it.

“I got a picture with Tommy and the cup, but I didn’t touch it.

“There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about not winning the cup. Your ultimate goal as a hockey player is to win that cup and raise it over my head.”

There are, of course, hundreds of great NHL players who did not get the chance to win a Stanley Cup, either.

Stevens, part of some great Penguins teams, earned two Stanley Cup rings during his time in Pittsburgh.

Those teams, of course, featured the great Mario Lemieux.

“We both kind of came in at the same time,” Stevens said.

“Mario is just a great guy and a great player. It was nice to play with somebody who really wanted the puck. I just had to get to the net and open up some ice for him.

“We played off each other for a long time.”

Stevens’ path to the NHL led the Boston native through college hockey in the United States instead of major junior hockey.

“I didn’t know I was going to be able to play pro hockey,” he said.

“I kind of developed late. I played four years at Boston College and then went to the Olympic team. I didn’t go to the pros until I was 22 or 23 years old.

“You don’t have to be an all-star at 18 years old. You can develop later and still play in the NHL.”

Stevens is a staunch believer in the college or university route for players like those on the Rock roster.

“I have two sons, one who is in college now at Yale and my other guy is also going to play at Yale,” he said.

“For us, growing up as Americans, that is kind of the route we push our kids. There are only 1 or 2% of kids who end up playing in the NHL.

“If you are fortunate enough to make it, great, but it is also good to have an education to fall back on.”

Like Corson, Stevens does a lot of charity events in the course of any given year.

“I still work with the Penguins, as well, doing some college scouting,” he said.

“It is great to be part of that organization, with guys like Mario and Mark Recchi, all of those guys. All of my buddies work there, so it is nice to be back in that loop with hockey.

“It is always nice to watch hockey games and I get to watch my kid play and get paid a little bit to do it.”

So, how would the college scout, who covers from New York down to Maine, assess his two sons, who both play left wing like dad?

“My older guy (Luke) was drafted by Carolina in the fourth round,” Stevens said.

“He is a big, 6-5 guy who can skate. I don’t know if he is going to be able to score, as much as I did. You have to be able to play with the right centre.

“My younger guy (Ryan), who is also going to go to Yale, is a pretty good player, too. His draft year was this year, but he broke his leg, so he was out like nine months with three surgeries.

“Hopefully, next year he will be able to get drafted.”

Smith, who was part of the great Islanders dynasty, has four Stanley Cup rings to his name.

He had a simple piece of advice for the Rock goalies in attendance at the tournament.

“Every day you get to be out there on the ice, you have to have fun,” he said.

“If you get down, or start thinking the wrong way all it’s going to do is cost you more goals. If I had the experience I have now, I would forget everything.”

Smith played almost his entire career in a New York Islanders uniform, with just five games as a Los Angeles King as he was breaking into the NHL.

“When I came up, I was young, just 20 years old,” Smith said.

“I likely wouldn’t have gotten into the NHL if not for expansion. The Kings had Rogie Vachon and Gary Edwards.

“My first year in the American Hockey League, we won the Calder Cup and my second year, before they brought me up I would have been easily on the first all-star team, but because of the way things were done back then, I might have been in the minors for another three or four years.”

The art of goaltender has changed significantly since Smith was strapping on the pads with the Islanders.

“My pads were only eight inches wide and now they are 11 inches,” he said.

“People say, ‘well, it’s only three inches,’ and I say yes, per pad.

“I was a fair-sized guy at 5-10, but now I am coaching (with the OHL’s Barrie Colts) a kid who is 6-3.

“So, yes, it is different. It is more blocking now. What I try to teach now is a little bit of what I did, don’t just block the puck, control it. I think if they can bring that into their game, it is going to help them 100%.”

Smith played against some pretty talented offensive players in his day, so it would be impossible to narrow down to just one who gave him trouble.

“You look at certain teams, like Edmonton,” he said.

“They had (Jari) Kurri, (Wayne) Gretzky, (Mark) Messier and (Paul) Coffey. You look at our team, we had (Mike Bossy) and (Brian) Trottier. You can go down the list. You can pick three or four players from just about every team in the NHL.

“Today, there are even more guys who can shoot the puck and it’s a faster league because of all the rule changes.”

So, does working with the Colts help keep Smith young?

“I don’t think anything is keeping me young at my age,” he said, with a chuckle.

“You get up in the morning and the next thing you know you are going back to bed.”

Rock president Ted Gooch was pleased with how everything came together so nicely for the NOJHL team’s tournament.

“We had a good turnout today and after the cool weather this morning, we were happy to see the sun come out,” he said.

“Golfers love this kind of weather and the elements were perfect.”

The tournament attracted 102 golfers, with an additional 20 people attending the dinner and auction that followed the event.

“We added a little competitive element this year, with the championship trophy,” Gooch said.

“That might help us attract some more competitive golfers in the future.”

The tournament helps raise funds for the Rock each year.

“All profit is good,” Gooch said.

“We seem to average about $5,000 per event and that is really good to help offset the expenses we incur over the summer when the team is not on the ice.

“It allows us to get the season off to a good start.”

In addition to serving as a great fundraiser and being a fun time, the tournament was a great way for the Rock players who attended to meet many of their new teammates.

“It is a lot easier for them to do that in a casual environment like this, as opposed to walking into the dressing room for the first time with their bags over their shoulders,” Gooch said.

The Rock held off-ice activities on Sunday and they will take to the ice for the first time on Monday at the McIntyre Arena, at 9 p.m., as they get ready for the first of three exhibition games on Saturday at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls, with the Cochrane Crunch serving as the opposition.