By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – More than 1,100 fans turned out to watch the Timmins Rock retired Steve Sullivan’s No. 26 jersey at the McIntyre Arena Sunday afternoon.
Sullivan, who played with the franchise — then known as the Golden Bears — during its first season in the NOJHL, came close to missing the ceremony but the determination that saw the diminutive forward carve out a 1,011-game NHL career, helped him overcome a some travel issues.
“I drove from Michigan to Windsor last night,” Sullivan said during the intermission between the second and third period of Sunday afternoon’s contest.
“I pulled into the hotel around 12:15 a.m. and I had a 4:30 a.m. wake up call to get my 6 a.m. flight out of Windsor and when I woke up at 4:30 a.m. I had a text message telling me my flight was cancelled because of fog.
“So, I jumped in the car right away and made my way to Toronto to try to catch my 9 a.m. connecting flight out of Toronto. I may have broken a few speeding laws on the way, but I was just barely able to make the flight and make it here.
“I wasn’t going to be denied.”
During his playing career, Sullivan was known as one of the fastest players in the NHL … on the ice.
“Thank God it was really early in the morning and there was nobody on the road,” he said.
The prospect of having more than 1,000 fans show up for the occasion and him not being here to accept the honour motivated Sullivan.
“I was extremely nervous when I first got the text,” he said.
“It crossed my mind, but I did not want to disappoint the fans. The team put in a lot of effort to put this together.”
The travel challenges made Sunday’s ceremony all the sweeter for Sullivan.
“It did, it really did, just to know that I didn’t miss it,” he said.
“It was great. It’s always fun to come home, to be able to see all the kids here and the people who came out tonight.
“It is a humbling experience knowing they are coming to see you. I have been lucky enough to have had a long career and I really appreciate the fans want to come and experience it with me.”
There were no shortage of well-wishers at Sunday’s game.
“A lot of the former Timmins Golden Bears people who were part of that organization are here today to help me celebrate the day,” Sullivan said.
“I am very appreciative of them coming out. It means a lot. Obviously this is a new era and a new hockey club, but I still think there is a lot of history to this hockey club. It goes back to that inaugural season. To be able to intertwine both teams together is kind of a neat thing.
“I am really pulling for this thing to work. This can be a real stepping stone for a lot of kids.”
In addition to his role as a development coach for the now Arizona Coyotes, Sullivan also serves a senior advisor with the Rock, but Sunday was his first opportunity to see the squad play in person.
“It’s a little bad luck that our goalie (Logan Ferrington) went down early,” he said, during a break between the second and third periods.
“A couple of the goals he let in were probably because of the injury.
“That kind of put us behind the eight ball, but they are resilient group and they have been fighting back. They put themselves into a position to win the third period and get something out of it.”
It’s no coincidence the Rock had their largest crowd of the season — 1,123 — on the afternoon they retired Sullivan’s No. 26 jersey.
“It’s a great crowd and I am glad everyone came out,” he said.
“It’s a little overwhelming, but its good. Everything went off without a hitch and hopefully the fans enjoyed it.”
Timmins Mayor Steven Black, NOJHL Commissioner Robert Mazzuca and Rock President Scott Marshall all said a few words before Sullivan was presented with his maroon No. 26 Rock jersey.
The jersey will eventually be featured in a display case in the lobby of the McIntyre Arena.
Marshall was extremely pleased with Sunday’s jersey-retirement ceremony.
“I think things went really well and I think Steve really put a lot of time and effort into his address to the fans,” he said.
“It was heartfelt and it was just perfect. It really was.”
Given the big boost in attendance the team received from the jersey-retirement ceremony, it’s too bad the team can’t repeat it again and again.
“Well, if he was willing to make that trip, it is something we could consider,” Marshall joked.
“We used the maroon jersey tonight. We could use his white jersey, or put numbers on his right glove, his left glove.”
Following Sunday’s game, Sullivan, Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne, himself a former NHL players, and all of the Rock players were on hand in the Molson Canadian Hockey House to sign autographs for the fans.
Fans young and old lined up for their chance to get some signatures, shake hands with Sullivan and Gagne and have their photo taken with the former NHLers.
“It was cool,” said Josh Landers-Letgendorff, describing getting a chance to meet Sullivan.
It was Landers-Letgendorff first Rock game and he said he had a good time and might attend more games in the future.