Turns out, you don’t have to take a run at Wayne Gretzky to find yourself on the business end of a Marty McSorley body-check. You could be any ol’ raggedy-socked hack who wishes he had strapped on shoulder pads after all.
So later in the period, when you spot the 48-year-old two-time Stanley Cup winner in the corner, you decide to return the favour. Because, hey, when else will you ever have an opportunity to check a man with 3,381 NHL penalty minutes to his name?
As your 170 pounds bounce off his 235, the gregarious six-footer with two artificial hips lets out a contagious chuckle. You are a pebble catapulting yourself at a boulder. No harm is done.
In fact, only good is done.
The fun-loving McSorley is merely one of more than 50 NHL alumni participating in the eighth annual Scotiabank Pro-Am in Toronto, an event that, according to NHL Alumni Association president Mark Napier, has raised more than $20 million for the Gordie & Colleen Howe Fund for Alzheimer’s.
McSorley enters a dressing room with plate of pineapple and offers a pre-game bite to the other players.
“It’s about time you eat some fruit,” snaps 40-goal-scorer Jeff O’Neill, 36.
“You’re one to talk,” McSorley joshes back. “How many chinstraps you got for that helmet?”
Though they may not be in NHL game shape, when it comes to hockey tales and friendly put-downs, the alumni haven’t lost a step.
“Our guys get in the locker room and we have a blast,” says McSorley, who was joined in the shinny tournament over the May 5-6 weekend by such legends as Denis Savard, Lanny McDonald and Wendel Clark — all of whom played alongside teams made up of Joe Beerleaguers 25 years of age and up, provided they raised $25,000 per team.
“They get to sit and hear a lot of stories. The whole camaraderie thing is what they find a lot of fun. No matter where we played, we’re all buddies when we’re done playing the game,” says Clark, who has been involved since the tournament’s inception.
Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, one of the world’s elite neuroscience labs and the beneficiary of the funds, is developing a virtual brain* to study the effects athletic impact and aging have on dementia.
“Every year they raise over $2 million, and it’s pretty remarkable what they do. I think everybody knows somebody who’s been associated with some kind of head trauma or Alzheimer’s, so that’s why we’re all here,” says Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour, who witnessed a family member struggle with dementia. “It’s a horrible thing to see someone go through.”
As one-name hockey greats from Gordie to CuJo mix and mingle at a pre-tournament luncheon in Toronto’s Distillery District, a man with enough chmapionship rings for all but three of his fingers stands back and observes.
“The whole atmosphere around this is great. You’re with hockey fans, you’re talking about your experiences in the game,” says 55-year-old Bryan Trottier, whose illustrious NHL resume spans 18 seasons. “For us, it’s a great chance to reunite with old teammates and old adversaries and talk hockey for two or three days.”
As you look around this room, who would be an adversary?
“They’re all adversaries. They’re all creeps,” Trottier jokes. “No, they’re all great guys. We all come from basically the same background. A lot of us don’t talk hockey; we talk family. ‘What are you up to now?’ That kinda thing. It’s fun to run into some of the same faces and some of the younger guys. I’ve gotten to know Todd Simpson real well. He lives up in Kelowna; I got to meet his family. That’s a fun opportunity.”
Mike Krushelnyski, 52, loves hopping over the boards at these alumni events, but even as he devotedly watches the playoffs unfold on television every night, he feels no longing for what used to be.
“As fast as we were going (in shinny), those guys are going 100 miles per hour faster, and that puck is moving so much harder,” Krushelnyski says. “No, I’m content with our alumni hockey going 20 miles per hour.”
As much as sharing the rink with a bunch of Cup winners is a recipe for fooling yourself, the McSorley body-checks are probably little a more manageable at this stage, too.
*Napier, deadpan, explains that it was his brain that was mapped for Baycrest’s prototype. How does he know? “Because if you ask it to backcheck, it refuses,” he says.