THE AFICIONADO: HOCKEY TALK with ALAN THICKE
It’s a familiar post for seasoned actor/songwriter/TV host Alan Thicke, watching the game.
Thicke, best known for his role as patriarch Dr. Jason Seaver on ABC’s hit ’80s sitcom Growing Pains, is perhaps second-best known for being famous and Canadian and a rabid hockey fan. (Especially for those too young to remember Canadian game show First Impressions.)
We caught up with Thicke to chat puck as he and his son watched a Toronto Blue Jays game last week. The Ontario native, now 65, made the trip back to his home province for a Joe Carter charity golf event and to play in Don Cherry’s Hockey Night in Barrie fundraiser.
An L.A. resident, Thicke's life as a Kings fan dates back to when Charlie Simmer was just warming up (“You gotta pull for where you live,” he reasons). And he has fond memories about worshipping the 1950s Habs and why Wayne Gretzky’s trade to the Kings in 1988 meant Thicke had to find a new babysitter for his son, R&B heartthrob Robin Thicke.
As with all Canadians who have been famous for more than 10 years, Gretzky and Thicke are close.
How closely are you following the NHL labour negotiations?
It’s not exactly as exciting as the Kings winning the Cup. It’s a bunch of lawyers sitting down trying to figure out how to make a buck. I understand the plan is to keep talking, but they’re opening camp in about two weeks now, so I’m sure some of the fellas are a little nervous.
What’s the best negotiating advice you’ve ever received?
Do your due diligence with the “comps.” Like buying real estate, find out what the comparables are in the neighbourhood. The fact that salaries are public knowledge now and available for every agent makes life tough for management and easier for the players. Study the comps; know your value in the marketplace.
Even though you’re Canadian, you’re a Kings fan above all. Were you at the Cup-clinching game?
I was sitting right there with my son and enjoying every moment. I’ve been going to the Kings games for 42 years.
Incredible. How many a year do you go to?
Not many, because I actually live outside of town in Santa Barbara, but I get to my share and I follow them closely. I’m friends with some of the guys in management. I started life as a Montreal fan. I was born in Kirkland Lake (Ont.), about 30 miles from the Quebec border, and I went through my Maple Leafs phase, but I figure you gotta root regionally. You gotta pull for where you live, so I got a longstanding relationship with the Kings.
What’s your earliest hockey memory?
Back in the ’50s dynasty of the Canadiens, when they had Dickie Moore and Bernie Geoffrion and Doug Harvey and (Phil) Goyette. All those fellas were essentially the ones I grew up on. I lined up at autograph shows and got autographs of those guys like any kid would do, and those were great days. I lived in Ottawa at the time, and Ottawa had the Junior Canadiens – Montreal’s farm club. (Habs coach) Claude Ruel came up through that organization, (as did) Ralph Backstrom, who was from my hometown. So I got to a couple of those games as a very young kid with my dad. That was the beginning for me.
I imagine you’ve shaken hands with scores of NHLers over the years. Who were you most thrilled to meet?
I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of my heroes, but Ralph Backstrom might have been it. Since he was the first, and I was about 13 at the time. I met him up in cottage country, in Kirkland Lake, where we were both from. So for a young kid like that… I remember him hopping in our boat, and we gave him a quick ride around the lake. That was a big deal. But I have gotten to meet some of my favourites over the years and have become friends with some of them, so as a hockey groupie, that’s been a thrill to get on the ice with them.
How often do you play yourself these days?
I get on the ice fairly often. Thursday night I (played) up in Barrie at a charity event. Don Cherry is coaching, and Corey Perry’s there. It’s Cherry and Perry in Barrie. Who could resist that? And my son is playing now in Santa Barbara, so it extends my career a bit by getting to play with him. I play in Gretzky’s fantasy camp every year and charity exhibition games. I’m not getting any faster, but I like it.
Tell me your best Gretzky story.
I was reminded of it a few days ago on the occasion of the anniversary of his trade from Edmonton to Los Angeles (on Aug. 9, 1988). He was house-sitting at my house in L.A. the night he got traded. I was in Norway with my other son (Brennan), and Wayne and Janet were house-sitting for my son Robin (11 years old at the time). I called from Norway because I picked up the Oslo morning paper and saw pictures of Gretzky -- but I couldn’t understand the text, of course. And I thought maybe there had been a fire, a mudslide, a drive-by shooting, who knows? So I called home, and I learned Wayne left early in the morning; he got traded last night. He got the call at about 9 p.m., and he was gone by 6 the next morning. So we had to find a substitute nanny instantly, which is not as bad as what Edmonton had to find to replace him.