There are two distinct moments in my life I will never forget: The birth of my children, and where I was the last time I ever took off my Team Canada jersey.
It was December 17, 2005 in Piestany, Slovakia. I was at the Loto Cup, representing Canada in an insignificant men’s tournament that was a warm-up to the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, which NHL players would participate in.
I couldn’t tell you the score of the game or who we even played, but I will never forget how I sat there in my stall at the end of the game staring at the crest and not wanting to take it off because I knew it would be my last.
Much like the arena, the dressing room was old and seedy, the room reeked of mould, sweat and hockey equipment. Yet it was perfect, a representation of what wearing the Canadian jersey represented to me.
My personal experience playing for Canada was never about a posh hotel, being pampered, spoiled, or playing for big money. It was staying in tiny hotels in places like Russia, where the food was something you couldn’t even stand the smell of, let alone eat. It was travelling thousands of miles to tiny, obscure countries all over the world spreading the love of the game and playing in front of adults and kids who could not speak a word of English, but would be over-the-top excited just to see a real Canadian hockey player.
As I stared at the crest on the front of my jersey, I began to tear up and a million memories flooded my mind.
I spent one magical season travelling the world playing hockey with players from all over Canada who barely knew each other, and we capped it off with a silver medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
In that Olympic tournament one of the greatest moments in hockey history happened when Peter Forsberg scored on me in a sudden death shootout with a move no one had ever seen before, leading Sweden to its first Olympic gold medal.
NHL players use it today and it’s known simply known as ‘The Forsberg’.
This historical moment came from a group of non-NHL players, on both Sweden and Canada. Anyone ever hear of Ken Lovsin, Derek Mayer or Greg Parks? How about Brad Schlegal, Mark Astley or Al Roy?
All of them were on that Canadian team.
Did anyone even know who Todd Hlushko, Adrian Aucoin, Chris Therien, Greg Johnson, or Brian Savage were before the 1994 Olympics? Did anyone know who I was?
The answer is most likely no.
Each of these players had different stories and life paths. Some would go on to have long careers in the NHL, some would have a cup of coffee, and for the rest this would be their only moment in the sun. All of us, though, were no different from the players we’ll see on Canada’s Olympic hockey team this year.
I know where these guys have been, how much they have sacrificed and how far they have travelled to be able to wear the Canadian jersey.
I know the same feeling these players had when an NHL door was slammed in their face, or when they were called into the coach’s office to be told they were being sent to the minors again. I know what it’s like when you go through that last lonely summer where the phone doesn’t ring and you realize the NHL dream is truly dead.
But you keep going and keep fighting, and every time Hockey Canada calls, you jump at the chance to put on that jersey just one more time.
To me, these men representing Canada at the 2018 Olympics symbolize and represent everything we are as Canadians. They have the character to keep their head up when life puts us down. They have the pride to get back up and take another shot even if at some point they felt all hope was lost. They have the resilience to keep moving forward, and the heart to fight through adversity.
As I fought back tears all those years ago and finally took my Canadian jersey off, I didn’t do it because I wanted to, but I had to pass it on.
These men deserve to wear it just as much as I did in 1994.
Do us proud boys. Go Canada Go.