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My Hockey Brother from another Mother

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My Hockey Brother from another Mother

It has been said that everyone has a twin somewhere in this world, a mirror image of one’s self. Whether it be physical appearance or personality, i believe we all have a twin, somewhere. 

What would be the odds of a chance meeting your twin?  

Would not the odds be enormous, almost lottery-like to actually meet this person, especially if they lived on the other side of the world?

I have never won the lottery, but I did find my twin, and although we physically did not look alike, Chris from Nottingham England was my hockey twin. Was it possible that someone from across the big pond, born in England, could be a hockey clone to a red-blooded Canadian boy? 

Yes.

I first met Chris on Friday, Oct. 27, 1995. I had been invited to a Friday luncheon at Wayne Gretzky’s downtown Toronto restaurant.  The Los Angeles Kings had arrived in Toronto late the previous evening after a game in Ottawa. Wayne was scheduled to appear at the noon luncheon for a meet-and-greet with some invited fans.

I was lucky to be one of those invited fans, this would be my second time meeting Gretzky, the last time was when he played for the Oilers in Edmonton.

The sport of hockey had been enjoying resurgence in the States after the big trade that saw Gretzky traded to the Kings back in August of '88. Gretzky had single-handedly brought the sport of hockey to the forefront of the American sports fan.

Hockey was now in vogue.

The Kings were finally playing before capacity crowds at the old Los Angeles Forum, as well as sold out crowds in cities that never had experienced hockey sell-outs. Wayne had always been the NHL’s top draw since he entered the league back in the 1979-80 season. He was even more so now.

With the glitzy Hollywood movie star crowd now befriending the Great One, the curiosity became overwhelming as fans eagerly awaited their opportunity to watch hockey’s greatest ambassador play live.

Wayne always loved playing before hockey crazed Toronto crowds, but the demand on his off-ice time seemed to never subside with the Toronto media following his every move.

What made this day special for me? I was going to meet my hockey hero in a very intimate, close-up environment along with a few dozen others that were in possession of the coveted lunch invitation. 

What made this lunch special for Wayne? No media in sight.

It was close to noon when Wayne and head coach Larry Robinson arrived. I was able to get Wayne to sign a poster and have a couple pictures taken with him. He had been very cordial, as he met with every fan that had been invited that afternoon.

At about 2 pm, Gretzky left to head up to the Gardens for a late afternoon team practice.

Sitting a couple tables over from my table was a guy sitting by himself. He was younger than me, but what was strange about this individual was not the fact he was  by himself, but the fact he had a large hockey bag sitting on the floor beside him.

"Who brings their hockey equipment to a restaurant and then brings the bag right to his table?" I wondered.

I had to find out.

I walked over to his table and introduced myself, and he told me his name was Chris. I asked him why he had brought his hockey equipment to his table and left the big bag just lying on the floor.

I told this stranger that I just was curious; I had to satisfy my curiosity—that is why I had approached him.

“Oh, that’s not my hockey equipment,” he told me. “I just arrived from England, and I did not have a suitcase so I used my hockey bag as my luggage,” he added.

Blimey, I was intrigued.

It turns out that this guy was a British Mike Allder, my hockey clone, so much so that he was able to purchase a last row Grey seat for the Leafs and Kings game the following night online through Ticketmaster from his home town of Nottingham.

He had flown in from England for this weekend, arriving a few hours before our meeting and would be leaving on Sunday night.

Chris loved hockey. He played ice hockey even though ice time was scarce, and he played it a couple times a week. He attended every home game of the Nottingham Panthers, which was his hometown team.

He lived hockey and most of all he was like me, a huge Wayne Gretzky fan.  That is why he was sitting in the restaurant that afternoon; he. like everyone else there, admired the Great One.

I was speechless. I could not fathom that a person would hop on a plane, travel half way around the world to sit in the last row of Maple Leaf Gardens just to see Wayne Gretzky play live. Now that's a hockey fan, or should I say, FANATIC.

What would happen in the next couple of hours would make Chris’s trip a great trip.

I asked Chris if he would like to go up to the Gardens and watch Gretzky and the Kings practice.

What was I saying?

I couldn't get us in to watch a pee wee team practice let alone the Los Angeles Kings and Wayne Gretzky.

“I would love to.” “Can you really get us in?” his face beaming.

“Sure,” I said. “Let’s go.”

We left Gretzky’s restaurant, and on our way out, passed by the table where Baywatch boy wonder David Hasselhoff was sitting with a crowd of female admirers. He was in town filming a movie and had also stopped by for lunch.  

We drove up to the Gardens. I parked my car right in front of the main entrance with the hazard lights flashing. Luckily, as soon as we entered, Leaf GM Cliff Fletcher and Bill Waters were passing by the lobby, and I asked Cliff if he could possibly get my new found friend into practice.

“We just finished practice,” Cliff responded.

“Mr Fletcher, Chris has come all the way from England. Not to see the Leafs but to watch the Kings and Gretzky play tomorrow night. He would love to watch the Kings practice." I said.

Cliff explained that he had no control over who was allowed to watch other teams practices; usually the practices were closed to all public. He suggested we go around to the player’s entrance, ask to speak to the Kings PR director and tell him our story.

We quickly ran around the back of the Gardens only to be met by a swarm of fans, young and old alike, all waiting for practice to end, with the anticipation of Kings' players signing autographs before boarding the team bus, which was idling on Wood Street.

Chris and I inched ourselves through the crowd until we were face to face with Gardens security. I explained that we were here to see the PR director for the Kings and that Mr. Fletcher, his boss, had sent us.

It worked.

Within 10 minutes, the gentlemen showed up and I explained the story about Chris coming all the way from England to see Gretzky play once again.

“We have a closed practice, no one is admitted to watch practice, not even media,” we were told.

“But wait here; I will see what I can do,” he said, as he walked back into the Gardens, disappearing down the narrow corridor.

I definitely thought that we were not getting in, period.

I felt like such an idiot that I had even suggested that I thought we could.

Chris and I waited for about 10 more minutes, and while waiting for the PR guy to come back, not even knowing if he would for sure, I learned that Chris was quite eager to join me and my NWAA buddies in our weekly Saturday game at midnight.

“What about equipment? I don’t have any extra skates," I asked.

“I will go out by taxi and buy the kit tomorrow if I can play with you guys tomorrow night,” he said.

“Are you serious?” I could not believe it, but this guy was serious.

Was he really going to buy all new equipment just to play with me and my friends for a lousy hour?

The PR director returned. “Where is the guy from England?”

We both made our way to the door where I was stopped with a hand to my chest “Sorry, just the guy from England,” as he escorted Chris in to watch Gretzky and left me standing in the cold drizzle.

I had actually gotten Chris in to watch Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings practice. I had even impressed myself.

I had also forgotten all about my car as I sprinted back, luckily it was still there, parked in front with no ticket on the windshield, hazards still flashing.

The following evening, I met Chris during the first intermission. He had a great time watching the practice and met quite a few players including Gretzky who had skated over to say hello.

Chris told me that he had indeed gone out that afternoon and purchased an all new hockey kit at a cost of just over $900.00.

After the game, we drove up to the rink and the looks on the guys' faces when I introduced Chris was priceless. “This is Chris, he’s from England, and he bought all new equipment this afternoon so he could skate with us tonight.” I said.

I was very curious to see how this guy from England could play.

I was pleasantly surprised.

He was a good skater, and by far was not the worst player on the ice that night. He held his own for the hour and even scored a couple of goals.

The one thing that was quite obvious was he just did not have that hockey sense; a sixth sense that all Canadian kids seem born with.

He could skate, but seemed to be out of position most the game.

Chris loved his outing playing hockey and drinking beer with us`good ol' Canadian boys.`

After the game, we had the rink manager take a group photo, and Chris mailed me a copy when he got home. 

Chris returned twice to Canada over the next couple years, the first time with a friend. We drove to Buffalo to watch Gretzky and the Kings play the Sabres. The three of us were sitting in the old Aud, when they announced Gretzky was scratched from the lineup; he was traded to St Louis a couple days later.

What made Chris probably a bigger hockey fanatic than me was manifested on his last trip to Canada. Chris had just got married, and along with his new bride, they had decided to spend their honeymoon renting a car driving around Ontario, catching as many Major Junior A games as possible in 10 days.

I think they were able to catch six games over the 10-day honeymoon.

I visited England myself a few years ago, but I had lost Chris’ phone number, and I don’t think I ever got his last name. It would have been nice to renew our friendship.

Who knows: Maybe someday I will walk into a restaurant and there will be a man having lunch with his three kids, and on the floor will be four hockey bags.

I will just walk over to the table, hold out my hand, and welcome my ‘hockey brother from a another mother.’

We will catch up then.

 

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