NHLers boost Special Olympics

Special Olympian Steven Linemayr holds an Edmonton jersey with Oiler head coach Tom Renney; - Kevin Mitchell/Morning Star
Special Olympian Steven Linemayr holds an Edmonton jersey with Oiler head coach Tom Renney;
— image credit: Kevin Mitchell/Morning Star

Kevin Mitchell

Sports Editor

They told hockey stories, posed for photos and raised thousands of dollars for the Vernon Special Olympics, Friday night at the Temptasian Restaurant.

Hall of Famer Howie Meeker, who won four Stanley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs, offered his explanation for the Canucks’ loss to the Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals.

“I call it the horses, thanks to Max Bentley years ago,” said Meeker, 87. “There are runners bred for speed and there are runners bred for muddy tracks. The Vancouver Canucks were built for speed and the mudders were the Boston Bruins. The Boston Bruins, over four series, probably 25, 26 games, they were bigger, they were stronger and they were better mudders, by far.”

The 1947 NHL Rookie of the Year with Toronto said he watches hockey to be entertained, not overly concerned with who wins.

“The Sedins are probably the greatest minds next to Wayne Gretzky who have ever played in the National Hockey League. In the regular season, they had a second longer to make all those gorgeous plays, but in the playoffs the attackers are right on you.”

Meeker, who lives in Parksville with his wife, Leah, said he joined Special Olympics as a director in 1948 and has ben involved ever since.

“This is a wonderful crew, John Topping and all the volunteers,” said Meeker, who tossed the dysfunctional mic aside and used his booming Hockey Night in Canada voice. “You people make it work. You pay the big bucks.”

Meeker said winning the Stanley Cup during the original-six days only took eight games, proclaiming 16 wins was a tough chore.

“We were done in May. We were gone fishing or back home making love.”

New York Ranger full-time scout Ernie Gare called Topping a “special man” during his address which Meeker figured went too long. “Gawd Ernie, it’s nine o’clock. It’s my bedtime.”

“Our family has fond connections to Special Olympics,” said Gare, a 19-year NHL bird-dog. “My wife Debbie’s sister, Jody Sammartino, was part of the Special Olympics program (as a swimmer) and it certainly enriched Jody’s life.”

Gare, whose oldest son Lanny, was a key part of the 1999 Royal Bank Cup champion Vernon Vipers, recognized Viper owner Duncan Wray for outstanding service as a junior A hockey team owner, while also noting that emcee Patrick Nicol, a Vernon councillor, was actually “part of a far-reaching cult which wears blue and white jerseys; Patrick is a Maple Leaf fan.”

Quipped Gare: “Apparently, people in Calgary were pretty interested in the Vancouver riot the other night, especially the fires. Guess they haven’t seen Flames in two months.”

Edmonton Oilers head coach Tom Renney, who is Gare’s brother-in-law, was attending the University of North Dakota when he became a student organizer with the Special Olympics.

“It was an engaging and important time for me,” Renney told the crowd of 160. “My two brothers from Cranbrook had come to visit me and I was in the fieldhouse and on the track and they were up in the stands crying. If they can move a couple of rednecks from Cranbrook, they can move anything.”

Joey Moss, perhaps the most famous Special Olympian in Canada, has been on the Oilers’ staff for 30 years, and Renney said he’s considered family.

“Every generation of Oiler players love him and he is so symbolic of the honesty and truth of Special Olympians. You can’t help but love the guy.”

Renney, who brought a couple of autographed Taylor Hall jerseys for the auction, urged guests to never underestimate Special Olympians.

“People are drawn to them because they represent truth, humility and a passion for the little sport they’re in.”

Jerred Smithson and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators were special guests at the banquet, donating autographed jerseys to the cause. They fielded questions from the crowd and Nicol, a sports statistics fanatic and historian.

Nicol offered Special Olympic swimmer Steven Linemayr the first question, suggesting perhaps a tip on training.

“Any ideas?” deadpanned Linemayr.

Smithson, accompanied by his girlfriend, former high school tennis star Jaymie Hackman, of Vernon, said he actually loves hitting the gym and makes sure he pushes himself when working out.

Weber, whose Kelowna girlfriend, Bailey Munro, joined him at the banquet, was asked about being nominated for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman.

“I found out right in the middle of the first round,” said the 25-year-old pride of Sicamous. “It’s a huge honour to be part of that group of three with Zdeno Chara and Nicklas Lidstrom. I don’t think I have a chance to win it, but it’s definitely an honour.”





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