Keynote speaker and inductee Ken Holland

Keynote speaker and inductee Ken Holland

Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame welcomes legends

Three athletes, two builders and one team make up the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2012...

Ken Holland thought his first NHL game would also be his last one.

He was given a start in goal for the Hartford Whalers at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers in the 1980-81 season.

Holland gave up one goal on 15 shots in the first period of what would be a 7-3 loss to the Rangers, then gave up five goals on 21 shots in the second period.

“I remembered thinking to really enjoy the third period because it was going to be my last one,” joked Holland, one of six inducted Friday into the Class of 2012 of the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame.

“Then (Rangers forward) Nick Fotiu took a shot that went over the crossbar and broke the glass, and I thought, ‘well, good, that will extend my time in the NHL about another 10 minutes.’”

Holland, who turns 57 next week, did play three more games in the NHL before, at age 29, he was hired as a scout by the Detroit Red Wings. He has since become one of the NHL’s top executives.

As general manager, Holland has guided the Red Wings to four Stanley Cups and was part of the Team Canada executive that won Olympic gold in Vancouver in 2010.

Holland was enshrined before a near capacity crowd of 160 at a luncheon ceremony at the Schubert Centre in the builders category, along with longtime family friend Keith Brewis, the founder of the Vernon Kokanee Swim Club.

Inducted in the athletes category were two Vernon hockey players, both with ties to the Red Wings. Brent Gilchrist and Ed Johnstone played parts of their long NHL careers in Hockeytown.

Also inducted in the athletes category was golfer Jackie Little.

Enshrined in the team category was the 2000 Brad Kuhn curling rink which won the B.C., Canadian and World Junior Mens championships.

For Holland, a chance to return to his hometown to say thanks to the people who helped him along the way in his professional sports journey is special.

“This (Vernon) is where I was born and raised and this is where I’m going to retire,” said Holland, who attended the ceremony with his mom, Lee, and nephew Jake Holland. “To go in with this class of people, for me – Keith Brewis was one of my dad’s best friends – is truly an honour.”

Brewis called his induction one of the greatest days of his life, but said he “couldn’t have done it” (start the Kokanee Swim Club) without a lot of help.

“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family because swimming is a suppertime sport, that’s when practices were,” said Brewis, 80. “I couldn’t have done it without Gerry Goudge of the recreation centre; without the parents who brought the kids to the pool. And I couldn’t have done it without all of the assistant coaches.”

Johnstone guided the Rangers to the 1979 Stanley Cup final and was elected to play in the NHL all-star game in 1981. He twice led the Rangers in scoring.

After his career, he returned to Vernon where he guided the Vernon Lakers to back-back-Centennial Cup wins in 1990 and 1991 as head coach, and three straight Centennial Cup appearances (lost semifinals in 1992).

It was one of his coaches in Vernon, Odie Lowe, that Johnstone thanked in his speech.

“Halfway through my second season with the Essos, I gotta call from Medicine Hat (Tigers) and I didn’t want to go. I was the first guy cut from their training camp two years in a row and didn’t know why,” said Johnstone, 58. “Odie pulled me aside and said, ‘if you’re going to pursue this you need to get out of here. When you get there, pursue your dreams. And I did.”

Gilchrist spent his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars, the Red Wings, and the Nashville Predators, highlighted by winning the Cup with Detroit in 1998.

“Eddie taught me in hockey school and back then there wasn’t anybody walking around the community that was an NHL player to look up to, so that was a great deal to me,” said Gilchrist, 45. “I looked up to Ken later in my career because he employed me. His reputation as a general manager in the NHL is fantastic.”

Detroit Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch donated $5,000 to the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame on behalf of Holland, Johnstone and Gilchrist, and Tammy Stein, wife of current Detroit scout Marty Stein, donated the $280 she won in the 50/50 draw to the Hall.

Little, who now lives in Port Alberni where she and her husband, Pat, run a golf course, enters the Hall having won 17 individual international, Canadian and provincial golf championships, many of which came when she was a member of the Vernon Golf Club.

“Today is very exciting and I’m very honoured, especially to be part of this group,” said Little, who was accompanied by Pat to the ceremony. “It’s great to see some old friends who came out to show their support today.”

Kuhn was joined by his 2000 teammates, brother Ryan, lead Hugh Bennett of Salmon Arm and coach Jock Tyre of Kelowna. Kevin Folk and Jeff Richard were unable to attend.

“Today was an excellent chance to see Hugh because we don’t get to see him a lot anymore, and so many great memories came back today from that year,” said Brad Kuhn. “We had a lot of fun.”

Each inductee received a special plaque from the Hall of Fame, designed and created by Vernon’s Blair Peden.

The Funtastic Sports Society was a presenting sponsor of Friday’s luncheon.