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2: Influences

I grew up in the home of a professional athlete; my father was a receiver with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League and a member of their hall of fame. During his ten-year-career he played in four championship games, winning the Grey Cup in 1966. After retiring he was, for a time, a sports broadcaster who would go on to spend the rest of his life working with professional and amateur athletes as the Director of Athletes in Action.

I was raised in the world of professional sport. I grew up watching, learning from, sitting around the dinner table with, some of the best athletes in the world: CFL, NFL, NHL, MLB. I was able to see how they trained, prepared mentally, interacted with the media and the public, how they achieved and maintained excellence both in and out of the game.

Growing up in that environment it was inevitable that I would chase my own sport’s dream. I’d eventually play a little high school football but my real passion was hockey. Being a prairie kid it wasn’t hard to find ice, and like many of my friends, if I wasn’t in school, I was playing the game; dreaming of one day being a Toronto Maple Leaf or Chicago Blackhawk or a Montreal Canadian … well maybe not a Montreal Canadian.

In the ‘80s, having moved to Ontario, I’d progressed enough as an athlete to be drafted into the Ontario Hockey League. As it is with other sports, in hockey, if you have some talent and a lot of luck, you sometimes end up with multiple opportunities. In my case I got lucky and was pursued by both the OHL and US College. So, at 16, I had the enviable and very difficult task of making my first major life choice; no pressure, it was only my life’s dream in the balance. In those days, the chances of getting to the National Hockey League from a US college hockey program were slim, not like they are today. I’d been around the world of professional sport long enough, and I had wise and experienced mentors, so I knew the chances of becoming a professional athlete were slim. That made the pursuit of an education while playing hockey an attractive option. But when you have a dream, a passion, you sometimes have to take a risk, gamble and make the tough choice. For me that meant giving up a free world-class education, to go all in and chase my professional dream by joining the Ontario Hockey League; the world’s best incubator for NHL players.

I enjoyed my time in the OHL, I was fortunate to play, live, laugh, travel and mature alongside many outstanding young men. I was privileged to play with and against many future pros: our Captain Kirk Muller, drafted second overall by the New Jersey Devils, right behind Mario Lemieux; my defence partner Steve Chiasson a Memorial Cup MVP and NHL all-star; and my roommate Trevor Stienburg, first pick in the OHL draft and 15th overall to the Quebec Nordiques.

In the end, as I like to say, I wanted the NHL but the NHL didn’t want me. 30 years later, perspective gives me the consolation of knowing that I wasn’t the only pretty good hockey player not to become a pro. To be honest, I don’t regret the path I chose. I chased my dream, gave it everything I had, its best chance for success. I figure, as long as I can say that, then I did OK.

When the game was done, I earned my education, a degree in communication and a master’s degree, and I paid for it like most do, summer jobs. Then I began my career, using my skills, refining my craft: writer, editor, producer, director, videographer, photographer, behind-camera, on-camera, marketer, manager, corporate VP and business owner.

I became a father and my sons became athletes and I became a hockey dad and a lacrosse dad and a football dad and I naturally became a coach. And then in an Obi Wan — Darth Vader, student-becomes-the-master kind of way, I was surpassed by my pupil and my son became a better player than I had been: winning the Ontario Minor Midget AAA Hockey Championship, the OHL Cup; becoming a much higher OHL draft pick; recruited by far more US Colleges; playing on Team Canada/Ontario at the Under 17 World Hockey Challenge; and who knows in what other ways he will yet surpass me; and in the process I had completed the circle and I had come to experience the world of sport in a very holistic way, my own form of the sporting Trinity: father, self and son.

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