Hockey Hall of Fame Evening with Neil Becker

Not to sound deep or philosophical but on Monday during the Hockey Hall of Fame Induction night, I got a reminder of how life can be an ongoing learning process. That reminder came to me when after the induction speeches I saw one of my biggest idols in Billy Smith near the duplicated Montreal Canadiens dressing room. Being a huge hockey fan I always relish the opportunity of meeting current or former players and talking about their career but for the man they called ‘Battling Billy’ I was very hesitant. While watching him play I remembered him constantly using the stick as a weapon. While conteplating whever I should approach him I had images from my early teen years of how he chopped the legs out from Edmonton Oilers superstar Wayne Gretzky during the 1983 Stanley Cup finals. I also remember as a little kid how he got into a fight with then Toronto Maple Leafs scorer Lanny McDonald. Another image that came flashing to me was of him not shaking hands with the Oilers one year after the finals. I was nervous but excited and I figured what’s the worst that can happen? After approaching Smith I was pleasantly shocked at what an accomodating funny person he turned out to be. I told him that even though I loved his goaltending I was a huge Oilers fan and without missing a beat he smiled and replied, “Well everyone makes mistakes.” After talking hockey with him the soon to be 60 year-old who still looks like he can play signed an autograph card before saying that he really enjoyed meeting me. Now this might sound silly for a 41 year-old to say but meeting a hall of famer who I idolized as a kid was to me a great experience that I will always remember. It also reminded me of a lesson I learned a long time ago from my mom about assuming things. Sometimes I’m guilty of assuming the personality of for example a hockey player when it reality I don’t know them off the ice. I first learned that lesson a few years ago when I had the honour of meeting the late Bob Probert at a Baycrest hockey tournment. To my surprise he like Smith was funny and very accomodating of his time. Being a feared fighter I was always shy of going up to Probert thinking that he wouldn’t be nice to his fans. That obvioulsy wasn’t the case with both Probert and Smith. Meeting my boyhood heroes on Monday brought back a lot of images and long ago played games that I have long forgot about. Besides for Smith another player who I was thrilled to meet was hulking Montreal Canadiens/Washington Capitals defenceman Rod Langway. When introducing myself as a Capitals fan the first image of Langway that came into my mind was the Patrick Dvision Game seven 1987 playoff marathon when the Islanders Pat LaFontaine scored to break the hearts of every Capitals fan. I brought the game up but naturally I didn’t remind Langway of the outcome. While talking to him about the series I kept on having flashes of the miraculous saves Capitals goalie Bob Mason was making. The other lesson that was reinforced into me was that all these former players were very easy to approach. That was a common theme to the night which saw Angela James, Cammi Granato, Dino Ciccarelli, Jim Devellano and the late Darryl (Doc) Seaman were inducted. To my amazement some of the former players began a conversation with me and seemed relatively interested in what I had to say. Besides for the Smith encounter, another amazing high point to Induction Night was meeting hulking winger Joel Otto. As a teenager I used to love watching the Battle of Alberta between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames. When I saw him on Monday night images were coming to my mind of him battling Mark Messier in the corners and face-off circles and getting into the occassional scrap during his career. I have to admit that this large imposing man had me a little intimidated when I asked him about his days in Calgary. Right away he opened up and we talked about various playoff series and even talked about former teammate Theo Fleury. I mentioned that I read his book and to my amazement Otto began asking me questions about it. What I’ll really remember is that he took the time to sign a Flames puck while answering questions about not only the Flames but also about the present day Toronto Maple Leafs. I have to admit that despite being around all sorts of fancy food stations I didn’t have much of an appettite due to my excitement of being around so many famous faces. While walking around I bumped into former GM Cliff Fletcher who of course is full of stories from his days with the Atlanta/ Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and the Phoenix Coyotes. Right away upon approaching him a vision came in my mind of where I was when I heard the news about fletcher engineering a 10 player deal which made Doug Gilmour a Leaf. After talking to him about those special moments in Leafs history I became a little sad when I asked and heard that former Leaf coach Pat Burns is getting worse. Overall this turned into a thrilling evening that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Hockey is my favourite sport so to me when my boss Kerry Goulet called my house and asked if I wanted to go it was like winning a lottery. A once in a lifetime chance to fulfill a dream and it was everything I expected and more.

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