By KANDACE GALLANT
Fans of retired NHL players, and just simply hockey, flooded the Sleeman Centre in Guelph on Jan. 9 to see the annual Pro Hockey Heroes game.
This was the 22nd annual Pro Hockey Heroes event featuring the Guelph Firefighter All-stars and former NHL hockey heroes. Over those years, the firefighters have raised more than $750,000 to support those in need and aim to hit the $1-million mark next year.
“The money goes towards hospitals and supplies,” said Mark Mitchell, chief training officer for the Guelph Fire Department. “We’ve purchased things like emergency room supplies, televisions for chemotherapy treatment rooms, new equipment that has been made to help diagnose pregnant women with possible early issues, and we’ve donated things like machines and monitors as well.”
Though the turnout varies each year, Mike Richard, the event planner, said last year they had an audience of 2,000 people.
“This year turned out to be a bit less,” said Richard. “But we still got to see a lot of happy fans. Usually the audience is a bit older because they’re the ones who used to watch the retired players play for the Toronto Maple Leafs or other popular teams. Children like to come too to see the different games and pranks the players have in store for one another.”
This year, as the players waited for the puck to drop, a pie was thrown at one of their faces. They also faked fist fights and pushed the younger players around.
“All in all, it’s a fun experience and people love it,” said Mitchell. “It’s fun getting to be on the ice with the retired players who actually have a lot of professional hockey experience.”
Players this year included Craig Muni, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs before becoming one of the strongest defencemen for the Edmonton Oilers. His name has appeared on the Stanley Cup three times. Another player was Gary Leeman, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and was said to be a “scoring machine.”
His name is on the Stanley Cup after playing for Montreal. Tom Fergus also made an appearance. He was known for his centre-line scoring and became Toronto’s top centre, setting career high goals in 1985, 1986 and 1973.
“I know the game we play isn’t serious,” said Kyle Mitchell, a Guelph firefighter who played against these retired stars. “But it’s still really intimidating. I’m honoured at the same time though. I grew up watching and knowing these players and I’m glad I got to watch them on the ice and joke around with them and shake their hands.”
“As each year passes, I look forward to continuing to be able to purchase equipment and help out the people in our community that need it,” said Mark. “Our Guelph firefighters are proud of the amount we’ve been able to raise.”
“I can’t thank the Guelph firefighters enough,” said Richard. “They’re such great people to work with and watch on the ice. And, of course, I can’t thank the players enough for agreeing to come and play. They’re awesome to watch skate around knowing that they’ve held Stanley Cups in their hands.”