CORNER BROOK Bert Brake was a fierce competitor on the ice, but his sense of humour is what Cyril Vardy will always remember about his lifelong buddy.
Mr. Brake, a Corner Brook native who will be inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Hockey Hall of Fame posthumously Saturday in Gander, died Friday. The former Corner Brook businessman was 76. The exact cause of death wasn’t known at press time, according to family members.
Vardy was among the family and friends who shared their respects at the funeral service Monday.
“When he played hockey he would stand on his head to make a save, but after the game was over he left it on the ice,” Vardy said. “A great guy, a great friend and a fierce competitor.”
Vardy met Mr. Brake in 1955 when he pulled up stakes in Gander to make Corner Brook his new home. Mr. Brake was the puckstopper for the Curling Rangers in the local senior hockey league as Vardy patrolled the left side for the Town Aces. They became friends when their two girlfriends at the time were best buddies. Later in life, Vardy’s wife Frances actually stood up for Brakes’s wife Isabelle at their wedding, and Mr. Brake was a member of the wedding party for the Vardy nuptials. The duo were roommates on the road when they played for the Corner Brook Royals in the provincial senior hockey league and the same scenario continued when they played oldtimers hockey together.
It’s a friendship that lasted until Brake’s peaceful passing at Western Memorial Regional Hospital.
Vardy kept talking about the good times they had, on and off the ice.
“He was fit for anything, but in a good way,” he said. “I don’t know of anybody who would say anything bad about Bert.”
One day in 1956 or ’57, time won’t allow Vardy to remember exactly, the two of them took their wives to the annual Armed Forces Day at the base in Stephenville for one of the fun days Vardy cherishes. Mr. Brake had just bought a new sports car and, no doubt, wanted to show it off. He was travelling along the base when he decided to continue on to a place he had no business going to: right out on the runway.
“The Americans had a jeep out there with a big ‘Follow Me’ sign on it for assisting in parking of the 100-plus aircraft on the base. Mr. Brake kept on following it down the runway for a period of time before they were spotted. They got heck for being in restricted zone, but managed to walk way pretty well unscathed.
“That was typical of Bert,” he said with a hearty chuckle.
Dealing with the loss of a good friend will take some adjusting, but Vardy takes solace in knowing Brake — the man with the distinction of being the first goalie to wear a face mask in provincial senior hockey circles — will be recognized for his contribution to senior hockey during a career where he won two Herders (1964 and 1966) with the Corner Brook Royals.
“Couldn’t happen to a better guy. It should have been sooner,” he said.
Former teammate and hall of famer Ed Lawrence met Brake back in the 1950s when Lawrence suited up for the Hawks against the Rangers in the senior hockey league.
“He was a comical man,” Lawrence said after attending the funeral.
Lawrence said he was best of buddies with a man he considered a great goalie who always had the best interest of the team in mind. He believes it’s a no-brainer that Brake would find his way into the Hall of Fame because he did whatever it took to keep pucks out of the net. He was popular among his teammates and kept everybody on their toes, according to Lawrence, who was a sturdy defenceman with the Royals who earned the nickname Diesel during his heyday.
“He was a real team man. He never had an enemy in the world,” Lawrence said.
Peter Brake, the baby in the Brake family at 40 years of age, and his two sisters Lori and Lynn, will travel to Gander to share in the momentous occasion.