Mark Napier and Doug Grant met for the first time on the steps of Glynmill Inn in Corner Brook. Former pro hockey players both, a light snow fell as they traded names, some familiar names that included Brian Sutter and Ed Staniowski being mentioned in the brief conversation.
Undoubtedly, they’ll share a few memories of many teammates mentioned at some point. When they do this, the pair will find other connections that bridge their careers — the NHL’s own version of six degrees of separation, if you will.
Napier and Grant were in Corner Brook for the Hockey Day in Canada events that culminate tonight with a live broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada from the Corner Brook Civic Centre.
Easing himself into a wooden chair in the Glynmill’s Carriage Room, Napier talked hockey and shared some of the stories that defined his 14-year NHL career that took him to Montreal, Minnesota, Edmonton and Buffalo.
An event like Hockey Day is about celebrating the game, pictures, autographs and stories.
People want to know about winning a Stanley Cup, of which Napier has done twice, getting drafted or what gets said between the benches.
And, the NHL alumni will gladly tell them.
As fans of hockey — or any sport for that matter — stories weave together players, generations and the game itself.
I could never learn to love the great Bobby Orr as my grandfather does. Orr was just a former pro with bad knees when I started watching in the late ’80s.
I didn’t see his greatness unfold on a television screen, but my grandfather did. I can only play catch-up with grainy YouTube videos and imagine what I would’ve felt if I grew up watching Orr weave his way into the opponent’s zone before making the goaltender look like an amateur.
My grandfather witnessed the end-to-end rushes, Orr’s virtuoso ability with the puck and that shot.
However, I can appreciate Bobby and what he did for the game. That appreciation comes from the stories I’ve been told on the nights when the game on television wasn’t as interesting as discussing the days before systems or even players wearing helmets.
When you think about events like Hockey Day, your mind wanders to the alumni, the stories and which ones they might be tired of telling.
Napier never tires of telling a few yarns of sharing dressing rooms with the likes Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Paul Coffey, Wayne Gretzky and others.
“I don’t know if there’s much more to be told about Wayne than has already been told,” Napier said as a slight smile slide across his face. “There are about 10 books written on him.
“The majority of them are true. He was just a great, great hockey player. It was a pretty good combination having him and Mark Messier.”
Still, some of his favourite stories are ones that happen away from the rink.
He remembered visiting a retirement home a couple of year’s back where he met a lifelong fan of the Montreal Canadiens. The fan wasn’t able to speak, but as Napier interacted with him, the fan began to cry.
At first, the alumnus is confused. Did he say or do something to upset this man?
It turns out Napier did nothing wrong in the slightest, according to the person accompanying the man. He was just overjoyed to meet someone from his favourite team.
It is a rare ability. They are athletes who have to be able to captivate an audience wherever they go and create a memory at the same time.
People will remember that time Mark Napier told them a yarn about Larry Robinson long after Napier has left town.
The great thing is their kids will know the story because it’ll get told at the rink or around the dinner table.
It is how players and the game live on.