Chris Neal lost his two front teeth after he crashed into the crossbar on a drive to the net at a summer hockey camp when he was 16 years old.
This was a story he shared with Darcy Tucker on the bench.
Neal, who retired from the National Hockey League this season, and Tucker, a popular player when he played with the Toronto Maple Leafs, were teammates for Friday night’s NHL/Corner Brook Classic — one of the featured events for the 2018 Hockey Day in Canada celebrations in Corner Brook this week.
Tucker and Neal played on a line together. Neal’s stall was next to Tucker in the locker-room.
The two guys didn’t exchange Christmas cards during their NHL careers because of their on-ice battles, but both guys have put the past behind them and have shown the world that everything is best left on the ice when the game is over.
Wendel Clark and Lanny McDonald were among the NHL legends who put on a great show in front of a capacity crowd decked out in a sea of red Hockey Day in Canada apparel.
Players were upbeat and some were awestruck at the pace some guys still play the game, and there was no shortage of chirping from the bench.
Some of the chirping was directed at Neil, who many players were heard saying during the game that he still belonged in The Show after seeing him dazzle and wow the crowd with some slick stickhandling.
Team Tucker got the upper hand on Team McDonald on the scoresheet and Team McDonald coaches Glenn Healy and Doug Grant tried to instigate an in-game trade with hopes of getting Neil to come over to their side, but Team Tucker coach Cassie Campbell-Pascal would have no part of it and squashed the idea of it by having the game held up for a few moments.
Lanny McDonald, who heard chants of ‘Lanny, Lanny’ on several occasions, fired a blistering wrist shot earlier in the game that caught people’s attention on the opposing bench.
However, a warm applause from the crowd quickly followed after the man with the famous moustache retrieved the puck from the net and tossed it into the stands to a group of minor hockey players — it turns out it was the Orillia Terriers peewee team that won the Scotiabank Heroes of Hockey Day Challenge —who had created their own little Lanny booster club.
Ron McLean didn’t get any consideration for game star after being snakebitten around the net despite his coaching staff hoping and wishing for him.
But he made many boys and girls happy with an autograph while the play was going on and he brightened up the day for another little guy in particular when he signed the stick he was using in the game and handed it over the glass to the young fella.
Before the game, team jerseys were neatly hung up with the last names on the back. It was pretty quiet with the local heroes telling their own stories of winning and losing and going from room to room to get pictures taken or grab an autograph for a son, daughter or grandchild, or a wife or husband who didn’t make it to the festivities this week.
Bruce Campbell, one of the most explosive imports to play for the Royals during the
glory days of the 1980s, made the journey across the Gulf with a large contingent of family members who were happy to share in the celebration of the game and meet some of the people who supported Bruce during his senior hockey career in this province.
“Sonny’s Dream” would echo through the cramped quarters of Humber Gardens every time Bruce Campbell scored for the Royals.
It turned out to be one of the most played songs at the time and it was nice to go back down memory lane when hockey was as fun as it was tonight regardless of the extra pounds, aching joints and receding hairlines.