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Backchecking: Eye injury ended Glen Sharpley's promising career

Glen Sharpley played 389 games with the North Stars and Blackhawks (THN Archives)

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Glen Sharpley played 389 games with the North Stars and Blackhawks (THN Archives)

BY KEVIN GLEW

If anyone has a right to be bitter about the way their NHL career concluded, it’s Glen Sharpley.

The former Minnesota North Star and Chicago Blackhawk had his six-year NHL tenure all but end after a stick slammed into his left eye during a game against the Washington Capitals on Dec. 19, 1981.

“It was basically a dead pupil,” said Sharpley, who was just 25 years old at the time of the injury. “It stopped working and I couldn’t see.”

And if that wasn’t devastating enough, Sharpley’s agent, Alan Eagleson, embezzled a reported $15,000 of the resulting disability insurance benefit. Eagleson’s actions would prompt Sharpley to testify against his former rep in front of a grand jury in Boston in 1992.

In a recent phone interview with Sharpley, however, it’s clear he has moved on with his life. Most of his ill will appears to have faded into the Ontario cottage country wilderness he now calls home.

Sharpley operates a Source for Sports franchise in Haliburton, Ont., a prime tourist destination north of Toronto.

“I’ve worked six or seven days a week here for 17 years,” he said. “I sharpen skates. I tune skis. I mount ski bindings in the winter and I sell wakeboards and water skis in the summer.”

Hockey equipment is also part of his product line. Sharpley maintains a deep passion for the sport and still plays twice a week in local pick-up leagues.

“When I was a kid, we played street hockey for hours and hours on end,” recalled Sharpley, who grew up in Etobicoke, Ont. “We played in a cul-de-sac. It had a street light right in the middle so the night games were awesome. Our parents would have to drag us in.”

Sharpley’s love for the game, combined with his natural talent, helped him develop into a top prospect and starting in the 1973-74 season he joined the Hull Festivals of the Quebec League.

He spent three seasons in Hull and tallied 134 points in his final major junior campaign, earning himself first-team all-star honors.

“When I knew I was going to get drafted by an NHL team, I approached Alan Eagleson to represent me,” Sharpley said.

The speedy center was selected third overall by Minnesota in the 1976 NHL amateur draft and would crack the roster out of his first training camp. He recorded an impressive 25 goals and 57 points in his rookie season.

A highlight of Sharpley’s four-and-a-half seasons in Minnesota occurred when his team upset the reigning Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens in the 1980 playoffs. Having blown out his knee earlier that season, Sharpley didn’t suit up for the first four games of the quarterfinal. But when the North Stars trailed 3-2 in the series, Sharpley made his presence felt by notching three points in a 5-2 victory in what was one of the best games of his career.

“I was fortunate to have a great Game 6,” Sharpley recalled. “They still replay that game on some of the sports networks.”

His performance set the stage for a thrilling Game 7 that saw Stars forward Al MacAdam pot the game-winner that would eliminate the Habs.

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“The Forum went silent that night,” Sharpley recalled. “We weren’t supposed to do that.”

Unfortunately, Philadelphia defeated the Cinderella Stars in the following round.

While with Minnesota, Sharpley endured a tumultuous relationship with coach Glen Sonmor. Their problems reached a boiling point in December 1980 when Sharpley, one of the team’s top scorers, was told he was being scratched for a game.

The enraged forward had enough and went into GM Lou Nanne’s office to ask for a trade. When Sonmor heard of Sharpley’s actions, the veteran coach was angered and chose to address the matter in a meeting in front of the whole team.

“We had a screaming match in front of the entire team that lasted for five minutes,” Sharpley said. “That was the last time I ever played for Minnesota. He went nuts on me. He blamed me for everything, but we were in first place.”

Sharpley was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks and suffered the debilitating eye injury that would cut his career short close to a year later.

“I’ve never seen the film on it,” Sharpley said. “It was the first shift of the game; I was in the neutral zone coming towards (Capitals defenseman Darren Veitch) like I’m supposed to. He picked the puck up off the boards and…I assumed that he was going to go up the boards with it, but he turned and fired it right through me and then the stick came up and caught me right in the eye. It was the first shift of the game. I just wasn’t prepared for it.”

Because of the extensive damage, Sharpley wasn’t expected to make a return to hockey. But, desperate to come back, Sharpley tried an eye drop solution devised by Toronto specialists that enabled him to resume his Hawks career for the conclusion of that season and the playoff run that ensued.

Chicago advanced to the conference final, where they lost to Vancouver. The determined and battered center contributed nine points in 15 post-season contests.

But Chicago refused to offer Sharpley a contract in the off-season unless he could play without the use of eye drops. So, under Eagleson’s advisement, Sharpley filed for a disability insurance payout.

Sharpley also begrudgingly accepted a token scouting position within the Blackhawks organization and returned to Minnesota, but his passion to play still burned. Stints in Switzerland, the American League, the International League and England were all part of a series of comeback attempts that he eventually abandoned during the 1986-87 season.

“There’s a point in time where it’s senseless,” Sharpley explained. “I was having a family…The NHL was just not an option anymore.”

Content with his second career in the sporting goods business, Sharpley fittingly sells helmets and visors in his store.

“I’m an advocate of wearing a visor,” Sharpley said. “There’s just not enough respect on the ice these days not to be wearing one.”

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