Backchecking: Allan Bester

The Hockey News
(Photo by John Mahler/Toronto Star)

By Richard Kamchen

Fans of Allan Bester can be forgiven if they assumed the ex-Toronto Maple Leaf netminder had become a twitching mercurial recluse in retirement. Who wouldn’t after experiencing the trauma of being a fish under siege in the Leafs’ barrel during Toronto’s dark days in the 1980s? Don Cherry wasn’t exaggerating much when he quipped Bester had seen “more rubber than a dead skunk on the Trans-Canada highway.” Bester rountinely faced 40-plus shots a game as his introduction to the NHL.

“For years I’d been stopping pucks in my sleep and punching my wife in the face,” Bester jokes.

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Backchecking: Pete Dawkins

The Hockey News
dawkins

By Randy Schultz

Following his graduation from West Point in 1959, Heisman Trophy winner Pete Dawkins received an invitation to participate in a Detroit Red Wings practice.

Dawkins had played hockey growing up in Michigan and was good enough to make the West Point varsity team. He got the invite through a friend, went to practice, warmed up with the Wings and then played in a scrimmage.

“When I lined up to take the faceoff,” Dawkins says. “I looked to my right and Gordie Howe was my right winger.”

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Backchecking: Mike Krushelnyski

Ronnie Shuker
Mike Krushelnyski (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)Mike Krushelnyski (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

Despite its recent run of success, Los Angeles wasn’t always a prime destination for NHLers. These days, it’s atop the list of preferred places to play for many free agents, but there once was a time when it was a league backwater that had won all of bupkis and had zero NHL neighbors.

So you can forgive former King Mike Krushelnyski for not wanting to go there when his lawyer called him Aug. 9, 1988.

“He said, ‘Are you sitting down?’ And I’m like, ‘Why?’ He goes, ‘You better sit down,’ Krushelnyski said. “There was some talk of trade prior to that, and I said, ‘I’ll go anywhere except L.A.’ ”

At the time, Krushelnyski, now 54, was on top of the hockey world, having won his third Stanley Cup with Edmonton and entering the peak of his career at 28 years old. ‘The Trade’ changed that. The Oilers shipped Wayne Gretzky along with Marty McSorley and Krushelnyski to the Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, a trio of first-round picks and a whole heap of California cash.

“The press got the trade all wrong,” Krushelnyski jokes. “ ‘Gretz’ went for the three first-rounders, Marty went for Gelinas and I was the guy that went for the 15 million bucks. Let’s clarify that right now.” Read more

Backchecking: Blake Geoffrion

The Hockey News
Blake Geoffrion (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

BY ARI YANOVER

After sustaining a career-ending injury Nov. 9, 2012 while playing for Montreal’s
farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American League, Blake Geoffrion was left with an uncertain future. He spent seven months doing nothing but recovering from a depressed skull fracture, and he couldn’t find a doctor who would give him the green light to resume playing.

But even though he’d hung up the skates, there was still interest. Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen called, offering Geoffrion a scouting position.

It was a way to stay in hockey, a natural instinct for someone who has spent his entire life in the sport. So Geoffrion accepted Kekalainen’s proposal, deciding to try it for a year and see if it was a fit. “I want to be a general manager in the NHL one day,” he’d said upon taking the job. “After doing some research and figuring out how to become a general manager, this is where you started, in scouting.”

Geoffrion spent the year scouting for Columbus, but after seeing how things were run, he felt he didn’t have enough experience. He knew plenty about the hockey side, but the business side was new to him, and he wanted to explore that. Read more

Mike Richter: Cup champ, Ivy Leaguer, environmentalist

Matt Larkin
Mike Richter

It’s been one nostalgic spring in Manhattan, and with good reason. The New York Rangers can reach the final with a victory over Montreal at Madison Square Garden tonight, 20 years after they ended a 54-year Stanley Cup drought in one of the most memorable title runs in league history.

Retired goaltender Mike Richter, 47, appreciates the win just as much today, if not more. Bring up the 1994 Cup and he says he can talk about it all day. He ain’t kiddin.’ Ask him one question about that season and he answers your next four in one vivid sermon, recalling every detail of the season as if it was yesterday. He’s as articulate and enthusiastic an interview as you’ll find.

“You just didn’t want it to end,” Richter says. “You’re coming to that seventh game, and you realize, ‘Wow. It’s really over.’ You’ve been nose to the grindstone so long that it’s almost a sense of some relief, but also almost sadness that it’s over. We were in a really good place. You get into a rhythm, especially in a seven-game series. You play a game, you have a day off, you practice, you prepare, you go watch a movie, hang out with the guys, have a great meal, you get up, you practice, you play. That journey was really, really enjoyable. It was a rhythm where nothing else mattered in the world. and there was no place you’d rather be than right in that locker room with the guys, preparing, playing, recovering, and hitting the repeat button. That was your family, as it was all across the year. We were a really tight team. You just couldn’t wait to get to the locker room in the morning and hang out and laugh. It’s still like that when we get together.”

Richter has an uncanny ability to tell the story of 1994 blow for blow, but what makes him especially interesting is how much he’s done since then. He wasn’t content to bask in the glory days. After concussion woes ended his career in 2003, he decided he’d finish his education, which he’d started accumulating during his career as an occasional student during off-seasons. Richter went to Yale as a 40-year-old to earn a degree in ethics, politics and economics. For perhaps the first time in his life, he was a little intimidated, as most of the student population around him had a significant head start.

“It’s endlessly interesting,” Richter says. “It’s hard, because your whole life has been focused on one thing, and it quite literally changes overnight. No one is asking you to play anymore, you’re very good at a specific skill set, and where I think it applies to the rest of your life’s challenges is that you’re not one of 700 people that do something unique. And so you have to recognize that you’ve got a lot of learning to do. That was awesome.”

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Backchecking: Nathan Perrott

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Bruce Bennett)

Nathan Perrott is no stranger to the trials of training camp. His NHL career started at Nashville’s in 2001 and ended when he was released from New Jersey’s in 2006. He’d been through plenty of gruelling hockey trials, but nothing that could help him in the preparation needed for his current job: use of force, gun training, shooter situations, rapid troop deployment and advanced counterterrorism tactics.

It’s all Jack Bauer 24-type stuff, crammed into 12 weeks of boot camp at a military base. Not your typical NHL training camp and not your typical job. As a former NHL enforcer, Perrott used to get paid to defend his teammates with the Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars, but now he’s part of a paramilitary team paid to defend the world’s second-largest nuclear power plant. He still wears a helmet to work, but he’s traded his shoulder pads and stick for a Kevlar vest and assault rifle.

And just like when Perrott played in the NHL, his team at the Bruce nuclear plant in Owen Sound, Ont., has its superstars. The Bruce tactical response team has won multiple SWAT championships in the U.S.

“They train hard, those guys,” Perrott says. “They’re right there with any of the NHLers for being in shape.”

His career has taken him through minor leagues, the NHL (four goals, nine points, 251 penalty minutes in 89 games), Russia and the pro boxing world, but Perrott never expected he’d grow up protecting the same nuclear plant where his mother worked during his childhood.

At 33, four years removed from playing in the NHL, Perrott was in nearby Walkerton, Ont., for a senior hockey game when a friend urged him to apply at Bruce Power.

“I realized it was time to turn the page in my life and I wasn’t getting any younger so my hockey skills were quickly diminishing,” he says. “I saw the security job and I thought that’d be a perfect fit for me.”

Nowadays, Perrott, 37, is fitting in as a skills coach with the Ontario League’s Owen Sound Attack and as an assistant minor hockey coach for the oldest of his three sons. And he’s got plenty of experience to share. After the Devils made him a second-round pick in 1995, Perrott later signed as a free agent with the Chicago Blackhawks. But he didn’t play for either team. It wasn’t until Chicago traded him to Nashville in 2001 that he had his first regular season action. He spent parts of the next four seasons with the Predators, Leafs and Stars before winding up with Chekhov Vityaz of the Russian Superleague in 2007.

Perrott played there for two seasons and witnessed the dawn of the Kontinental League, along with some of its early hiccups.

“They made everybody take a 20-percent pay cut,” he says. “The Russian guys always said, ‘Well, it’s Russia, what do you expect?’ ”

If Perrott learned one thing in Russia, it was to expect the unusual. He remembers the old lady who used to pay Chekhov players out of a shopping bag packed with millions in U.S. dollars.

“She’s coming from the bank, guys would line up by the (dressing room) door and they’d pay your bonus money,” he says. “This little old lady wouldn’t even have a guard with her.”

Chekhov Vityaz’s owner was the money guy behind Olympic boxing gold medalist Alexander Povetkin, whose Olympic training gym was near the Vityaz rink. Perrott soon started training there as a boxer and returned to North America for three pro bouts. He went 1-2, winning his debut fight over Makidi Ku Ntima.

“That was awesome because the guy was tough,” Perrott says. “I knocked him out right at the end of the fourth round.”

But even that taste of boxing glory couldn’t beat his greatest hockey memory. For most NHLers, that moment is a big goal or a title. For Perrott, it was an opening faceoff at the Air Canada Centre. It was the only time he started a game in the NHL and he was in good company. Ed Belfour was in net. Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe were on the blueline. And lining up at left wing, skating alongside Mats Sundin and Alexander Mogilny, was lifelong Leafs fan Nathan Perrott.

“It was really exciting,” Perrott says. “You dream about it as a kid and it’s way better. The reality is better than anything you can imagine.”

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Backchecking: Anson Carter

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By Neil Acharya

Anson Carter has always thrived on generating new opportunities, both on and off the ice. A veteran of 10 NHL seasons, Carter defied the odds as a 10th-round pick of the Quebec Nordiques in 1992 to play for eight teams between 1996 and 2007. But it’s his off-season projects outside the game that have led him to a successful post-hockey career.

During his playing career, Carter spent his summers in Los Angeles, exploring the entertainment and business industries. Meeting Priority Records founder Bryan Turner influenced Carter to start his own record label, Big Up Entertainment.

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Backchecking: Grant Fuhr

Matt Larkin
Grant Fuhr

It’s a dark, frigid morning during Toronto’s cruelest winter in 20 years. Anyone awake is annoyed about it, unable or unwilling to string two sentences together. Except a Hall of Fame goaltender named Grant Fuhr, who saunters into the Westin Harbour Castle hotel lobby, fashionably late, with the cheerful Zen of a monk. Maybe it’s his surgically replaced knee, made of titanium, that keeps him from hurrying anywhere. “He sets off all the alarms at the airport,” says his fiancée, Lisa.

Or maybe Fuhr glides along with such tranquility because he simply has life all figured out.

What he’s about to do is daunting in theory. After years out of the public eye, he’s resurfacing to make about a dozen major media appearances in a row. Breakfast Television, TSN radio, and so on. He’s promoting a soon-to-be released autobiography. It’s a tell-all, meaning he’ll account his best days backstopping the Edmonton Oilers dynasty and his adventures in golf, but he’ll also face the harder parts of his life head on. That includes his battle with cocaine use, which led to a lengthy suspension during his playing career.

Some people would be jittery resurfacing to be thrust in the spotlight for 12 straight hours, but not Fuhr. He’s one of the sport’s all-time best money goalies, remember. He has five Stanley Cup rings and a Canada Cup. And when the camera or microphone is in his face, Fuhr, now 51, laps up the pressure, no problem. He answers questions on anything, from his playing days to Canada’s 2014 Olympic team, with such little hesitation that he’s, well, goalie-like in his reaction time. “This is fun,” he says. “I haven’t done this for years.”

Maybe Fuhr is so comfortable with the attention because he attracted so much of it during his career. He was a highly coveted goaltender coming out of junior, drafted eighth overall by the Oilers in 1981. An athletic netminder who modelled himself after Tony Esposito, he was a perfect fit on the most high-octane offense the game has ever known, because the team’s style was familiar to him. “I loved playing for a run-and-gun team,” he says. “I got lucky enough that when I was playing junior in Victoria, that was the first time I’d seen a run-and-gun team, so with junior and the training, my progression to the NHL was playing the same style of hockey. It was comfortable for me.”

Fuhr battled for time with Andy Moog, which he believes made him a better goalie, and became Edmonton’s primary starter for most of the 1980s, especially during the playoffs. Fuhr played a crucial role in four of the five Cups he won with Edmonton, including an incredible 1988 run in which he went 16-2 en route to the Oil’s fourth Cup in five years. Wayne Gretzky called Fuhr the greatest goalie in the history of the game,

Fuhr played in six All-Star Games, won the 1988 Vezina Trophy and was acrobatically sensational for Canada in the 1987 Canada Cup, too. But he wasn’t just a star for what he did on the ice. He’s not the first black player in NHL history, but he is the first black superstar. “You notice it more now,” Fuhr says. At the time you just treated yourself as a player, first and foremost.  Obviously with Willie O’Ree and Mike Marson, Billy Riley, Tony McKegney, all those guys playing ahead of me, you didn’t really think of it that way. So I just feel pretty fortunate to have ended up in a spot where I could be successful.”

He is also remembered for being suspended by the NHL for a year in 1990 for using cocaine throughout the mid to late 1980s. The league was aware Fuhr had been clean for a year, but punished him for conduct “dishonorable and against the welfare of the league.” He earned early reinstatement by February 1991 and played a key role in another deep Oiler playoff run. “My only hard feelings out of the whole thing was it was probably about two or three years late, but at the same time, you make a mistake and you’ve got to pay the price,” Fuhr says. “We were just young and got caught up with the wrong crowd. It was a young, dumb mistake.”

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