VANCOUVER - Every night for two weeks, Darwin Head spent two to three hours in the numbing cold of a prairie winter shooting pucks at a net on an outdoor hockey rink.
Temperatures reached minus-40 C and colder with the wind chill but it paid off on Wednesday night when the 35-year-old sawmill worker from Prince Albert, Sask., fired 15 out of 20 pucks from the far blue-line at GM Place to become Canada's newest millionaire.
"Bundle up, wear lots of layers," Head said after the Chevrolet Malibu Million-Dollar Shootout that was televised nationally on TSN between periods of the Vancouver Canucks-Colorado Avalanche NHL game. "People do amazing stuff when they have a chance at a lot of money."
Head cut it close as the 24-second time limit ticked down. He needed to score on his last puck as he fired at the net 144 feet away and didn't think he would win.
"I didn't think I was even close to 15," he said. "When I was shooting the last two pucks, I was hearing the crowd counting 11 ... 12 .... so I thought maybe 13 or 14 (goals)."
Head, wearing a sweater autographed by hockey legend Bobby Orr, said the Hall of Famer was a great coach.
"He gave me really, really helpful advice ... try drown out the crowd, focus on the net, take your time, breathe and relax."
In a practice session with Orr, Head reached the 15-goal plateau once in four tries, scoring 14, 16, 13 and nine goals.
In another part of the contest, Head and friend Lance Badger each shot 10 pucks from centre ice. Head netted nine and Badger six. Randy Bout, another buddy, didn't have to shoot as the 15 goals were enough to win Chevrolet Malibu Hybrids for themselves and fan Ryan Gloag of suburban Surrey, B.C.
"It really gave me a great deal of confidence," Head said of his shooting for the cars. "In all of my practising, I've never shot nine out of 10."
The five-foot-nine, 215-pound Head, who played recreational hockey until he was 25 years of age, was randomly chosen from 8.6 million on-line entries.
He was the second contestant to try for the $1 million puck-shooting grand prize. Last year, Jason Hall, a registered nurse from London, Ont., who also had a hockey background, got 13 pucks into the net in the 24-second time limit.
Head joins Brian Diesbourg of Belle River, Ont., as the only other million-dollar winner of a Canadian sports skill contest.
In 2006, Diesbourg booted a 50-yard field goal during halftime of a CFL game in Toronto as part of a $1-million promotional contest. His payout, however, was spread over 40 years at $25,000 a year.
Head got a one-time payment and said the money will be used to pay off his mortgage and ensure the future of his children. He plans to keep his sawmill job, which pays "a good wage."
There have been seven million-dollar winners in sports skills contests during intermissions at U.S. sports events, including the NFL Pro Bowl, NCAA football, Major League Baseball's all-star game and NBA games.
Head also practised at a Prince Albert Raiders WHL game but found appearing before the noisy sellout crowd of 18,630 at GM place nerve-wracking.
I'd hate to do that every day (but) everybody was rooting for me ... it was an amazing feeling," he said.