Thursday, June 11, 2015

A NIGHT FOR CHANGE



THE CAUSE

On Monday evening, the 2nd Annual Night For Change to end bullying took place in Toronto. It was presented by The Canadian Safe School Network and Mike Wilson, The Ultimate Leafs Fan.

Celebrity host Brian Burke, president of the Calgary Flames, is a major supporter of this cause, especially when it comes to homophobic bullying.

In February of 2010, Burke's son, Brendan, was killed in an automobile accident in Indiana.

"It's been mere months since young Burke revealed his sexuality (that he was gay) to the hockey world last November, a brave moment he shared with his father...," noted The Globe and Mail in their reporting of Brendan's death.

"The important thing is that it started a discussion...and people realize there could be a gay person next to them in the locker room," Brendan Burke told the newspaper in an interview shortly after he made his revelation.

Brian Burke threw his full support behind his son when he came out and continues to help those who have to endure homophobic bullying.

For the 2nd Annual Night For Change, Brian Burke enlisted several powerful celebrity guests to bring awareness and raise funds for the charity.

And there is no bigger name in the game than Wayne Gretzky.

Upon his arrival on the turf of The Ultimate Leafs Fan, Gretzky spoke with the assembled media.


"I think we're trying," Gretzky said when asked if enough is being done to stop bullying in the schools. "I think we've come a long way in life and society. You're always worried about bullying and kids being mean. You want to stay on top of it so events like this and awareness are so important. It's going to be an exciting night. We're all very proud and privileged to be here. If we can help somebody in some small way, this is what a night like this is all about."

When contacted by Brian Burke, No. 99 didn't hesitate to offer a helping hand.

"I'm here for a couple of days and I was working tomorrow and the next day. Brian called me last week and I said I'm going to be in Toronto, so I'll come in early and I flew in on a red-eye last night to be here for him. He's a good friend and I'm happy to be here."

As for the timing of a gay hockey player coming out in the NHL, Gretzky said, "It's not a question of when it's going happen, if there are people who are not of what we think is the course of life, so be it. Time will tell as far as that goes."


"What we're trying to do here tonight is end homophobia and bullying," Brian Burke said prior to moving inside.

Later, he touched on several other points.

"We believe a child shouldn't be afraid walking down a hallway. What we talk about is taking three steps. One is to teach and practice acceptance, the second is to take a positive step on behalf of the LGBTQ community and the third is to end homophobia and bullying."


THE GREAT ONE and THE GREAT COLLECTION

After finishing his press scrum, Gretzky made his way with Mike Wilson to the inner sanctum where The Ultimate Leafs Fan collection is housed. Gretzky was joined by Brian Burke for Mike's guided tour.

"It's the most amazing private collection of any team's memorabilia in the world," Burke told me prior to heading downstairs. "There's no collector anywhere with a better collection about one particular team. It's breathtaking. I've spent hours down there looking and I could spend hours more."

In response to naming a favourite item in the collection, Burke stated, "actually the older it is the better I like it because I didn't get to watch that era. The whole thing is amazing; everywhere you turn you're looking at something special."

And how does his own collection stand-up against Mike's?

"I collected some Leafs memorabilia while I was here and I could maybe get one-quarter of the room filled with the stuff I have."

Burke agreed that the surroundings made a terrific backdrop for the event.

"It's a great venue for us and for Mike and Deb to host us here. It is the second year in-a-row and for Wayne Gretzky to agree to appear it's going to be a magical night."

Gretzky only made it down several steps before he was stopped in his tracks by a pair of Frank Mahovlich's gloves. "Are those from 1972?" Gretzky asked and of course his assessment was correct.

Once he entered the room, The Great One attempted to take in as much as he could. Following closely behind, I watched as his eyes darted from one item to another.


The picture above shows Gretzky pointing at a Glen Green limited edition from the 1987 Canada Cup. Gretzky pointed out to Mike that he had never seen this piece. Looking at the photo, you can see that it captured Gretzky's interest. Although the work isn't an original, Mike advised that it is tough one to get and is coveted in the collecting community.


Having an appreciation for the history of the game, Gretzky spent a few moments to observe the Leafs dressing room door (above) from Maple Leaf Gardens.

The moment I was waiting for came when Gretzky reached the display case featuring memorabilia from his hockey career.



It was apparent that the collection of his sweaters, pucks, sticks, trophies and all the other items were bringing back memories to the player who provided hockey fans with a few of their own.

But one article, in particular, grabbed Gretzky's attention and it had nothing to do with hockey. Tucked away on the right-side of the display case, Mike informed his guest that the piece he was looking at was his contract with NBC when he hosted Saturday Night Live.


"Where in the bleep did you get that?" Gretzky inquired. The above photo shows him leaning forward to get a better look at the document. The smile on his face says it all.

On the hockey front, I asked the NHL's all-time leader in goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857) if he had an itch to get back into the game?

"No, listen everything I have in my life is because of hockey. I have enough going on in my life. We're going to the U.S. Open next week and hopefully, my son-in-law, Dustin Johnson (PGA member), does well in Seattle. Then, we spend the summer in Idaho. My life is good and I love hockey."


INSIDE THE ROOM

Over the past while, Mike Wilson has hosted a series of monthly hockey talk sessions, which have been named 'Inside the Room'. As part of the charity event, Mike moderated a group discussion between Wayne Gretzky, Brian Burke, Brendan Shanahan (president of the Toronto Maple Leafs) and Gretzky's former teammate in Edmonton, Paul Coffey. All three of the ex-NHL players are Honoured Members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.


In his opening remarks, Mike noted, "this is the ultimate panel for me to host and moderate."

One of several intriguing topics of discussion raised by Mike was how has the game changed since Gretzky, Coffey and Shanahan last skated in the National Hockey League.

"The players are bigger, faster and stronger," Gretzky told the jam-packed room. "It's completely different in the sense that the imagination and creativity is probably not what it was like when we played. But the players as athletes, from the goaltender out are better. It's just a better game. The game is watched more today than it ever has been and that is because these athletes are better than we were. Twenty years from now the players will be better than the players of today."

Gretzky expanded on this point by noting how future generation throughout time have left their mark on the game.

"We always asked what's going to happen when Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe retires, or Mario Lemieux retires. Well, the kids come along like Crosby to Stamkos and Toews. They are good kids; good players and people want to see them play. It's all positive for the game of hockey."

Brendan Shanahan addressed the following question - in the future will individual clubs worldwide be given the chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup?


"I don't see it in the immediate future, but I truly think the Stanley Cup is considered by the rest of the world as the world championship. When I started playing hockey I didn't think there would be teams in Phoenix and Florida. To imagine that there would be a division in Europe competing for the Stanley Cup, well there is one thing I've learnt and that is never say never."

Paul Coffey commented on the changes he would like to see in today's game.


"One thing I would like to see and every team would like to have one, is a defenceman who can make the stick-to-stick pass. I know early in Edmonton when you went back you were not allowed to dump the puck along the boards. That was your last resort."

Brian Burke tackled the topic of equipment changes in the NHL.

"The league has made changes.You can't wear hard-capped shoulder or elbow pads anymore and the goalie equipment is shrinking."

He went to explain to explain the philosophy behind the changes.

"If I go to hit Brendan Shanahan, my risk should be as great as his. If I only had the hard-capped equipment and he didn't, it wouldn't be the same risk. The goal is to get the equipment on the same level so we're both taking the same risk."

The final word went to Wayne Gretzky.

"Eddie Belfour's jersey (Team Canada) is here," Gretzky said while gesturing to a display case to his left. Eddie was one of the goalies for Team Canada in 2002. I was fortunate to be part of the team (manager) and I called Eddie and told him, 'I can't lie to you, Marty Brodeur and Curtis Joseph are the two goalies. If you don't want to be part of this team because you're not going to play, that's okay, no one is going to know.'"

He said, "Wayne, I'll come and sharpen skates."

"I'm so proud to see Eddie's jersey here as we won a gold medal in 2002."

Talking to Paul Coffey, Gretzky asked, "do you believe this place?" A clear indication The Great One was impressed.


In an email Mike Wilson informed me of an interesting comment Brendan Shanahan made about the collection. Mike wrote that Shanahan told him the viewing "inspired and motivated him."

When the next hockey season gets underway, it might be a good idea for Shanahan to arrange a visit to Mike's for his 2015-16 squad.

What better way for a group of young players to experience the Leafs historic past. Imagine Jonathan Bernier examining Johnny Bower's paper-thin chest protector and comparing it to the present day goalie equipment. Then, tell him how Bower wore the flimsy protector while stopping bullets from the stick of Bobby Hull.

There is little doubt the entire roster would depart with a greater appreciation for the past and be motivated to restore the winning tradition. The impact of the collection is that powerful as Brendan Shanahan pointed out. It tells the story of Stanley Cup champions through the pieces left behind by prior generations.

From Bill Barilko and Ted Kennedy to Dave Keon and Johnny Bower, all the Leaf legends are in this room. One can't help but be intoxicated by the rich history covering every inch 'Inside the Room'.


NIGHT FOR CHANGE

When all was said and done, the word 'change' took on several different meanings as a result of the 2nd Annual Night For Change. 

To start, a large amount of 'change' was raised for The Canadian Safe School Network. Mike Wilson estimated that around $100,000 would be going to them to help wipe-out bullying.

In the auction alone, a successful bid of $15,000 allowed one gentleman to look forward to playing a round of golf with Wayne Gretzky and Dustin Johnson.

Just as important, a 'change' in awareness was hopefully gained by the press coverage this event received. The print and electronic media were well represented and they got the message out to the public.

Any gathering of this nature doesn't get off the ground without meticulous planning and organization. Thanks to Mike's and Deb's big hearts and generosity, The Night For Change was a dazzling event from start to finish. The same can be said of those working behind the scenes at The Canadian Safe School Network.

Looking down from above, Brendan Burke can't help but smile and be extremely proud of his dad.



*Edited June 11, 2015 5:08pm.






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