Saturday, January 31, 2009

Killer Smile

Doug Gilmour.
There is a name that means a lot to me. I say this with total and utter seriousness. Doug Gilmour made me the man I am today. Doug Gilmour is responsible for my work ethic, my stubbornness, my feisty never say die attitude and most of all my love of the game of hockey.
Like I have said before, the 1992-1993 NHL season and playoff run was the catalyst of my Leaf-fandom. At the tender age of 10 I became hooked on the Leafs and most of all hockey forever. Dougie is that reason.
The Ying to Wendels Yang, Dougie kept my young ADHD ass glued in front of that TV. Every time he touched the puck the excitement was instantanious, because you knew anything could happen.
Even at that young age, I realized something different about this numer 93 that separated him from other numbers, like 66 and 99. While the others excited me when they had the puck, it was because it looked so natural, so easy for them. Other players seemed but ghosts that they could walk through and around without trouble. 93 was different. Every stride, every turn, every dangle looked hard. You could tell he was trying so very hard. Every. Single. Shift.
Its not that I didn't think skill, anyone who could score 127 points in a season had skill. It was that he was using every last drop of that skill and more.
He wasn't big, but he wasn't affraid of anything or anyone. He'd grind in the corners with the gooniest of goons, and take faceoffs against those mystic double numbers that made it look so easy. And he'd win, or he'd die trying.
Wendel was a player that I could look up and admire, Mario was one I could evny, Gretzkey was one I could hate because he was just that damned good. Dougie was a guy who showed me that if I worked at it, damned be the person that try to stand in my way.
I modeled my style of play after Gilmour, and instantly was a better player. I was also having a lot more fun.
A couple years later, while at a Kingston Frontinacs game, my dad told me that Dougie was in the luxury box to the left of the home goal. I stopped watching the game and became transfixed. HE was there. My hockey idol was in the same building as me. At the first intermission I launched myself from my chair, shouting back at my dad that I was going to find Dougie. And find him I did. He looked like he hadn't slept in a week and was walking with a slight limp. But he smiled, shook my hand and signed my program. I wanted to thank him but I was too awe struck. Dougie stepped back into the box and I turned to see my dad with the biggest smile on his face I'd ever seen. I was super charged for a week telling everyone how I had met the greatest man in the world.
I met him again another year or so later, downtown Kingston during the Buskars. There was a crowd chanting "Cherry, Cherry, Cherry" and my dad and I wandered over to see what was up. Don Cherry was shaking hands and signing autographs and taking pictures. Then, out of nowhere, Dougie showed up. The crowd went nuts. I was again in awe and the next 15 minuites are kind of a blur. Dougie and the Don had blown my young mind. I don't even remember posing for the picture with them both, and some other punk who played for the Habs who jumped in. I hope my parents still have that picture. I want to show it to my kids some day.
When Dougie was traded, my heart was broken, but I never forgot what he taught me. When he returned I smiled so big for so long my face hurt for a month. When he was hurt, I felt physical pain. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to watch.
He retired not long after, Forever a Leaf, forever my personal hero.

Tonight, he gets the honour he deserves. If you see tears, yeah, I'm probaly crying. I'll admit that. Dougie means the world to me.

Thank you Dougie. Thank you.