It is the only regret of my life. I have talked to my sons about this. They are all honest boys and hard competitors who enjoy hockey.
It was 1973; I was seventeen and had a tryout with the Cornwall Royals of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Every kid who ever stepped on a pond dreams of playing in the big league. When television came to my hometown, Glace Bay, I’d put on gear just to watch Hockey Night in Canada – it was that exciting! In those days you followed the Leafs or the Habs. There was a sprinkling of Bruins fans, but not many.
There were six children in our family. My mother Kay could fit half a team in the station wagon to get us to the rink. My father Trueman did not play hockey. I asked Justin Trudeau once, ‘Did you ever play?’ And he replied, ‘No, my dad never wanted to be the father who drops the kids off.’ He preferred hiking or swimming or kayaking – activities where fathers and sons spend time together, because time is so precious.
I played defence when I was younger, in minor hockey in Cape Breton, then moved to centre and the wing. So, I had my tryout with Cornwall and I made the team. It seems long ago now. You don’t play elite sports unless you are totally committed; you have to eat, sleep and drink that sport. You just never give up. But I did.
I made the team but could not make the commitment; I told the folks I was coming home. Your world is small; you think it’s your oyster. If I have one regret it’s that I didn’t stick it out in Cornwall when I had the chance. I know now I’d never have made pro, but just the opportunity to play at the best level you’re able to play at – that was the chance I lost. Would it have made a huge difference in the man I am today? I’m not sure. Perhaps if I played three years in the QMJHL I would never have met my wife Lynn and had three great kids.
I have played and coached. I’ve run hockey schools. Trying to get 18 young players to put team above self takes the game to a new level for me.
I cannot explain the love affair between Canadians and hockey. Heckling the referees – I despise that part of it. I love being on the ice, taking that stride, pushing off with your toe, moving the puck. Skating on an open pond is still special to me. Probably a lot of younger players are getting away from that now.
I still love being in a rink.
I actually love the smell of rinks.
Maybe it’s the ammonia in the system.
[Editor’s note: the author is six-term Liberal MP for Cape Breton-Canso, N.S.]