photo - Pat Stapleton, left, dressed as a referee with Rick Fraser, right, presents the cake while singing Happy Birthday to fellow Sarnian and former NHL ref Neil Armstrong on his 84th birthday. The gesture captures Stapleton’s true nature and how he cared for others, the Greenwoods say. Submitted Photo to The Sarnia Journal
Dave & Janet Greenwood
Most people knew Pat “Whitey” Stapleton for his exploits as a hockey player: NHL All-Star, captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, Team Canada member in the famed 1972 series against the Soviet Union.
But as city council considers renaming Sarnia Arena for this man, it’s fitting to know what he did off the ice.
Few are aware of the substantial body of work Pat achieved in the 40-plus years after his playing days. For those accomplishments, he was nominated for the Order of Canada.
Prior to his passing last year, Pat was visiting educators across Canada to discuss his leadership program. It’s called “28,800 seconds: The Power of Teamwork,” a reference to the time it took to play eight games against the Soviets in ‘72.
Pat’s initiative is part of the Niagara Catholic School District’s Social Studies and Canadian History curriculum, taught to 6,000 students in Grades 4 to 6. It stresses leadership and perseverance, resiliency and the importance of teamwork. His efforts were featured in major Canadian newspapers and the New York Times
Pat was a tireless advocate for members of Team Canada. He was responsible for the restructuring and creation of their legacy, called 1972 Summit Series Hockey Team Inc., which supports charities and ensures the players’ stories and lessons are taken to communities and classrooms.
After his playing days, Pat grew concerned about the way hockey is taught to young people, in terms of technique and human values. He saw youth being pushed and pressured with negative results.
He developed a new, holistic approach called “Fundamentals in Action,” to help young players believe in themselves.
He developed unique and creative on-ice drills to encourage creativity, something he saw missing in player development. With sponsorship from Pepsi Cola and Canadian Tire, he took the program to 1,300 communities from Newfoundland to Vancouver. Notably, the U.S. National Junior program prevailed upon him to redesign its approach.
Many have seen Pat speak at banquets throughout Ontario, including Sarnia. He refused the speaker’s fee.
He also spoke at Sarnia high schools and elementary schools. His message was simple: live properly and do the best you can. Often he posed three basic questions to students. What do you want in life? What will you sacrifice to get it? Are you willing to do the necessary work?
Hockey parents would ask him to come and watch their son or daughter play, to provide an evaluation, and perhaps to speak to them. He never hesitated, and at his own expense travelled to arenas in towns throughout Southwestern Ontario.
A few years ago, Pat became aware of a Sarnia man who was down on his luck, sick, and dying. Through this tough time, Pat delivered food and provided financial help. It was his basic philosophy: “Do something for someone else every day, with no expectation of return.” He loved his hometown of Sarnia and cared about people.
For all these reasons, we believe there is no person more deserving of having an arena named after him.
Pat was an extremely modest man, and much of what he did went unnoticed. So it would be right and proper to honour this hometown hero who was so much more than a hockey player, just as we have honoured Andy Brandt, Chris Hadfield, and Mike Weir, to name a few.
We support the Sarnia Arena being named for Pat “Whitey” Stapleton.
Dave and Janet Greenwood are long-time supporters of Sarnia sports.
Mike Harrington: On 10th anniversary of Rick Martin's death (July 26, 1951 - March 13, 2011)
photo - Less than three weeks before his death, Rick Martin (7) joins fellow French Connection linemates Rene Robert (14) and Gilbert Perreault in greeting Terry Pegula prior to the new owner's first game on Feb. 23, 2011 in then-First Niagara Center. (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News file photo)
It was a significant day for those of us who lived the good times. It was the 10-year anniversary of the death of French Connection left winger Rick Martin, gone far too soon at 59. Martin had a heart attack on a Sunday morning while driving and crashed his car into a utility pole on Main Street in Clarence on March 13, 2011, a few hours prior to a late-afternoon home game against the Ottawa Senators.
Known as "Rico" to everyone in the organization, Martin was a ball of life to the team and its alumni. The stories of him on the golf course with his omnipresent cigar are legendary. The stories of him on the ice are, too. That wicked slapshot that whizzed by goalies throughout the 1970s took out more than a few defensemen -- and sometimes as a bit of retribution if the case called for it.
Martin scored the only goal in the first Sabres game I ever went to in the Aud, a 3-1 loss to Chicago on Dec. 9, 1971. I was in the Reds for his 50th of the season against Boston in 1975.
One of the highest privileges in this job is getting to meet many of this club's venerable alumni. It's been a pleasure to get to know Danny Gare and Mike Robitaille, Rob Ray, Brad May and Matthew Barnaby. Rene Robert has been a prince to chat with the last two years during Road Crew events in Las Vegas. Gilbert Perreault, too.
About the best moment you'll ever have in this gig was the NHL100 ceremony in Los Angeles in 2017 featuring Perreault, Dominik Hasek and Pat LaFontaine, who could have done great things here as team president but never got a real chance and is now, sadly, an outcast of the Pegulas.
In 2010, after The News published a centerspread of the top 40 players in franchise history to honor the 40th anniversary season, I was sitting in the arena press room the day before the season opener and Martin walked in. You see alumni every so often, especially at the start of a season (before many of them head to Florida). He headed right toward me. We had never met.
"Hi Mike, I'm Rick Martin," he said. "How's it going?"
Yeah, I know. No intro needed (I didn't say that, but that's what I was thinking). And it was going great.
He said he just wanted to thank me and, by extension, the paper for the time spent honoring alumni. We talked a little about the season -- the team was actual thinking Stanley Cup after winning its division the previous spring -- and then Martin went on his way. Great stuff.
It was the only time we ever talked. I won't forget it.
Martin, you might remember, was a centerpiece of Terry Pegula's 2011 introduction when he and Perreault and Robert skated out to surprise the owner on the ice prior to his first game in charge.
Three weeks later, Martin was gone. When the Sabres won their game later that day, they gathered at center ice to salute the fans and, led by Ryan Miller, pointed their sticks high to the rafters in the direction of Martin's number.
Bruins-Rangers games spark memories of fierce rivalry for Park
Hall of Fame defenseman who played for Boston, New York says teams 'absolutely hated each other'
by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist
Brad Park has a warehouse of tales about the spicy rivalry between the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins, teams for which he almost equally split 966 NHL games between 1968-83.
But with the Rangers and Bruins division rivals for the first time since 1973-74, when they were last together in the East Division, and playing for the first time this season at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TVAS), Park said one story nicely sums up what he experienced playing for each team.
Park, then with the Rangers, and Johnny "Pie" McKenzie, with the Bruins, were East teammates in the 1972 NHL All-Star Game in Minnesota. It was late in the second period when Park spotted McKenzie in open ice.
"I hit 'Pie' with a pass and sent him in on a breakaway, and he scored. I didn't congratulate him, and he didn't say thank you," Park recalled. "In those days, you might have had five Bruins and five Rangers on an all-star team, in the same dressing room (four and six in 1972), and we wouldn't talk to each other. We'd be cordial but believe me, there were no long, friendly conversations."
Rangers and Bruins players in that era, Park said, "absolutely hated each other. The mentality was you didn't want to know the guys on the other team. You made sure you never hung out with them in the summer and you made sure that if you walked into a bar or restaurant second, one of the other guys already in there, you walked out first.
"We didn't have the money to hang out in the summer anyway. You had to work. You did construction, manual labor or worked on a farm, those were the jobs you could get. Guys today work out together at the same gym. It's hard to bang heads when you like someone."
The game Wednesday will be the 653rd in the regular season between the Bruins and Rangers, Boston holding a 296-248-97-11 edge. The Bruins' 296 wins are their second-most against any opponent, five fewer than against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and their 2,051 goals scored on the Rangers are the most against anyone.
Boston also holds a strong lead in Stanley Cup Playoff series, 7-3 against New York. The most recent playoff series between the two was in 2013, when the Bruins defeated the Rangers in five games in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The game Wednesday, and again Friday, will be the first two of eight MassMutual East Division games between the Rangers and Bruins this season. Because of travel concerns with the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL realigned its divisions for this season with each team scheduled to play 56 games, all within its division.
Park speaks fondly of the simmering sports feud between New York and Boston that predates his arrival with the Rangers in 1968, of historic duels between baseball's Yankees and Red Sox and the NBA's Knicks and Celtics, "with great fans in both cities for sure. Then you had the Rangers and Bruins going from being the NHL's two worst teams in the early 1960s to among their best in the early 1970s."
Six times in seven seasons in the six-team NHL, from 1959-60 through 1965-66, Boston and New York finished the regular season in fifth and sixth place. Each improved dramatically after the NHL expanded to 12 teams for the 1967-68 season, the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972, and the Rangers reaching the 1972 Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to Boston in six games.
Almost wistfully, Park recalls the 45-rpm record that came from the stands in Boston Garden "like a missile" and exploded into vinyl dust against the boards on the Rangers bench.
"Kids today don't know what a 45-rpm is," the 72-year-old grumbled, wishing he knew the name of the song that a Bruins fan airmailed that night. "They can't throw a Walkman today because they're gone, too, and a phone is too expensive."
Park said he's heard many stories from that era's Bruins about the showers of debris that would hit their Madison Square Garden bench, Rangers fans happy to reply to their Boston "friends."
Park played his first 465 NHL games for the Rangers, scoring 40 points (10 goals, 30 assists) in 42 regular-season games against the Bruins, before he was packaged in a blockbuster trade to Boston on Nov. 7, 1975 with center Jean Ratelle and defenseman Joe Zanussi for Bruins center Phil Esposito and defenseman Carol Vadnais.
Park eventually became a beloved figure in Boston, playing 501 games for the Bruins, scoring 28 points (four goals, 24 assists) in 34 games against his former team.
But at the outset, Boston fans weren't eager to forgive Park for his candid impressions of Bruins stars that he shared in his 1971 autobiography "Play the Man." He used the words "flake", "gutless" and "animals," among others, to describe Bruins players, and called Boston Garden "downright grubby." The reaction to the book was so strong in Boston that Park received death threats and for a time was assigned an FBI escort to and from the Garden ice.
"When I was with the Rangers, the New York press would say that I was as good as or better than Bobby Orr and the Boston press would say, 'Ain't no [darn] way.' Trust me, Bobby Orr was the best I ever saw. I was good but he was great."
Four times between 1970-74, Park finished second to Orr in voting for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the best defenseman in the NHL.
"Bobby Orr, in full stride, there's no way you're skating backwards as fast as he's coming forward," Park said. "He was the best broken-field runner I ever saw through the neutral zone. Bobby could beat you wide and on the inside."
Park recalls arriving in Boston immediately after the trade and waiting at WBZ, the Bruins' flagship radio station, to go on an open-line show.
"I'm sitting in the lobby listening and the fans are furious, having lost Esposito in a trade for me," he said. "I'm hearing that I'm a piece of garbage. The Bruins fan base is hating me unbelievably. And this is my first night in town!"
Park no longer had to worry about being freight-trained by the likes of Bruins forwards Wayne Cashman and Ken Hodge, and knowing the Rangers well helped him to defend against them. Old Broadway buddies became rivals in a New York minute.
He chuckles at the memory of playing for the Bruins, weaving around his best friend and former Rangers teammate Walt Tkaczuk, the latter cussing as he did. When Park tried the same move a second time, Tkaczuk flattened him with a punch that he never saw coming.
"I'm lying on my back," Park said, "and Walt's standing over me, looking down, shaking his head, saying, 'Not twice.'"
Park retired in 1985 after two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, a nine-time all-star and winner of the 1983-84 Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. He played 1,113 games, scoring 896 points (213 goals, 683 assists).
From his home in Florida, his two former teams near in his heart if distant on a map, Park will be watching crabby rivals New York and Boston square off again Wednesday and Friday, considering whether he views himself more a Ranger or a Bruin.
"I guess it depends which side of Hartford I'm on," he said with a laugh, the Connecticut city almost dead center between their arenas.