by Terry Bridge/The Observer, Sarnia
The exact name hasn’t been selected yet, but Sarnia’s oldest arena will be renamed after the city’s first prominent NHL player and member of a legendary Team Canada squad.
Sarnia city council gave the green light this week to rename Sarnia Arena after Pat Stapleton. The former Chicago Blackhawks defenceman, who died in April 2020, compiled a respected on-ice career followed by several decades of mentoring youth in the sport.
Coun. Bill Dennis called him a “tremendous” role model for hockey players but also how to live life in general.
“It is my honour to support the renaming of the Sarnia Arena after Pat Stapleton,” Dennis said as he made a motion that passed with a 6-2 vote.
Coun. Mike Stark said he was “honoured” to second Dennis’s motion and pointed out other city facilities have been renamed in honour of politicians, civic employees and sports figures such as champion golfer Mike Weir.
“This is in keeping with honouring our greats of the past,” Stark said.
Sarnia resident Brian Keelan first floated the idea shortly after Stapleton died on April 8, 2020, at age 79. Keelan pointed out Stapleton, who earned the nickname Whitey for his fair hair, spent most of his youth playing in the Brock Street South rink and was the first player in the facility’s 83-year history to land a full-time gig in the then-six-team NHL.
He was also a “key” player for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union, Keelan said.
“The greatest game ever played, in terms of Canadian history, and Whitey did us all proud,” he said.
Keelan added several teammates from the ’72 squad have “enthusiastically” endorsed the proposal.
“There have been 10 players from that team who have had an arena named after them in their hometown, and Whitey would be the 11th,” he said.
Off the ice, Stapleton was a good ambassador for the city and spoke to thousands of children over the years, Keelan said.
“He’s a guy worth remembering,” he said.
Keelan started a petition that gathered about 2,100 signatures, including four on city council, shortly after the anniversary of Stapleton’s death and the idea was recently posted for public feedback. The city’s clerk’s office received 73 responses, with 48 in favour, 21 opposed, and four different suggestions coming in.
The main two reasons for opposing the idea included accomplishments in the sport by other Sarnians and the importance of remembering the history of the arena, which was built in 1948 on the backs of local volunteers.
“We must not forget the people that made this facility a possibility,” said Coun. Margaret Bird, one of two councillors to vote against the proposal.
Coun. Dave Boushy, who cast the other opposing vote, suggested using a citizen’s idea of retaining the name Sarnia Arena while adding ‘Home of hockey legend Pat Stapleton’ on the exterior sign. But Brian White, acting mayor in Mike Bradley’s absence, said that was contrary to Dennis’s motion, which called for renaming it.
Bird also said changing the rink’s name could cause confusion for tourists, who typically refer to buildings by their location. White said he wasn’t concerned about that issue due to the availability of GPS-based maps.
A name such as the Pat Stapleton Sarnia Arena, similar to the Andrew S. Brandt Marina at Sarnia Bay, would avoid any confusion, White added.
“We need heroes,” he said, “and for those who are into hockey, Pat Stapleton represents somebody that you can model yourself after.”
Keelan, who also wants to set up a hall-of-fame-type monument inside the arena, suggested starting a committee to determine the players who would be honoured and to come up with a budget and raise the necessary funds.
“It would be my goal to have this done by September 2022, which is the 50th anniversary of the Team Canada victory,” Keelan said. “Something that … Pat very much wanted to be a part of and promote.”
Stark said he’s heard the figure $30,000 “bandied around” for the budget and asked if that’s a reasonable figure for the group to fundraise to cover their costs. Keelan said he thought that would be “quite easy,” but added his expectation was they’d have to come up with “quite a bit” more than that.
“This is about more than just putting a sign outside of that building,” Keelan said.
by Melanie Irwin/Blackburn News
Sarnia Arena will be renamed after Pat Stapleton.
City council made the decision at its meeting on Monday.
The Sarnia-born NHLer, and member of Canada’s historic 1972 Summit Series team, died at the age of 79, on April 9, 2020.
Councillor Bill Dennis recalled meeting Stapleton as a young boy at an SMAA event.
“I vividly remember a kind, engaging, and very impactful man, I was truly in awe,” said Dennis. “I remember approaching Pat several years later at a Sarnia Bees game, as a shy kid, asking for an autograph. At the time, he made what could have been a terrifying experience, into a warm memory.”
Dennis said it’s time to give back to the man who has done so much for others.
“Today, I find it almost surreal that I’m in the position to give back to someone whose philosophy was to do something, for someone else, with no expectations in return.”
Dennis said he was honoured to support the renaming.
“This man has been a tremendous role model for hockey, for our city, for our country and for in general how to live your life.”
Councillor Mike Stark also supported the renaming after clarifying something with Brian Keelan, who requested the commemoration.
“We have received some negative comments with respect to the inclusion of the name, “Whitey”, given the current issues and in terms of sensitivity, I presume you would be open to the idea that we would use the name Pat Stapleton Memorial?” Stark asked Keelan.
“I sure would,” Keelan interjected. “I certainly would. I know that Pat was in favour of that as well. He wanted to be remembered as Pat Stapleton.”
Fundraising will now be launched to raise over $30,000 for the signage and a hall or wall of fame.
Keelan is hoping to have the project completed by 2022, so a dedication event can be held in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Canada’s win in ’72.
Stapleton played 10 seasons in the NHL as a defenseman, eight with the Chicago Blackhawks and two with the Boston Bruins.
He started his junior career with the Legionnaires and was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
Councillor Dave Boushy and Margaret Bird voted against the motion.
They felt the name Sarnia Arena should be retained, but “Home of the hockey legend Pat Stapleton” could be added.
Mayor Mike Bradley was absent from the meeting.
'It would be a big honour for our family': Mike Stapleton hopes Sarnia council renames arena after his dad
by Brent Lale - CTV News London Videographer
ST. THOMAS, ONT. -- Every day Mike Stapleton wishes he could call his family home and hear his father answer with the phrase ‘Hockey Heaven, Strathroy Division.’
“You know you're driving along, you think are going to give him a call and he's not there,” says Stapleton from his home in northern Michigan.
His dad Pat Stapleton, an NHL legend who resided in Strathroy, Ont. passed away April 8, 2020.
“The thing I miss most is talking a little bit about hockey and bouncing some stuff off him. It's those little things I guess you missed. He was quirky, but he was always positive and always willing to help somebody.”
It’s been difficult during the pandemic because of quarantine rules, and border closures, Mike, his sister in Phoenix, Ariz. and his brother in Sweden haven’t been able to get home to see their mom.
He’s not the only one remembering the former member of the 1972 Team Canada Summit Series Team.
Brian Keelan, a Bright’s Grove, Ont. native started a petition last year to rename the Sarnia, Ont. Arena after Pat ‘Whitey’ Stapleton.
“He was the first guy from Sarnia to ever get a full-time job in the NHL,” says Keelan.
“Back when there were six teams in the NHL for all of us to know a guy from Sarnia who's playing in the National Hockey League that was a big deal. He led the way for guys like Dino Ciccarelli, Ian and Tony McKegney and Wayne Merrick and others who came after. Most importantly to me was the contribution to the 1972 Summit Series.”
Due to the pandemic, Keelan could only promote the petition online, yet he feels it was successful.
“We got 2108 signatures on it,” says Keelan.
“I would consider that to be a pretty good indication that people were very much in favor of this. I'm hoping that this will be viewed by everybody as a chance for us to honour one of our own.”
Sarnia native and former NHL star Tony McKegney supports the idea of naming the arena on Brock Street which was built in 1949.
"I got an autograph from Pat when I was five-years old at that arena," says McKegney from his home in Buffalo, NY.
"Pat was our milkman when I as young as my dad told me that story. The thought back then was if someone could go from being a milk-man to a hall of fame calibre hockey player, then we could do it too. Pat also came back to the area and helped a lot of younger players with his hockey camps."
When this petition came up a year ago, there were questions whether the family would approve of the renaming. Since that time, they have said it would be special way to memorialize Stapleton.
“It's a pretty big honour if it goes through and the rink is named under Dad,” says Mike.
“For what he's done for the city of Sarnia and in his career and it's a great honor for us as a family. Hopefully it goes to council and comes out on a good side”.
Nearly a year after starting the petition, Keelan will get 10 minutes via Zoom to make his pitch to Sarnia City Council Monday night.
“We're going to debate the concept and make a decision,” says Councillor Mike Stark, who will be voting in favour of Keelan’s idea.
“I see no reason why we shouldn't be moving forward with supporting Mr. Keelan’s suggestions. I think they're very appropriate, and recognizes the immense contributions that Pat has, has given to the city of Sarnia. I think it goes well beyond his hockey career as he's been a significant contributor to multiple fundraising opportunities, and I think it, it recognizes the uniqueness of his playing career.”
Naming buildings after well known people in a community is not unique. Sarnia’s Fire Station is named after Cliff Hanson, and Mike Weir has a park named after him in Bright’s Grove.
Just south of Sarnia in Dresden, Ont., the community named the arena after former NHL’er Ken Houston who passed away from in 2018.
“Some suggest that we should name it the Memorial Arena and then have dedicated area within the arena,” says Stark.
“I think it's more than that, I think it should be the Pat ‘Whitey’ Stapleton Memorial Arena. Then all of the other players who have contributed should be recognized inside the facility, but ‘Whitey’ deserves a special honour and one I’m proud to support.”
Stapleton played two seasons for the Jr. B Sarnia Legionnaires from 1956-1958. Keelan agrees history needs to be honoured and would like to see statues or murals of the Sarnia hockey stars inside the rink.
“When you come here to play hockey against us, you are coming into our house,” says Keelan.
“You should know who came from this place, who played here and who we developed into hockey players. When you are here, you are in our house now. I’d like to see that gets reflected in the experience they have at Sarnia Arena in the future.”
McKegney agrees that the arena where so many future NHLers grew up playing should have Stapleton's name on the facade. It will help people learn about the local hockey history.
"When kids come to Sarnia to play against them, perhaps their father and grandfather will tell them the story of Pat Stapleton. They along with the local kids can look up his stats. I remember Phil Esposito told me that Pat and Bill White were the best defence pairing in the Summit Series."
Mike remembers hearing the stories about his dad’s time playing in that rink.
“When they did play in the old arena, it was packed,” says Mike.
“They had opened up the Zamboni end to get the Zamboni and people would come in through the back to get in when they were playing. I mean, it would be really a special thing for us. To have an arena named after your dad, I don't know what more honor you could have, especially when he grew up playing in the same building.”
While no one can hear the words ‘Hockey Heaven’ on the phone again, Mike hopes that if the arena is named after his father, he can greet all those who enter the rink at the gates in spirit.