|A role in Mike Myers' new film, The Love Guru helped former defenseman Jamie Allison deal with the disappointment of having to retire from the NHL due a lingering neck injury.
Pitka, played by Mike Myers, is the lead character in the movie The Love Guru, released June 20. Playing his first original character since Austin Powers, Myers plays an American who was left at the gates of an ashram in India as a child and raised by gurus. He moves back to the United States to seek fame and fortune in the world of self-help and spirituality.
In the movie, Myers' unorthodox methods are put to the test when he must settle a rift between Toronto Maple Leafs star hockey player Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco) and his estranged wife. After the split, Roanoke's wife starts dating Los Angeles Kings star Jacques Grande (Justin Timberlake) out of revenge, sending her husband into a major professional skid, much to the horror of the team's owner Jane Bullard (Jessica Alba) and coach Cherkov (Verne Troyer). Pitka must return the couple to marital nirvana and get Roanoke back on his game so the team can break the 40-year-old "Bullard Curse" and win the Stanley Cup.
So, how did Pitka help Allison, a real-life professional player with 11 years of NHL experience? By playing a part -- however indirectly -- in helping Allison get past a tough stretch in his life.
This past summer, Allison had signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, his hometown team. But when he showed up for the training camp physical, Allison was told he had a problem with his neck that would preclude him from playing.
"I've had neck problems for probably six or seven years," said Allison, a defenseman who played with Calgary, Chicago, Columbus, Nashville and Florida during his NHL tenure. "Every time I would get an MRI, though, they would say as long as you have your strength and you can deal with the pain, you're not looking at any long-term damage type of thing. I expected the same thing when I went through the MRI with Toronto, but this time it was a little different.
"The guy basically told me, 'Listen if you were my son, I'd basically tell you not to play. You take one hit the wrong way, you might not walk again.' That was a pretty easy decision."
It may have been an easy decision to make; but it was not without its repercussions. Allison basically was required to give up the only career he has known and stop playing the game he has loved all his life.
But before Allison could even begin to sink into the despair that usually accompanies career-ending injuries, The Love Guru entered his life.
Allison's brother-in-law had attended the movie's open casting call for hockey extras. While there, he mentioned Jamie and the producer, Mark Ellis, was interested. Before Allison knew it, he was one of the primary extras in the movie.
"It was timing more than anything," Allison says. "It's funny, but ever since it happened, I've been busier than I had been before."
First, Allison spent almost two months shooting the movie. Then, he signed on as an assistant coach with the Brampton Battalion, an Ontario Hockey League team close to Allison's home in Oakville. Finally, Allison went into business distributing DuRock stucco products.
All of that happened, though, because Allison never found the time to throw a pity party. He was on the go almost from the day the doctors broke the bad news to him late last summer. Allison threw himself into his new role with the movie. As a former NHLer, he was one of the more skilled extras when it came to choreographing and filming the hockey scenes.
Ellis, the producer who coordinated all of the hockey scenes, leaned heavily on Allison throughout the filming process.
"I tried to put the puck on his stick," Ellis said. "If it was a key pass or something that had to get done that was very difficult to choreograph, I just used Jamie's amazing skill set and leaned on him to make me look real good. He was that guy -- just the ultimate professional."
If it doesn't sound too hard for an accomplished hockey player to receive a pass or make a shot, Ellis cautions you to think again.
|Because he possessed a superior hockey skill set compared to a typical extra, the producers of the movie leaned heavily on Allison while filming scenes on the ice.
"It's just like the NHL; there are practice players and game players. You want to find as many game players as possible; because every take costs money and you don't want to have to do it over and over and over again. That's why Jamie ended up with the puck a lot. He was just a guy you want there in the clutch."
In the end, Allison won't say that the movie provided closure -- he is too competitive and loves playing NHL hockey too much to agree to that -- but he does believe that it made a potentially rough patch in his life go by a little smoother.
"The timing of it couldn't have been better for me," Allison said. "Finding out I couldn't play was tough and I think if I had just been sitting at home it would have made it worse. But, it gave me a chance to get away and not really think about it."
Allison says everything hit him toward the end of the filming process, when they actually filmed at the Air Canada Centre, during intermission of a Toronto Maple Leafs exhibition game. Suddenly, he was wearing the blue-and-white sweater of his hometown Leafs, playing before a full house of rabid fans -- the very dream that had propelled him through a summer of grueling workouts.
Yet, by then he was OK with the fact that it was just in a movie, and not the real-life experience he craved.
"It was really strange, because we actually filmed a couple scenes during a Leafs' exhibition game -- between periods," Allison said. "So, we skate out on the ice and the rest of the guys are in awe, skating out before 20,000 fans. For me, it was emotional because I skated out and I was sitting on the bench and looking around and I'm thinking to myself that I should be here.
"It was kind of a surreal moment because I hadn't really had a chance to think about it because I went right into the movie and it just kind of hit me right there. It was kind of neat."
That sounds like it is right out of a self-help book. Guru Pitka can be proud.