My father Norm was a great man. He passed away from cancer five years ago last week. I would not be sitting here if it were not for him. He made me the person and parent that I am today.
I did not realize it when I was a kid, but as I grew up and became a parent myself I realized how much my dad did for me. It is really unfortunate that he is no longer here. He would have loved to have seen what has happened in my life. My dad played hockey, but he was only 5’3”. Everybody used to tell me that he was the best little player on the team. He played Junior B in New Brunswick, Canada, which is as far as he got.
Growing up we always had the worst car, but my dad was the dad who would pick up all the kids and take them to practice. He would do it and would never ask questions. I never was looking for a ride. It did not matter what time he got home from work, he would take me every time.
When I would see Neil Smith, who is the former general manager of the New York Rangers, he would always ask how my father was. My dad would pick him up and take him to games, and he did not even play on our team. That is the kind of person he was. I drove home from Mississippi once when I was in the ECHL and I had my sons visiting me. I drove 24 hours to get Ben to a hockey camp. My dad asked me, “What the heck are you doing that for? It’s ridiculous.”
I just told him: “It is because you would have done it.” Every time I don’t want to do something like that I just think of my dad and know he would have done it and that is all the motivation I need. Like it was then, it is now and hockey is the center of attention in our household.
When I was four, I remember a new rink opened in our area and my dad went there and signed me up. We did not have that much money at all, but like most families my parents would go without things they wanted to take care of the kids. I always had a new pair of skates and a hockey stick. Early in the 1960s, if I broke a new hockey stick, dad would nail it back together. We had more nails than I could count in some of my sticks, but I always had a stick.
After a game he would be sitting in the car, and he never once gave me grief. He would always ask me what I thought of the game and how I thought I played. Later in life, if I was in a slump, he would be the first one who I would call and he would say, “Are you shooting enough? How many shots did you get on goal tonight?” He had a great way of letting me know that the world did not end during a slump, and that I would break out of it soon.
One of the nice things that many teams do in the NHL now is a mentor’s trip, where many of fathers or mentors accompany the team on a road trip during the year. I am very much into this trip because I know my father would have loved to have gone on a similar trip with me when I was playing. We are from Toronto and when I was playing for the Leafs, there was not a prouder man anywhere.
I was coaching a game in Lowell, Mass., and was told right before the game that my dad was not doing that well. I coached the game and we lost 4-1. Then I drove seven hours to see him. At the time he could not talk, but the first question out of his mouth would have been, “Who won?” It’s funny because I guess parents know certain things. He was in the hospital and once he knew that I was there and my brother was there, he closed his eyes and went to sleep. He was one of the good guys. I was really quite blessed and lucky to have a father like him. He is watching me now so everything is good.