Martin Vernon was a very proud father Tuesday as he watched jersey No. 30 rise to the rafters of the Pengrowth Saddledome. Certainly the game hockey has changed plenty since he first coached his son, Mike, in south Calgary. But what hasn’t changed is the honour that goes with having your number retired.
“It’s a positive night,” said father Vernon.
Having a hometown goalie – Mike Vernon was born and raised in Calgary, first playing for the South Calgary community, where his father was president of the hockey organization – wasn’t always easy. Afterall, a goalie is the last line of defence and, well, subject to plenty of fan criticism and, of course, the odd booing.
“That’s all natural but it was hard for me,” recalled Martin. “I think it would be hard to walk into any rink and hear people criticizing your son.”
Tuesday, those thoughts were wiped away as the Calgary Flames honoured one of their own by retiring Vernon’s jersey, just the second Flames jersey to be hoisted in team history.
What will be remembered is that Vernon worked his way through minor hockey in Calgary, played in the Tier II junior league and then with the hometown Calgary Wranglers before being drafted by the Calgary Flames and making two trips to the Stanley Cup, in 1986 and 1989, wearing the Flaming C.
In 1989 Vernon’s friend and teammate, Al MacInnis, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. There were those who thought the honour could have gone to the Flames goalie who was nothing short of brilliant, posting a 2.26 goals against average and 16-5 record en route to his first Stanley Cup. Perhaps Vernon’s most notable save came in the opening series against Vancouver when he stopped Stan Smyl in overtime of Game 7 on a breakaway.
“I know he wanted it really bad,” recalls Martin of Vernon’s desire to play, and win, in the National Hockey League. “Right from a young age. When he was three or four he would come to the practices and he would sit beside the goalie and he wouldn’t move.
“He always said ‘I didn’t play hockey. I played goal’.”
That he did – Vernon also played in Detroit, where he won another Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy, San Jose and Florida before retiring as a Flame in September, 2002.
Mike Vernon, now a father of four – Amelia, 11, Matthew, 8, John, 5 and Will, 3 – is busy with their activities and probably knows what his father’s evenings were like back when the Vernon kids were all playing hockey.
“Oh, man. I am hockied-out,” laughs Martin. “We sometimes had four games a night.”
Mike, in a Flames uniform, played 13 seasons had 262 wins, and logged 29,650 minutes. Now that’s a lot of hockey. But Martin notes that his son slid rather seamlessly from the ice to business following his retirement.
“For a guy who always promised me he would go back and finish his Grade 12, I just shake my head,” smiles Martin. “But he always had a keen interest in business. He worked for me for a little bit (in the construction industry) and decided right then and there that there had to be a better way. He didn’t like to get dirty too much.”
One thing Vernon did was get to business on goaltending.
“He was always a student of the game. He always watched other goalies. He studied it. I sent him to goal school when he was younger but he picked up a lot on his own. He probably changed his style of goaltending three times. Hockey probably changed three times while he was playing.” said Martin.
But hockey didn’t change one tradition – the retiring of a jersey. So was one more memorable hockey night for Mike and Martin Vernon. It’s was Tuesday, when father and son watched No. 30 rise to the roof of a Flames goalie’s home for 526 games.