When NHL goaltender legend and Sault native Tony Esposito died in August, I remembered the time I met him at the opening of the Sault’s new arena (known initially as the Steelback Centre, now known as GFL Memorial Gardens) in 2006.
That meeting, when I was working as a broadcast journalist in those days, was unexpected.
Though I knew Tony and his brother, hockey great Phil Esposito, would be visiting their hometown for the opening of the new arena, I walked past Tony on the concourse which was packed with people excited and chatting about the official opening of the facility as a new home for the Soo Greyhounds and a venue for special events.
An acquaintance of mine called out to me and said with a smile, "hey, don’t you know Tony Esposito when you see him?"
If anyone had mentioned Tony Esposito’s name to me, I would have had an image of a young curly-haired man from the 1970s come to mind, or a mental image of him wearing his goalie mask and Chicago Blackhawks jersey.
Tony was a bit older by 2006, but there he was.
We had a brief chat (and a full interview later) and I listened to him reminisce about downtown shopping landmarks such as Davis Clothing.
Every reporter has met at least one notable person in his/her time. Such meetings and interviews are one of the perks of the job.
After Esposito passed away, I began to think ‘hey, I’ve met a few notable people in my time while in the media.’
I immediately thought of another unexpected meeting I had with another NHL great.
In February 2018, as a reporter for SooToday, I covered a hockey game between the Soo Pee Wee All Stars and the Montreal Canadiens Alumni team at the Community First Soo Pee Wee Arena.
During the late 1970s, I was a Habs fan, my eyes glued to the TV set every weekend as I watched the Montreal Canadiens dynasty team, which won four consecutive Stanley Cup championships in those years, display its formidable on-ice talent.
While standing near the Montreal Canadiens Alumni team bench at the Pee Wee Arena, I gazed along the row of players to see if I recognized any of them.
I didn’t, but then I noticed the team’s coach. He was wearing a hat and trench coat, standing at the end of the bench.
I asked a team assistant ‘who’s the coach?’
“The coach? It is Monsieur Steve Shutt,” he replied.
I hadn’t recognized him at first, as many years had passed since I had seen him play on that Habs dynasty team, on the same line as Guy Lafleur and Jacques Lemaire.
But there he was, a part of my childhood, so to speak.
I had the chance to interview Shutt after the game, listening to him share memories of how the Habs dominated the NHL back then.
Other meetings, with other notable people in the course of my work, were not as spontaneous, but equally enjoyable.
I remember meeting Mr. Hockey - Gordie Howe himself - at Lake Superior State University’s Taffy Abel Arena in September, 2007 when I worked as a broadcast journalist locally.
Visiting the Lakers hockey team, Howe spent a considerable amount of time answering reporters’ questions.
I remember him, while he shared memories of his career, as a gracious, soft spoken gentleman.
I’m sure, however, the word ‘gracious’ wouldn’t have come to the mind of any NHL player on the receiving end of his elbows back in the day!
When I was working in broadcasting, then-federal NDP leader Jack Layton visited the Sault several times.
I scrummed with other reporters asking questions of Layton during those visits, and on one occasion, was granted a one-on-one with him.
He was definitely a likeable, charismatic leader and I, like all Canadians, was very sad when he passed away in 2011.
On one visit to the Sault, Layton took part in a friendly competition during a community event with Mayor John Rowswell (who also died so young - a great loss).
The two men, each in a small wooden cart, raced each other from the top of the ramped approach to the Civic Centre to see which one could reach the bottom first.
Mayor Rowswell won.
In fact, he kept on going well across Foster Drive.
Fortunately, the road was closed to traffic for that event.
Layton’s cart came to a stop at the curb.
Standing nearby, I helped Layton from the tiny cart to his feet, the leader laughing good naturedly.
My first meeting of a notable person as a member of the media was with famous Canadian painter and Sault native Ken Danby.
When I met him at the Art Gallery of Algoma, I was very nervous at first because I have always been in awe of his work, but as we discussed his paintings I became more relaxed. Danby was a down to earth ‘cool guy’ you could chat with.
I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing medical journalist Dr. Ken Walker - better known by his pen name of ‘Dr. W. Gifford-Jones, M.D.’ - when he visited the Sault in 2014.
I admire the man for how he has stuck to his professional convictions, his opinions on some medical issues having led to spirited debate with his own peers.
I especially enjoyed meeting Steve Paikin, journalist and TVOntario host, when he visited the Sault in 2016.
I asked Paikin, a journalist who has interviewed many Ontario premiers over the years, 'who, in your opinion, was the best premier Ontario never had?’
He paused and said “that’s a good question.”
John Tory (former Ontario Progressive Conservative party leader and current Toronto mayor) was Paikin's answer, by the way.
My final stop on this trip down memory lane goes back to when I was a broadcast journalism student at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ontario.
Paul Henderson came to town.
But Henderson, Team Canada’s hero in the epic 1972 Canada-USSR hockey series, didn’t visit the community to speak about his famous series-winning goal.
An evangelical Christian, he visited Belleville to address a church audience.
“A lot of people want to talk to me about ‘the goal’ more than anything else...but take a look at Christianity and see what’s there. That’s my advice,” he told me during an interview.
I too can certainly attest to the goodness of a faithful Creator.
Yes, I’ve met a few notable people over the years.
I had a great childhood and still have a wonderful family, but when I was a child I often thought how 'small' and ‘far away’ Sault Ste. Marie seemed to be from the rest of the world.
‘There are places to go and people to see in that world out there,’ I thought.
How do I feel now?
I have no desire to live or work in any other place in ‘that world out there,’ though I’ve met some great people wherever I’ve lived and worked.
And, many famous ‘people to see’ came here to the Sault and I met them without having to drive far from my house.
It’s great to be working at SooToday in my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie.