I played in the National Hockey League for 14 seasons. I always considered it to be a great privilege. It was very rewarding, fulfilling and it brought me a very good life style. However, a career in Professional Sports comes with great sacrifices and a high price to pay. There is the constant challenge to produce, juggling for positions and ice time, the physical demands on your body, injuries etc…One of the most difficult situation to deal with is getting traded, especially in mid-season.
I’m writing this blog as the anniversary of the first time I was traded approaches. December 12th , 1977 is the date when I was traded for the very first time. For almost six seasons, Dan Bouchard and I shared the net almost equally with the Atlanta Flames. We battled for playing time from day one. It was a healthy competition that benefited the team as we never finished worse than 6th in goals against as a tandem. For an expansion team, that was quite an accomplishment. Leading up to that date, Dan had demanded a trade or more playing time. Cliff Fletcher, our General Manager, had to make a decision. Emile Francis, the St-Louis Blues Manager, was seen watching our team and I knew that a trade was eminent. It did happen, ironically on Dan Bouchard’s birthday. The press release read as follows: “Atlanta traded Phil Myre, Barry Gibbs and Curt Bennett to St.Louis for Dick Redmond, Bob MacMillan and Yves Belanger and Blues’s 2nd round pick, Mike Perovich, in 1979 Amateur draft.” When reading this, fans analyse the repercussions of the trade on either team but few people care that 6 men and their families have just had their lives changed forever.
I received the call from Cliff in the morning and the very next day, I was in St-Louis practicing with the Blues wearing my mask with the Flames logo on it. (somebody must have a picture of that) A lot of different emotions went through my mind. I had been the very first “Flame” selected in the expansion draft. My heart was with that team and that city. But emotions are quickly overshadowed because things happen so fast. You must focus on a new challenge. As a player, you go from one color to another, a different dressing room with new players who look different but yet, have the same goals and basically the same regiment. It means having to stay in a hotel for a few weeks or months, adapting to a new coach, a new city. But singers are happy when they sing. As athletes we are very focused on our career and as long as we do what we love and pursue or passion, it seems like we go on without skipping a beat.
However, the people you leave behind are the forgotten ones. They pay the highest price. Your wife suddenly becomes a single parent and she is left behind to handle all the details of the move in addition to dealing with the household by herself. I am very lucky that my wife, Nicole, is a very strong, energetic, determined person. (one of the reasons why we’re still together after 38 years) She has had to deal with this and other situations throughout my career as a player but also as a coach and scout.
I stayed in a hotel for a few weeks and then rented Barclay Plager’s house, supposedly for the rest of the season as “Barc” was coaching our minor league team in Salt Lake City. Nicole and our daughter, Stephanie, who was only 1 ½ years old, moved to St-Louis in late January. We sold our house (our first house as a couple) to David Shand, a player for the Flames. We stored our furniture until we could find a permanent home. The team was struggling and the coach, Leo Boivin, was fired in late February. Guess who became the new coach? You guessed it: Barclay Plager. He needed his house back and we had to move out. Now we had to start looking for a new place to live, again in the middle of a season.
It was a trying time, both professionally and personally. The Blues had lost several players to the WHL because of financial problems and the team was in disarray to say the least. On a personal front, we were confronted with many obstacles but thanks to Nicole’s ability to handle all that came her way, I was able to focus on my game within the turmoil and I was voted the player of the year for the Blues. I played for the Blues one more season before experimenting my second trade to the Flyers. That one happened during the off-season amid some very unusual circumstances. More to follow…in a later blog…
HAVE A GREAT HOCKEY DAY!