Whether male or female, almost everyone has heroes they idolize while growing up. For me, a few of them wore spandex and had some uncanny type of special power; others wore gold with an orange and black “V” on them.
It’s difficult sometimes to describe a feeling, so I’ll do the best that I can within this blog. Since that feeling originated in 1981, the task grows in difficulty, but I want to paint the picture the best I can. I grew up in a small town, Quesnel, located pretty much smack dab in the middle of British Columbia. Long, cold winters were the norm, and hot, arid summers lasted just long enough so that you forgot the cold until your first snowfall, usually on Halloween night.
This is where I must also acknowledge my trailer park roots. You see, 1981 brought with it a record snowfall, – the trailer we owned was buried in snow so deep, you couldn’t see anything but a grey-ish white out the bay window. Any trips outside were usually accompanied by a flat-shovel.
I was only 7 at the time, so I couldn’t put much of a dent in the giant snow-walls surrounding us. That meant more time than usual cooped up inside. Then one Sunday night, I decided to sit down on the couch beside my father, Herb, and give this “hockey” a chance. It was the Vancouver Canucks in Edmonton, taking on the Oilers.
Also known as “The Red Light Kid”, Tony Tanti was a fast, electric hockey player. He embodied the new found appeal that hockey held for a young lad such as myself. In a bit of a revelation, looking over old photos of him, I think part of the allure was his intensity and compete level. His celebrations after scoring a goal (and there were many of those scenes) were directly linked to his passion for the game. If I happened to be listening to a game on the radio, Jim Robson’s description of “Tony Tanti dancing down the wing” gave me goose bumpies.
“The Steamer”, as he’s affectionately referred to by hockey fans, was a very influential figure in my youth. Even before he was team captain, his “never say die” attitude, and tireless work ethic won me over. Every rush, every bone crunching hit, and particularly every slapper had me glued to the TV set or radio with anticipation. I had the pleasure to interview Mr. Smyl last fall during the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) “Fishing For Kids” fundraiser. To be frank, I don’t know that the Vancouver Canucks could have a better Senior Advisor to the General Manager, or ambassador for the team. My only wish was that I had seen him during the 1979-80 season, where he racked up 31 goals, 47 assists, and 204 PIMs.