Fortney: Former NHLers relive their World Junior days
By Valerie Fortney, Calgary Herald
January 2, 2012
Former NHLers and national junior team alumni Sheldon Kennedy, left, and Todd Harvey share a laugh as they watch teammates play ball hockey outside City Hall as part of Hockey Day activities in Calgary on New Year’s Day.
Photograph by: Gavin Young, Calgary Herald
CALGARY — Frank Caprice and Mike Moller haven’t seen one another in eons. You wouldn’t know that on Sunday morning, though, as they’re thick as thieves with the teasing banter and inside jokes.
“It’s amazing to me how all these years later, the conversation picks up like no time has passed,” says the 49-year-old Moller, who today lives in Red Deer and works in the insurance industry.
The pair chalks it up to the inimitable bond that forms among young hockey players who make it on to Team Canada for the World Juniors championship, the 2012 version of a 38-year-old event that is being played out this week in Calgary.
“You’re put together with a bunch of other young guys, and you very quickly have to learn to put the team first,” says Caprice, a native of Hamilton, Ont., who played goal for Team Canada in 1982. “You really become an instant family, some of whom you may never see again in your life.”
On this crisp but sunny start to 2012, Moller, Caprice, and close to 20 other World Juniors Team Canada alumni are having a ball taking a walk — and the odd skate — down memory lane.
On Saturday night, most rang in the new year with dinner before heading to the exciting Sweden-Russia preliminary game at the Saddledome.
On Sunday morning, they’re down at Olympic Plaza for the City of Calgary’s Hockey in Calgary celebration, flipping pancakes for the public, playing ball and ice hockey and looking back with fondness and reverie over their World Juniors experiences of yesteryear.
“There was no media, no TSN and not many fans in the stands,” says Caprice, now 49, with a laugh of his moment of World Juniors glory.
“They didn’t even have someone to sing the national anthem for us at the medal ceremonies,” adds Moller, a Calgary native who later played with the Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers, the latter gig bringing him two Stanley Cup rings.
Still, it’s an experience both say was one of the highlights of their respective hockey careers.
“We were the first Team Canada pulled together as an all-star team,” says Moller. “Before, it was a club team and the naysayers said you can’t just put a team together and expect them to win — but we proved them wrong.”
The other career highlight?
“Definitely today,” says Caprice. “We are having a blast, being with our former teammates. We’re going to enjoy reminiscing together and taking in some great hockey games.”
Among their fellow Team Canada alumni milling about Olympic Plaza, that’s pretty much the collective sentiment.
“For me, hockey wasn’t a great experience,” Sheldon Kennedy, a former Calgary Flame who in 1988 helped lead Team Canada to gold in Russia, tells me.
Kennedy is best known internationally for coming forward several years ago as a victim of abuse by former coach Graham James and his outspoken advocacy of the rights of abuse victims.
“My World Juniors experience was a highlight, though, and reconnecting with all these great guys is going to be another one.”
It’s great to see Kennedy in a lighter mode on this day, as he pretends he’s going to tell me a 1988 story about teammate Dan Currie, which elicits gales of laughter from fellow alumni and a “don’t you dare” look from Currie.
In characteristic Kennedy style, he also offers up some meaningful words about this day and the international event that is on our city’s doorstep all week.
“Having a celebration like this helps to get the message across that hockey, and any other sport, has to be fun. At the end of the day, it’s just a game.”
That’s the kind of message Chris Armstrong says he’d like to send out to all the young players who will be on the ice this week.
“You’re going to have an incredible experience and forge bonds that will last forever,” says the 36-year-old Armstrong, a 1994 Team Canada alumni who went on to play for six different NHL teams.
His former teammate Brent Tully, who played a few seasons in the AHL as well as in Europe, adds, “just get out there and play your best hockey, but most important, enjoy yourself.”
The young Team Finland players, watching the middle-aged former hockey greats skate around the ice and play ball hockey on the steps of Calgary’s City Hall building, might not be able to understand exactly what is being said by these loud and boisterous old-timers. But the message is loud and clear on this glorious first day of 2012, as their hockey elders unabashedly return to a most cherished part of their collective history.
When I say to Kennedy that the Team Canada alumni gathered here are acting like a bunch of kids, he answers unapologetically: “What do you mean, acting like a bunch of kids? We are a bunch of kids!”
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