Hometown heroes give back to Kingston

Muller and Gilmour host outdoor hockey tournament to support two charities

Queen’s men’s hockey head coach Kirk Muller and actor Jason Priestley hit the ice Saturday for the Queen’s University team.
Queen’s men’s hockey head coach Kirk Muller and actor Jason Priestley hit the ice Saturday for the Queen’s University team.
Marty McSorley takes in the action at the Limestone Classic.
Marty McSorley takes in the action at the Limestone Classic.

Hometown hockey heroes Kirk Muller and Doug Gilmour brought a few old friends down to Market Square on Saturday to lace up their skates and enjoy some shinny hockey while raising money for the Kingston Boys and Girls Club.

Eighteen ex-NHLers and television star Jason Priestley joined teams of local players to play a day of 4-on-4 hockey at the downtown outdoor rink in the second annual Limestone Classic, during Kingston’s weekend-long Feb Fest. Between games, the players spent most of their time signing autographs, taking pictures and chatting with the throngs of fans who turned up to watch some hockey legends hit the ice together again.

Despite being swarmed by fans eager to meet their hometown hero, Doug Gilmour took time out of the eventful day to speak with the Journal about the Limestone Classic. He said he and Muller created the event last year as a way to have some fun in the community and give back to their hometown.

“In the first year ... we drove down to Kingston and we met with the politicians and the mayor was obviously a big supporter of it,” he said. “The town really seems to love it, and it raises a lot of money for the Boys and Girls Club here. It’s great.”

Gilmour added that he still has a very strong connection to Kingston because his parents and much of his family still live in the area.

“I was born and raised here,” he said. “I still live here in the summertime. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Kingston.”

Gilmour also hinted that Golden Gaels coach Muller has been busy recruiting for men’s hockey.

“I think [Muller] wants me to come back and play next season,” he joked. “As a very mature student.”

Ex-Leaf and Canadiens player Shayne Corson said he was more excited about meeting fans than about the hockey itself.

“I think the best part of the day for me is this stuff—getting to meet the fans and the kids. I think that’s the most important thing,” he said. “I remember growing up I was a huge hockey fan, and always wanting autographs, and everybody I ever ran into—especially hockey players—always took the time to give me an autograph and spend time with me. And I remember that, and I want to do the same thing for the kids. If I can put a smile on a kid’s face, I think that’s the most important thing.”

Renowned tough-guy Marty McSorley, Wayne Gretzky’s defender for several years, said he loved being on the outdoor ice for such a casual and fun game.

“Well, the best part I think is that it’s really kind of old-school hockey: you go out, you get to go on the outdoor rink, and you’re not [in] full gear, and we’re playing with a ball and everybody’s out having fun,” he said. “It’s competitive but with the true spirit of the game, and the fans have the opportunity to see the players and interact with the players. And you know, the stands aren’t great big grandstands, it’s just a really nice, comfortable, warm environment.”

Small bleachers flanked the rink on both sides, while fans lined both ends of the rink and the red carpet which led down to the Tir Nan Nog, where players were invited to relax in the warmth between games. The boards served as benches, and the players used an orange road hockey ball instead of a puck.

Organizer Janelle MacPherson-Kenney said local establishments were able to purchase a team in the tournament, which would allow them to have their company logo on the sweater and reserve two spots on the team for owners or employees to play. The remainder of each team was comprised of people invited by Muller to participate, who paid $300 each to take part in the event. Each team also included former NHL players and celebrities invited by Muller and Gilmore. The games were short 4-on-4 affairs, with a playoff round leading to the crowning of the eventual champions—Gilmour’s team Belair Direct.

MacPherson-Kenney said the tournament ended with a $50 per plate dinner and auction for players and guests at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel. She said that the whole day raised just over $41,000 for the local Boys and Girls Club and the Market Square Restoration Fund.

“We are estimating that over the weekend approximately 30,000 people came out for the event,” she said, adding that the event had been marketed in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. “We had a large amount of visitors. All of the hotels in town were completely booked.”

MacPherson-Kenney said the event will definitely be on again next year.

“It was a huge success. We had a lot of great feedback, and everyone wants to come back again next year,” she said.

Participating former NHLers told the Journal they were glad to be back on the ice together and reminisce about their careers.

“It’s amazing how much better we are now than we ever were,” joked former Chicago Blackhawks winger Steve Larmer.

“You want to get out there and try not to get hurt, that’s the main thing,” added former Flyers defenceman Gary Galley. “But it’s always fun, you know, never a bad thing when you’re out playing hockey and being on the outdoor rink, skating around. It brings you back to when you were a kid, and it’s a lot of fun.”

When asked why he decided to come to Kingston for the event, Hall of Fame defenceman Paul Coffey said he was impressed with the way it all turned out, especially compared to last year’s inaugural version.

“I enjoyed myself immensely last year, it’s a great place, and the cause is good. And to come back and see what they started last year, and see the outdoor rink in reality, is pretty cool,” he said.

Organizers were fortunate to have balmy weather and clear skies throughout the day to go along with good ice conditions. Bob Probert, who spent most of his career as both a scorer and an enforcer with the Chicago Blackhawks, said conditions helped make the day more enjoyable for everyone.

“The weather has been great,” he said. “I played in that Hamilton game last year and it rained for two periods and snowed for the third, so I couldn’t ask for a nicer day and it’s just a bunch of fun. It’s good seeing all the old friends.”

The players even took some time to poke some fun at each other. When asked whether fans would be seeing a rematch of his legendary 1993 fight with Marty McSorley, Leafs icon Wendel Clark said that those days are behind them.

“No, we’re just a couple of old guys now,” he said, laughing.

Many from the old guard took some time with the Journal to weigh in on what they think of the so-called new NHL. Most players agreed that the game’s new format has both good and bad points.

“I think it’s pretty good, it’s exciting, and I’d like to see more hitting and, you know, physical contact in it but hopefully that’ll come once the playoffs come around,” said former Leaf defender Dave Ellett.

“What’s so new?” Larmer said, grinning. “I think that people have always wanted the skill players to be able to display their skill level, and I think that they got away from that for a long time in the ’90s and it’s nice to see that the best players can actually be the best players.”

Corson told the Journal he liked some changes, but wasn’t pleased with others.

“I think hockey was meant to be a contact sport, and I think they’ve taken the emotion and the contact out of the game a little bit,” he said.

Galley had suggestions for further improvement.

“I’d like to see a little more battling down below the tops of the circles—I think they’re calling way too many penalties in the battle zones,” Galley said. “I think they taking away a fabric of the game that’s very important, and from both sides of the fence, from forwards and defence, I think you need to have that. I like the fact that the neutral zone’s clean, and they’re getting more speed, and I think they’ve got to do it in minor hockey I think they’ve got to start doing it with the kids as well.”

“I enjoy the new NHL,” said actor Jason Priestley, an avid hockey fan who said Muller called him with an invite. “I like the speed of the game and I like the way the centre-ice trap has been eliminated from the game, but there are some elements of the game that I miss. I sort of miss the hard-hitting, old-school, grinding style of hockey which just doesn’t exist anymore, it’s much more of a finesse game.”

Priestley was humble when asked whether he was a grinder or a finesse player.

“I’m neither,” he said, chuckling. “I’m a hack.”

Muller, who along with Gilmour was instrumental in organizing the event and arranging the celebrity appearances, said he was pleased with the way it had gone, and that he had enjoyed himself immensely. He joined Priestley to form the Queen’s University team.

“We both grew up here, and we just want to give back to the community and raise some money for the Boys and Girls Club and put a real fun community event on,” he said. “We’re pretty excited about it, and it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve got about 18 ex-NHLers. It’s a pretty good crew, good guys.”

Muller also said the nostalgic element made it as much fun for the players as it was for the fans. Muller only retired from the NHL a year and a half ago and said he was excited to be back in the collegial hockey atmosphere.

“If you asked all the guys in there, it’s that we all remember the games, you know, sitting around with the boys and ... talking old stories, playing against each other and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “It’s been a real highlight, just seeing the local guys playing with the alumni from the NHL. They just said it’s such a treat, and so it’s been a nice experience.”

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