Monday, August 31, 2009

Whalers alumni game brings smiles

By Pete Krupsky/Plymouth Whalers

I fully intended to write an in-depth report of the Plymouth Whalers first-ever alumni game, held August 30 at Compuware Arena.

The game featured 26 players who presented all eras of the Whalers franchise, starting with Pat Peake – who played on the first-ever team in 1990 at Cobo Arena – and ending with Chris Terry and Brett Bellemore, who played on last year’s Plymouth squad.

I wanted to chat with each and every one of the 26 players who participated, find out what they’re doing, if they live in the area, what kind of work are they doing and everything else.
I decided to scrap the idea after my first couple of conversations.

Duane Harmer (1993-95) often skated with Bryan Berard as a defense partner during his playing days with the Jr. Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Arriving at Compuware Arena with his wife, two kids, a stroller, a hockey bag and two sticks, Harmer had a lot going on just walking into the rink.

“You know, it’s the first time I’ve been here,” Harmer said with a smile as he watched his kids. “We’re not that far away and we did some shopping in the area before coming here, so it’s been a good day so far.”

As Harmer walked to his locker room, he met recent Whalers captains and fellow alums John Mitchell (2001-05), Chris Terry (2005-09) and Steve Ward (2004-07).

I was curious, because I wanted to see how alumni from different eras who never met would react.

The interaction was simple, effective and common among hockey players.

“I’m Duane…John…Chris…Steve,” they all said and shook hands all around.

If you’re keeping score, the game ended with the Whites winning 12-11 although everyone was hoping for the Blues to tie the game after they pulled the goaltender and there was a (wink) malfunction with the center ice clock, which seemed to freeze at 5…4…3….2…1 as the Blues stormed the White end of the ice looking for the equalizer.

The score didn’t really matter. The real story was the smiles on the faces of the fans who watched the game and the honest, sincere emotion of the players who were able to meet each other for the first time or maybe re-connect with each other for another afternoon.

Another side story featured a packed CJ’s Brewery after the game, which resembled a typical post-game situation after any Whalers game.

“There was real good vibe in the building today,” said Char Merckel, Compuware Arena director of ticket sales and operations. “It was great to see all the smiles on the fans. Although a lot of people who came to the game are Whalers fans, it wasn’t a typical hockey crowd. There was a lot of positive emotion in the rink today and it was great seeing everyone enjoy themselves.”

Not only did alum Jeff Mitchell (1992-95) play in the game, he spent the intermission showing his kids and their friends all around the arena. They toured the Whalers locker room and covered every other part of the building over the course of the afternoon.

Before the game, alum Kris Purdy (1997-00) sat in the alumni's locker room alone in his stall, deep in thought. He looked the same as he did when he played for the Whalers. Injuries robbed Purdy of a promising playing career, but he’s become relatively successful in the local business community and enjoys life with his wife and two children.

There were a couple of generations of Whalers in the building. Bill McCauley (1992-95) re-connected with current Whaler and cousin, Myles McCauley.

Bill McCauley was a first-round draft choice of the team back in 1992. McCauley is 12th on the Whalers all-time career scoring list with 72 goals and 137 assists for 209 points. He joins Rob Zepp and Jonas Fielder as the only members of the franchise to be selected twice in the NHL Entry Draft. McCauley was selected in the fourth round (83rd overall) by Florida in 1993 and by Boston in the third round (73rd overall) in 1995.

Myles McCauley was taken in the 14th round (219th overall) in 2007 and is starting his second season with the Whalers.

“I’m going to have to come to some games this year,” Bill McCauley said with a smile. “Myles has some skill, doesn’t he?”

Other alums have enjoyed a long career in minor professional hockey. Although Shaun Fisher (1997-00) looked the same height and weight as when he played in Plymouth, he’s going with a shaved head – the exact opposite of the long hair he displayed during his playing days in Plymouth.

“I started to lose my hair, so it was time to go all the way,” Fisher said.

Fisher has signed with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL this season.

Since the game had only one goaltender, the Whalers enlisted Mark Hill to play the game for the Blues. Hill has an important connection with the Whalers as he houses current Plymouth player Tyler G. Brown in Canton.

Peake (1990-93) is the only player to have his number retired in franchise history. He brought his entire family, including parents, to the game.

Peake was seen leaving the event 30 minutes after the game.

“I’d love to stay, and maybe we will another time,” Peake said. “But my daughter has soccer and we have to go. Call me again next year. I’ll help out any way I can.”

Many players were contacted but couldn’t make the event due to various circumstances. Still, the first-ever alumni game was a success and the Whalers hope to build on that success to make future alumni events as special as the first one.

The Whalers thank the following alums that made the game: Dan Collins (2003-07), Wes Cunningham (2005-08), Shaun Fisher (1997-00), Andrew Fournier (2003-08), Jordan Grant (2003-04), Duane Harmer (1993-95), Scott Holsinger (1997-99), Jamie Lalonde (1997-00), David Liffiton (2001-04), Joe McCann (2005-08), Bill McCauley (1992-95), Ryan McGinnis (2003-07), Jeff Mitchell (1992-95), John Mitchell (2001-05), Dan Pawlaczyk (1993-97), Pat Peake (1990-93), Kris Purdy (1997-00), James Ramsay (1998-01), Tom Sestito (2004-07), Zack Shepley (2003-08), Damian Surma (1998-02), Chris Terry (2005-09), John Vigilante (2002-06), and Steve Ward (2004-07).


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