A labour of love rewarded

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

For 30 years, Brian Dennis was a part of the London Knights.

It was 30 years of working around the rink, late nights, early mornings, road trips, helping trainer Don Brankley on almost a daily basis with whatever needed to be done.

The hours were too many to count and the pay, well, let's just say that he did the job for the love and passion of the gig.

Yet Dennis felt like he'd walked away from the Knights with a fortune.

"Look at that, it's beautiful," said the longtime assistant trainer of the Knights as he fingered the Knights Memorial Cup ring. "Getting that, it was all worth it."

After 30 years with the Knights, Dennis, 47, packed it in with the Knights after they won the Memorial Cup last season. He went quietly and quickly. A fixture on the bench for many of those years, he was replaced by equipment manager Chris Maton. Dennis remained on the sidelines, helping whenever he could.

"It was time," said Dennis. "I thought it was a perfect time with the Memorial Cup in London. After all those years, the Hunters built that team. It was a hell of a year to leave on. Why not go out a winner? I've done my time. It's time to relax."

Now the Knights will honour Dennis for his service. There will be a ceremony before Friday's game against St. Mike's at the John Labatt Centre.

Brankley won't reveal what's going to happen but he says there will be a few surprises for his long-time partner and friend.

Dennis is a low-key guy in public but you can tell how pleased he is about the honour. And it's a well-deserved thanks. Dennis is one of the good guys, popular with everyone he meets.

"I was surprised," he said after being called by Brankley. "It's nice, very nice. I'm already working on a little speech."

Dennis's sojourn with the Knights began almost by accident. As a 15-year-old he worked in a bakery.

"I used to bring pies and doughnuts to the old London Gardens," he said. "Bill Long was in charge back then and he just let me hang around. One day Terry Martin (a Knights player) asked me to get some water."

"He was just a young kid and every day he would take a cab from the bakery, which I think was on Oxford and Richmond and he'd come to the Gardens with cakes and pies," said Brankley. "With the type of personality he had, it didn't take long for everyone to like him."

From that point on, Dennis became a regular fixture around the place doing whatever was needed. He became the assistant trainer, going on road trips, often taking vacation days from his job so he could go on the trips, helping Brankley keep the dressing room clean, doing the laundry and usually hauling hockey sticks.

There's one other thing Dennis has become known for in the dressing room. Before every game, he pumped up the players by putting their names in a rhyme.

"I guess the rookies do it," said Dennis. Reports indicate though that it isn't quite the same.

But it's sticks that Dennis has become famous for.

Sticks became not only his nickname but his hobby. He has more than 600 autographed hockey sticks including Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Mario Lemieux, Patrick Roy and many other great and not-so-great players.

His favourite Knight of all?

"Brad Marsh," said Dennis. "It didn't matter who you where or it didn't matter that he was a hockey player, he was good to everyone."

That's what Brankley says about Dennis. Most people who know Dennis say he never has anything bad to say about anyone.

"He treated everyone the same way," said Brankley. "It didn't matter if someone was a great player or not. They were treated all the same by Brian."

Dennis also has the Knights to thank for meeting his wife. Kim and her dad are longtime season ticketholders. They would attend the games. Dennis noticed Kim in the stands.

"I used to see her in the stands with a young guy and I thought it was her husband," said Dennis. "It turns out it was her brother. One night I asked her dad for her telephone number."

There were married five years ago in Las Vegas with Brankley as the best man.

Dennis has been to only one game this year, the home opener. Leaving something behind that's been such a large part of your life takes some adjustment.

"But it was time," he said. "I love going to auctions and I have time for that now. Thirty years is a long time but I wouldn't change any of it. I loved it."


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