SUN Hockey Pool

LaForge a mentor to many

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

A hockey man until the end.

That, at least in his public life, is how a lot of people will remember Bill LaForge, and many of them filed quietly into St. Pius X Catholic Church yesterday to pay their last respects to the longtime coach and mentor, who died of a heart attack last Sunday at age 53.

About 600 people in an overflow crowd attended the morning service, a congregation of family and friends that included Patrick LaForge, Bill's cousin and president of the Edmonton Oilers, GM Kevin Lowe and former players Marc Habscheid, Dean Evason, Garth Butcher, Deane Clark and Darryl Reaugh.

"That's what it was all about for him," Patrick LaForge said. "There's no question that's the thing that drove him in his public life and got him out of bed, motivated."

LaForge's long and distinguished coaching career took him all the way to the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks for 20 games for the 1984-85 season, but it was junior hockey - he coached Oshawa, Niagara Falls, Guelph and Hamilton of the OHL, and Regina and Kamloops of the WHL - and his association with the Edmonton Huskies football club that were closest to his heart.

"Junior hockey is really where Bill left his mark," LaForge said. "He always liked to remind me that over 200 of his players made it to the NHL. Many are still around, like Todd Bertuzzi and Brad May.

"He took great pride in the success of guys like Habscheid, Clark, Evason and Shayne Corson. Those were his guys. He was so proud of them."

While LaForge struggled with failing health and dropped out of the spotlight in recent years, he had his mind and his heart in the game right until his passing.

He attended a hot stove session hosted by Hockey Canada at Rexall Place June 16. He was particularly excited about the Oilers' bid to bring the WHL back to the city for the 2006-07 season via expansion.

"Big-time. Bill followed it very closely," LaForge said. "Bringing the WHL back to Edmonton, that was a dream of his. He wanted to see it. Don't forget, he was a part of starting the Hamilton Steelhawks from scratch.

"Just the other day Bill was saying to me, 'If you get an expansion team, here are 10 things I would suggest you do.' It was like he had a whole business plan laid out in his mind."


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