Arriving in Calgary to a heavy arctic blast, one California boy felt right at home. Coming from much-warmer Los Angeles with his Junior Kings, GM/assistant coach Brad Sholl started reminiscing yesterday about the old days when he played hockey in Alberta.
In 1982, Sholl's father, Dan -- an American who grew up in New York and eventually moved to L.A. -- sent his young son to learn the rough-and-tumble game of hockey on the prairie highways of Wild Rose Country.
Dan Sholl was an old friend of Muzz McPherson, the man who first told Wayne Gretzky to wear No. 99 and who was then running a Drumheller junior team.
Somehow, Sholl ended up in Grande Prairie, where three seasons of Tier II junior turned into eight years with a pair of senior teams. He didn't move back home for good until 1990.
So yesterday, with his team playing to a 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers, the prairie boy in the California kid was coming out a bit.
"Alberta was my home for years," Sholl said about his time playing with the junior Grande Prairie North Stars and senior Hythe Mustangs and GP Athletics.
"I love Alberta. I always told people that if the right job came along and we could work out immigration issues, I would move back in a heartbeat. Now that we have a family of three, we're probably settled."
This summer, he returned to Grande Prairie for the first time since he left.
"Boy, is it different," Sholl said. "My son's a squirt goalie and he was in (Calgary's) Stampede Tournament. I came up three days early and took my son to show him all the places I used to hang out. Boy ... it was awesome."
When he left Alberta in 1990, Sholl got married, started a family and hooked up with what was then the California Blackhawks of the Pacific Southwest League.
After one season, he found out he'd been drafted by a roller hockey team, which traded his rights to the Los Angeles Blades.
Three seasons of roller hockey helped Sholl build a relationship with the owner of that team -- Jeannie Buss -- who is the daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss and wife of former coach Phil Jackson.
Through his relationship with Buss, Sholl got a job managing the Lakers' and Kings' practice facility.
When the facility opened in 1999, Sholl started living every hockey player's dream by getting to hobnob with the pros. Still quick between the pipes, the Kings asked him to become their practice goalie.
"And last year, at the end of training camp, (Kings GM) Dave Taylor called me into his office," Sholl said. "He said one of their goalies came down with a rash. They needed a goalie and asked me to jump in.
"I was in my first NHL training camp at age 39.
"Until you're in that net, with all that traffic, the pushing, the shoving, the banging, the crashing, it's amazing. Especially when you haven't played competitively in years."
That's where his years of Alberta-hockey training come into use as he tried to stop the likes of Robitaille, Allison and Palffy.
"Even though they don't expect much from me, I'm competitive and expect plenty of myself," Sholl said. "I make them earn it."