Brotherly love

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:28 PM ET

They miss the hefty NHL paycheques, of course. Also gone is the attractive pro athlete's lifestyle of first-class flights and five-star hotels, while the adulation of hockey fans in NHL centres scattered across North America has long since faded away.

But more than anything, retired players still yearn for "being with the boys" before and after games in that special place called the dressing room.

Yesterday's Esso 3-on-3 Pond Hockey Classic provided a chance to once again walk through that door.

To the uninitiated, a hockey dressing room doesn't look like anything rare or remarkable, particularly in the ancient Stampede Corral.

It's cramped and reeks of rotting, sweat-soaked gear while concrete beams lurk overhead, waiting to whack the noggins of unsuspecting visitors.

But make no mistake, those old walls provide a special sanctuary for the 56 men sweating and groaning through yesterday's charity event.

"Your hockey team is your other family, so to speak," notes former Flames goalie Rick Wamsley, parked amid the dressing-room hubbub.

"There's not as many problems or issues with your hockey family as you have with most real families and you have one common goal.

"It's a very unique situation. You really are part of a team and your success is dependent on the guy dressing next to you.

"It's just the feeling of being with all the guys, swapping stories and the camaraderie of being on a team."

Wamsley played 13 years in the NHL and was traded to the Flames during the 1988-89 season to provide a backup for Mike Vernon in the team's lone Stanley Cup-winning campaign.

Despite being sidelined yesterday by a unco-operative left hamstring, the former goaltender was fit enough to wax nostalgic about the unique qualities of a hockey dressing room.

"What you miss the most is the 30 minutes in the room before you go out on the ice," suggests Wamsley, now a goaltending coach with Columbus Blue Jackets who still feels strong ties to the Flames organization, 15 years after getting his name on the Cup.

"The team atmosphere that goes into winning is invaluable and that's what everyone misses the most.

"The natural kidding that goes on is part of the fun and the team building. It's a special place."

Warren Skorodenski netminded for five NHL seasons with Chicago and Edmonton after playing his junior hockey in Calgary in the late 1970s.

He tries to get out with the Flames Alumni about once a month and plays a little in the Rangeland Hockey League but it's the annual Pond Hockey reunion that offers the highlight of his winter.

"This is the most important part, being together with the guys in the room before the game," says the man affectionately dubbed 'Score-O.'

"It's talking to guys who you played with or against, talking about all the old stories, what you're doing now and about our families."

Although only starting in 35 NHL games, Skorodenski points out former big-leaguers make up an exclusive club.

"There's only so many guys who've played at least one game in the NHL -- a few thousand -- so being in here makes it a special place," Skorodenski says.

"It's also fun to be able to still come out to play and raise money for charity."

And to be reunited with the unique fraternity of former NHLers who still revel in the memories of their playing days.


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