John Gardner acknowledges "it's not my intention to stay around forever."
But the powerfully positioned president of the 40,000-strong Greater Toronto Hockey League doesn't plan on leaving yet, with minor hockey once more under the public microscope. He's vigourously seeking re-election to head the world's largest minor organization at today's annual general meeting, a job he has held since May of 1980.
The 64-year-old Gardner will be pitted against 52-year-old Steve Kupresak at today's vote at the Bristol Place Hotel. Observers give Kupresak the best chance of beating Gardner since Norm Oliver came close to an upset in 2000. If all voters attend today (all GTHL divisions, rep clubs, house leagues, current and lifetime board members are eligible), there will be close to 600 secret ballots cast.
"There are organizations out there open to change," said Peter Stewart, president of the Leaside Kings and a Kupresak supporter.
Kupresak, who has had two sons move through the GTHL, is a coach in the Humberview Huskies organization. Where Gardner has not actively campaigned, Kupresak has worked hard in the arena coffee shops to build support.
The industrial chemical salesman has adhered to a promise not to bash Gardner, but he wants to shake up an administration many view as an old boys' club.
"John's a good guy, I just think his time has passed," Kupresak told the Sun's Mark Keast earlier this year. "If you go negative against John, clubs will circle the wagons in favour of him."
Kupresak's platform includes term limits for the president, halting arena admission fees capping the league's surplus and a board that works more closely with individual clubs. Gardner's influence on the make-up of the GTHL hierarchy and its policies have been criticized by many and will undoubtably make today's vote interesting.
GTHL voters contacted by the Sun this week suggest a competitive vote, but that Gardner will prevail.
"You never take anything for granted in this world," Gardner said.
Asked if this might be his last election, Gardner said the subject of his future will likely come up at the meeting.
"It's not my intention to stay around forever, but I'd like to bring a degree of stability," he said.