Leafs legend's trial on hold until August

Former NHL player Rick Vaive appears in a Newmarket Court on DUI charges. (Stan Behal/QMI AGENCY)

Former NHL player Rick Vaive appears in a Newmarket Court on DUI charges. (Stan Behal/QMI AGENCY)

MICHELE MANDEL, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:18 AM ET

TORONTO - Perhaps in the old days, a Leafs legend like Rick Vaive would have been given a caution from a star-struck cop and told to go carefully on his way.

How he must yearn for the way it used to be.

But the mantle of a hero weighs heavier these days, even if that message is taking time to filter through. Drinking and driving isn’t given a pass anymore. Not even for sports stars.

So the former Toronto Maple Leafs captain is now enduring the humiliation of being tried for impaired driving and for allegedly having more than twice the legal alcohol limit in his system when York Regional Police pulled him over on July 14, 2009.

He’s pleaded not guilty in a judge-alone trial before Justice Anne-Marie Hourigan.

In court, Vaive, 51, is the portrait of the respected retired hockey ambassador — his full head of white hair perfectly coiffed, his navy suit impeccably tailored, a finger on his right hand heavily weighed down by a gold, diamond-encrusted Leafs ring.

He was a far different sight on the evening he was brought to a police station, arrested after a citizen reported seeing a man barely able to stand get into a black pick-up truck and nearly hit a building before driving out of a Vaughan parking lot.

On a police video shown on the second day of his trial Wednesday, a dishevelled Vaive is seen slowly entering the breathalyzer room wearing flip-flops, a white golf shirt and urine-stained shorts. He slumps into a chair, sighing and yawning heavily as he answers a series of questions by Const. Eugene Kushnir — statements that the judge has yet to determine whether she will allow into evidence.

He may look the worse for wear, but ever the gentleman, the retired 50-goal scorer seems to be apologizing for not playing his usual ambassadorial role.

“I’m just a little tired and pissed off,” he explains to the officer. “I hope you understand if I’m not responsive it’s because I’m pretty tired.”

But there are flashes of that charm.

Vaive tells Kushnir he’d been up to 4:30 that morning playing cards and drinking and then spent the day playing golf with friends in Gravenhurst.

Asked how he did, Vaive chuckles. “Considering last night, I didn’t expect to be good,” he says.

“Have you had any alcohol?” the cop politely asks him.

“Not today,” Vaive replies. “I had one beer.”

“That’s alcohol,” Kushnir gently points out.

Vaive watches himself closely while his wife steadfastly keeps her eyes averted from the embarrassing video.

Asked about any medications, Vaive tells the officer he’s taken his daily dose of anti-anxiety meds. But despite the warning on the bottle, he doesn’t need to be cautious about driving. “What I take is not a big deal,” he explains. “It depends on the individual or how much you take. I don’t take enough.”

Asked if he has any injuries, the former hockey captain laughs again. “I have lots of injuries, but not recent ones.”

Kushnir told the court that Vaive, sitting just across the desk from him, smelled heavily of alcohol, his face was flushed and his eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot. He also seemed confused, complaining that he’d been in the station for four hours when he’d only been there for two. The effects of alcohol, noted the breathalyzer technician, “were obvious.”

His two breathalyzer readings seemed to confirm that impression: Kushnir said Vaive blew 180 and then 172 — more than twice the legal limit of 80 mg.

But being an ex-NHLer certainly affords you a slick legal team. Vaive’s counsel Calvin Barry is challenging those results, saying his client was denied his Charter right to have proper representation. While Vaive was able to speak to his sports agent, a civil lawyer, he didn’t have a chance to consult with a criminal lawyer before the tests were done.

So the trial, scheduled for just two days, ran out of time and will resume Aug. 3.

In the meantime, a hockey legend exited a courthouse burdened by the higher expectations of different times.

Read Mandel Wednesday through Saturday. michele.mandel@sunmedia.ca or 416-947-2231.


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