January 17, 2004
Sharpshooter: Hockey dream realized
By BRET HART - SLAM! Wrestling
People often ask me just how I became involved with junior hockey. Years ago, when I worked the Stampede Wrestling circuit at the Pavilion, junior games were often played next door in the Corral and I loved watching WHL tilts whenever I had the chance.
My whole life, I secretly wished I could have been a hockey player but, in my family, wrestling boots were easier to come by than hockey skates.
In '93, I was asked to drop the puck at a Pats game in Regina to raise money for the Lupus Foundation and, in what was a delightful surprise, the Pats drew their biggest crowd of the season.
Unbeknownst to me, Theo Fleury and Joe Sakic, along with a small group of wannabe owners, saw this as a positive sign and sought me out to join them in finally bringing junior hockey back to Calgary.
I was as flattered as I was keenly interested, especially when Fleury suggested naming the team after me.
I always felt there was a close parallel between my early Stampede Wrestling days and junior hockey. Right from the very first Hitmen game I attended, I was impressed by the heart and gritty determination of these young players. The Hitmen had a moderately successful inaugural season, with the only setback being the team logo was deemed too violent by some do-gooders, so it was changed to something so wimpy the result was a merchandising disaster.
The Hitmen managed to acquire some damn fine players and, for the first few seasons, the team stayed focused and competitive despite major obstacles. The squad built a dedicated, solid fan base.
The dream of junior hockey coming back to Calgary -- where many believed it couldn't survive -- came true when superb young players such as Brad Moran, Chris Nielsen and Brent Dodginghorse refused to be turned back and earned a shot at the Memorial Cup in May 1999.
Since then, I've taken in many Hitmen games and believe junior hockey is still the best sports entertainment in the city and across the entire country.
When I take my usual seat at the Saddledome, it's impossible not to recognize many of the Hitmen fans who never gave up and loyally supported this team right from the start. I'm happy to say there are many people in this city who love this team even more than I do -- and that's saying something.
I see it in so many happy faces after the games, win or lose. If I had my way, they'd be making bobbleheads of all the diehards I see at every game.
I'm sure there are so many of you who remember those cold, snowy Saturdays and the sky already growing dark as the Stampede Wrestling theme played with the credits rolling. Then there was that intense two-hour wait until Hockey Night In Canada came on.
I just want to take this opportunity to thank the Hitmen players, team management and Wendy's restaurant for honouring me at last night's Hitman Hart bobblehead night at the Saddledome and letting me realize a lifelong dream.