The news yesterday that filtered down through the Internet to me that Fran Rider has been elected to the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame brought back warm memories and an over-riding sense of happiness for me.
Back in the late 70's and through most of the 80's, my job was being a Sports Reporter under another Hall of Famer, editor Ken Giles of the Brampton Guardian. Each year, I knew my 'beat' included The Silver Stick Boys' Hockey Tournament bracket at Bramalea's Victoria Park Arena over Christmas and the March Break Brampton Canadettes Hockey Tournament held in Mississauga, of all places. The tournament had outgrown it's humble origins in Brampton to become "The Largest Women's Hockey Tournament in the World!"
So, I saw a LOT of tournament hockey. There was also the Brampton Atom Lions Hockey Tournament for 10 year olds (Wayne Gretzky played FIVE years in that tournament and his first ever LIVE on-air interview was with The Boss, Ken Giles, after one fabulous game at the event. Brantford always seemed to lost to Whitby, though). The season-ending Chinguacousy Tykes Tournament for the LITTLEST kids was the year-end capper that meant softball was soon to take over my life.
I LOVED tournament hockey. Still do. Not as much as my brother Wayne, who schedules his life around the Christmas-time World Junior Men's Hockey Championships. Oddly enough, he so loves the TV broadcasts, that I've never been able to get him to GO to one of Canada's games when they are playing within hailing distance. Maybe next year as circumstances are putting a kibosh on any travel for me this year. Not up to cheering right now.
Did I mention I LOVE tournament hockey? Well, maybe the most fun of the tournaments for doing my job was the Canadettes tournament. The reason was one of access. Rider held court in a tiny office at the complex where the games were played. She would spend HOURS talking about hockey, not just women's hockey, but hockey in general. Sure, she had an overly-willing audience in me, but she spared not one moment she had available to just yak with me and any other reporter who dropped by.
And did she ever sell the girls' game! And when she needed a heavy hitter, she rolled in Hazel McCallion, the Mississauga Mayor for Life, until she stepped down a few years back, well into her 80's. McCallion, a force of nature at the worst of times, was always at her best pitching women's hockey. This was a woman who BUILT Mississauga out of a conglomeration of small western Toronto suburbs, but who lived and breathed hockey before politics. The two of them were good for a broadsheet page of quotes every spring ... even though some of the quotes were re-runs.
Still, if Rider had decided to buck McCallion in politics, I'm not sure of who would have won. Rider was about ten years my senior, putting her in her late 20's, early 30's when I first met her. She was already pushing being too old to be playing competitive hockey at her age. She laughed at retirement talk. Kept laughing for another TWO decades. She played AND ran the tournament AND created the Women's Hockey League in Canada and the US AND politicked for the Olympics to create a women's division. And she never was defeated, only delayed a little. Occasionally.
Still, she did it with the velvet glove approach until it became painfully obvious that the iron fist had come out. She COULD wield that fist very effectively. So much so, that she made enemies. But even amongst the enemies who earned her eagle-eyed glare from under the black as midnight blunt bangs, they all had to respect her.
I remember a LOT of little stories from the tournament, too many to enumerate here. The players from all over the world, including my favourites from Sweden (hey, I was a young man, don't look at me like that) and Israel (who KNEW!?!), as well as the local lasses that let me write as much as I wanted to because of all the good local news copy. I watched Hall of Famer Angela James grow up (I happened to be keenly aware of both her hockey AND softball career). I watched many, many of the future Olympians and Gold Medal winners play as precocious teens. Tweens even.
And through it all, Rider kept up the PR push, the let's talk hockey until YOU quit plan. Cuz I'm never going to quit. And she did it with a smile and a general love of hockey and of 'her girls and ladies.'
Fran Rider was a Hall of Famer decades ago. It just took until this week for Rene Faisel and the rest of the old fogies (i orginally typed in doyennes, but there is a discernable LACK of women on the executive) of the game to confirm it. Congratulations Fran.
Merry Christmas to all and to all, a good end to this post.