The Estevan Bruins Celebrity Sportsman's Dinner made its return May 25 after a six-year absence, and it proved to be a big success.
More than 500 people attended the event, which was held at Spectra Place. Former NHLer enforcer Marty McSorley was the keynote speaker, and he provided an entertaining, candid and enlightening speech about his career.
Comedian and radio personality “Jungle” Jim Jerome – a friend of McSorley's from McSorley's days with the Edmonton Oilers – joined McSorley at the banquet. The two interacted throughout the evening, and answered questions from the audience.
McSorley played 961 regular season NHL games in a career that spanned 17 seasons, and is most widely remembered as an enforcer who protected Wayne Gretzky with the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings. He won the Stanley Cup with Edmonton in 1987 and 1988, and then was dealt to the Kings in the trade that sent Gretzky to California.
“That trade really made the game non-regional,” said McSorley. “So I think that Wayne knew, with all the work they had, he really wanted to know he had somebody covering his back, and really looking out for him. And I think he believed that I would do that.”
McSorley would spend most of the next eight seasons in Los Angeles, and was a pivotal player with the Kings when they reached the Stanley Cup final in 1993.
There are some similarities between the 1993 Kings and this year's Kings team that is in the Stanley Cup final, he said, but they have differing styles. The 1993 Kings were a high-scoring offensive team, while the 2012 Kings play a strong defensive game.
This year's Kings have also received outstanding goaltending from Jonathan Quick.
“So much rests on his shoulders, and the game has gravitated to that,” said McSorley. “Kelly Hrudey was very good for us (in 1993), but Jonathan Quick now, with the way that the game is designed, you have to be a great goaltender, or you can't win. Look at all the teams that went deep in the playoffs, and how good their goaltending was.”
The Kings' acquisition of Jeff Carter was also a difference-maker, he said, because it gave the Kings a scoring threat alongside Mike Richards on the second line. In turn, that has created more opportunities to produce for the Kings' top line, centred by Anze Kopitar.
McSorley expects that the Kings will beat the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final, and win the Cup for the first time in franchise history.
“From a defensive standpoint, they have speed back there, and they have the size to play however they want,” said McSorley. “Up front, they now have two (scoring) lines.”
McSorley accumulated 3,381 penalty minutes in his career, the fourth-most in NHL history, but he was more than just a fighter. He hit double-digits in goals five times, and led the league in plus-minus in 1990-91.
“I think fighting has a place,” said McSorley. “I think that fighting kept a lot of the little possible injuries out of the game. It really kept guys honest. When they knew they had to answer to people on the ice, they had to keep respect for guys on the ice. And tough guys didn't go out after the top players. We basically kept the game honest and kept the game going.”
If fighting is ever penalized with an automatic game misconduct, then McSorley believes that there will be an increase in the number of injuries. He noted that injuries increased when additional penalties were implemented for the instigator in 1992.
“I don't know if I could do that job today,” said McSorley. “With the rules, the instigator, the way that they're calling it, I don't know if I could do it anymore.”
McSorley incorporated some touching moments into his speech as well. Among the stories that he shared was how he was able to bring his father onto the ice for the Stanley Cup victory celebration after the Oilers beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1987 final.
“My Dad couldn't watch the games because he was nervous, so he walked under the stands, and the security guards would leave him alone,” said McSorley. “When we won (Game 7), obviously they opened up the Zamboni doors, brought the Cup out, and the red carpet. As they went on the ice, I remember my Dad was standing there.”
McSorley brought his father on the ice and they embraced. “Hockey Night in Canada” captured everything.
McSorley also paid tribute to those who helped make Spectra Place happen. It's a great venue, he said. He was particularly impressed with the Bruins' new dressing room, which required over 1,000 hours of work from Bruins' trainer Gerry Aspen.
McSorley currently resides in California. He works for Sportsnet as a hockey analyst, plays in old-timer hockey games, and makes appearances at charity dinners across Canada. It forces him to be away from home more than he'd like, but he always enjoys coming to events like the Bruins' fundraiser, because people are always at their best.
Live and silent auctions were also part of the dinner. The live auction fetched a little more than $47,000; the top-selling auction was a trip to Detroit for the NHL's Winter Classic game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as an Alumni Game between the two clubs.
Jerseys and other forms of sports memorabilia were also auctioned off.
The event raised an estimated $65,000 for the Bruins. It was the first Sportsman's Dinner since 2006, as the Bruins sacrificed the event from 2007 to 2011, so that the new arena fundraising dinners could happen.