By Charlie Hodge
You can’t make this stuff up.
Well, actually I guess you can, however it is overwhelmingly warming and intriguing when such heart-rendering stories unfold. Occasionally life can match or trump fantasy.
HodgePodge readers may recall a few months back when I mentioned a reunion of the Kelowna Buckaroos junior hockey team was planned for July. As a former trainer and stick boy with the team (back in the early 1970’s) I was excited with the idea and quickly agreed to help Shawn Swail attempt to organize the gathering.
The two of us contacted as many former players, managers, staff etc. as possible and scrambled to set up venues. Unfortunately our efforts started too late for enough former members to organize holidays and travel to town. With a few weeks to go we decided to cancel the event until next season.
Despite the cancellation a couple of players still decided to pop into town; a summer visit to Kelowna is never a bad idea. Among them was former Buckaroo superstar Gene Carr, without question one the best all-time Bucks.
Geno played here from 1967 to 1969, His final season was the year before I joined the team. As a rink rat kid Gene was my hero. The blond haired handsome teenage hockey player out of Nanaimo dazzled fans. He was pure poetry on hockey skates, cutting the ice like few players. Aside from his gifted agility, balance, and speed on the blades Gene had outstanding hand-eye coordination and a feel for the game.
Carr’s skills here earned him two seasons with the Flin Flon Bombers in the Tier 1 major junior league where he tallied 177 points in 122 games.
The St. Louis Blues drafted him fourth overall in the 1971 NHL draft. Some were surprised when the Blues traded Carr to the New York Rangers just 15 games into the season as part of a multi-player deal. Eventually he spent several years in LA before retiring from hockey due to injuries. He retired with 79 goals 136 assists for 215 points in 465 games played.
His flamboyant style both on and off the ice endeared him to many including Eagles lead singer Glenn Frey who penned the hit song New Kid In Town inspired by Carr. The two remained best buddies until Frey’s untimely death. “I’m still not over that,” Gene says.
Prior to the cancellation of the reunion I interviewed Gene by phone for my column. It was a great chat but part way through his nostalgic memories of Kelowna reflected a touch of sorrow and regret.
“I love Kelowna. I grew up there really. Grade 11 and 12 at KSS, hanging out with friends at Hot Sands and the Aquatic Dances, the pizza joint. What a great place. Kelowna holds a special place in my heart.
“If things had worked out differently I could still be there today,” Carr said with a twinge of melancholy. It was a thought left hanging, briefly and smacked of a broken heart.
I should have left the comment alone but it bounced around in my head for a few days.
When we chatted again later I brought the comment back up, weaving in the fact that I knew his former girlfriend from those old hockey days, Shannon Lavell. Her relatives had lived next to us and as a hockey fan I knew they had been an item.
Gene was taken aback by my knowledge of his earlier romance and humbly revealed that indeed it was Shan that he was referring to earlier. “I never should have lost touch with her. It was all me, I was a fool.”
“That sounds like another famous song,” I joked suggesting that I knew Shan well enough to gently mention I had been talking to him.
“I’ll mention you wanted me to say hi for you, and see if she might meet you for a coffee,” I suggested, playing cupid.
At first he balked, saying she would likely not be interested in talking to him, let alone have coffee.
“I would like that but it won’t happen I’m pretty sure. It’s been a long time,” Gene said.
Shan’s first response was somewhat cool. She called back the next day and said she had changed her mind and would agree to meet with him. “I will have a coffee with him, but that’s it. We were good friends so I will agree to that.”
When Gene arrived in town in July Shan and Gene did meet for a coffee. And then another one. And another one.
It seemed that a planned reunion that never happened resulted in another reunion that did.
A few days ago Gene called wanting to connect for a visit with me, which is pending based on our crazy schedule.
“Since we can’t meet for a bit, I do have something I need to tell you now. Shan and I got married last week.”
I nearly dropped the phone in joy.
Yup, you can’t make this stuff up.