Ridin’ with Rent-A Goalie: Epilogue

“Best…Road…Trip…Ever!”
That was the phrase repeated over and over again as I tagged along with the Rent-A-Goalie gang on the Eastern portion of their cross-Canada hockey marathon. Deer Lake, Newfoundland, was memorable for it’s magestic scenery but even more for its people. As RAG boss Christopher Bolton (standing, right) said at the Deer Lake arena Thursday night, “they treat strangers like friends.” It took some getting used to having every passer by say a warm hello on the street; even teens there say, “hello, SIR.”
Unfortunately, the disc to my camera, like many of us who went on the trip, got corrupted. I lost some of my shots, but others survived. A few of these came from other shooters, including ever ready RAG cameraman Matthew Lochner.
The most breathtaking scenery was found up the coast. Eight of us squeezed into a van and drove through Gros Morne Provincial Park. This is where the nickname “The Rock” truly resonates. Massive cliffs thrust out into the ocean. Small towns like “Cow’s Head” are scattered between the rock and fields, with small white houses and hundreds of lobster nets dotting the landscape. Dudes sit on rooftops, next to their dogs, drinking beer. This is Canada.
Executive producer Chris Szarka came prepared; dressed in shorts, he waded into the ocean down by the spot where, in 1919, “the worst storm ever” capsized the S.S. Ethie, a beauty of a ship according to the official park marker.
The game Thursday was a hoot. Thankfully, the local Red Wings took it down a few gears. Both teams put on a show for the fans, with a touchdown helping the visitors make it to a shootout.
As the embedded journalist, I was about as much help on defense as the frozen salmon the night before in the bar. Standing out for the right reasons was my RAG defense partner D’Arcy. The scouts from nearby Corner Brook were so impressed they’re flying him out from Toronto for a two game tryout!
Ex-NHLers Bob Probert and local hero Darren Langdon took part in the skate. Former Ranger scrapper Landon owns a local bar named “Langers” where the Deer Lake elite meet to “Screetch in” outsiders. His mom kept everyone in stitches, especially with her Janet Gretzky stories. Langdon wound up following the boys to Fort McMurray, Alta., for the Saturday game and even showed up back in Toronto last night at the RAG launch party.
Probert was a hell of a sport in Deer Lake, allowing local kids to shave strips of hair off his head for every goal we scored. He explained later in the dressing room that he needed to get beaned for an upcoming Halloween party.
“Coach” Ivan, Deer Lake’s biggest Montreal Canadiens fan, guided us through the game. The dude also scrawled something on the Rent-A-Goalie banner that was left behind but, just like almost everything he said, damned if any of us could make it out.
I’m not sure how I got to be part of all of this but it was a damn fine three days. There’s talk of another game up in North Bay, so I better go get my skates sharpened, dropped 20 pounds and turn back the clock a decade or two. Also learn to play hockey.
Last night was the Showcase launch party at The Scene on Queen Street West. Phil Esposito, who guested on last night’s third season premiere and in an upcoming episode, was in the house. Espo worked the joint like Sinatra at the Sands, all cocktails and cuff links. Grabbed an interview with him about acting as opposed to hockey. Besides Rent-A-Goalie, he pops up every season in Denis Leary’s excellent New York firefighter series Rescue Me (due back in the spring).
Espo says acting is a lot like hockey. He has a theory that in both instances, there are situations where you have to play a character. That famous rant in Vancouver in ’72, for example. Espo let us have it in one of the most powerful moments in Canadian television:

Espo says he was offered a role in the original Godfather movie, but it was an offer he did refuse. “They wanted me to take January, February and March off to shoot the damn thing!” howls Espo. That was back in the Bruins’ heyday, when Espo and Bobby Orr were winning Stanley Cups. Orr, he says, was also offered a role on Leary’s show, but turned it down. There’s got to be a part on that show for Derek Sanderson, I’m thinking.
Espo says he would have ditched hockey for The Godfather if the money was right. He named his price, prompting the casting director to exclaim, “What?? Not even Brando’s getting that!”
Sure, but did Brando ever score 76 goals?

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