In the summer of 1985, in honour of my brother’s Manitoba wedding, my parents took me on a road trip.
Living in Ontario, we drove West through the United States towards the wedding, and then East through Canada on the way home.
I don’t remember a thing about the trip home through Canada. I do remember parts of the trip through the U.S. – in particular a visit to Wakefield, Michigan, and the purchase of a Rambo helicopter toy I played with endlessly.
But what I remember most is my dad breaking us into the Winnipeg Arena.
It was the middle of the day, and we clearly weren’t supposed to be there. Being somewhere you weren’t supposed to be never bothered my dad. His gift for talking got us into Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium, Cincinatti’s Riverfront Stadium and a drug-lord owned casino in Cartagena, Colombia (but that’s a story for another day).
I was only seven years old though and clearly worried about getting in trouble. Nonetheless, dad pressed on, trying arena doors until one opened, and walking with me around the concourse until we found a shuttered pro shop.
I stood aside as dad found a someone to talk to. Eventually he did, and the pro shop was opened. Dad talked to the man privately, and then he motioned for me to come toward him.
“They don’t have any Dale Hawerchuk’s,” he said. “Who else do you like on the Jets? Randy Carlyle?”
I quickly replied: “Thomas Steen.” Make no mistake, as a boy I was acutely aware of any NHL player who shared my first name.
My dad’s face could not hide his confusion – he clearly did not recognize the name. He repeated it out loud, in the form of a question, for the man to hear: “Thomas Steen?”
Our new friend disappeared from view. After what seemed like an eternity, he came back, handing to me a left-handed hockey stick seemingly twice as long as I was tall.
The stick had a cracked blade but otherwise looked good as new. On the shaft, stamped, was the name THOMAS STEEN.
Today, in the storage closet of a suburban home in the hamlet of Orono, Ontario (population 1200), you can still find a very old red and white Titan hockey stick. It’s the only game-used stick I’ve ever owned.
Tonight, as puck drops on the Jets official return to the NHL, I’ll be thinking about that trip. About my dad. About Thomas Steen.
Welcome back, Winnipeg Jets. You’ve been missed.