January 28, 2008

Ron Homenuke

The following article was published in Hawkair's in-flight magazine:

Hockey trivia time. Name the only Northwestern BC'er to play for the Vancouver Canucks. (update: Smithers Dan Hamhuis has now also joined the list of NWBCers to play for the Canucks).

Now most of you said Wade Flaherty, but technically you are incorrect.

"Flats" did wear the Canucks jersey as the back up goaltender during the 2006-07 season for a handful of games. But he never actually played in any of those games.

Many of you are running through the names of the other NHL players from the area - Jeff Sharples, Dale Kushner, Rod Pelley, Mark Fitzpatrick, Jim and Joe Watson, Alan Kerr, Dan Hamhuis, Mike Wall. Nope, none of them either. Or at least in the cases of Hamhuis, Pelley and Wall, not yet.

I bet most of you did not name Ron Homenuke, who was born in Hazelton and raised in Smithers. He played just a single game for the Vancouver Canucks way back in 1972. It was his only NHL game.

For a player who only played a single game in the National Hockey League, Ron Homenuke's life story is a very interesting one. So much so that he self published his autobiography, On The Edge, in 2002.

Homenuke was born in the small northwestern British Columbian town of Hazelton in 1952, but he was raised and learned his hockey in the nearby sporting haven of Smithers. Given the long cold winters, it was only natural that Ron took up hockey. He probably learned more about the game on the abundant frozen ponds in the area than in the indoor rinks.

His autobiography does not discuss his hockey youth too much, other than to romanticize about the old days of Foster Hewitt and Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights and to credit coach Joe "Bugsy" Tenant for his on ice development. He talks more about working with his dad in camp jobs and later fighting forest fires in the summer, and of course about the great joy of fishing, hunting and hiking in the area.

Sadly, he spends more time almost celebrating his underage drinking exploits, including the night he and a buddy got drunk and proceeded to smash windows and slash tires throughout Smithers so thoroughly that it made the provincial newspapers.

Despite his drinking and, as he terms it, his "black sheep years," Homenuke continued to impress on the ice. A quiet but likable character off the ice, he was a rugged customer on it. He never racked up a lot of penalty minutes, but he patrolled his right wing with physical enthusiasm. So much so that he impressed in midget tournaments and soon joined the Calgary Centennials of the WCJHL, where he played with Jim Watson, Danny Gare, Bob Nystrom and John Davidson. He played 4 full seasons in junior before being drafted by the Vancouver Canucks 51st overall in 1972 amateur draft.

Ron, whose uncle George played in the minor leagues with Gordie Howe, reported to the Canucks farm teams for three years, and was even given a chance to play with the Canucks in 1972-73. He actually made the team right out of training camp that year, slated to play on a ultra-physical line with Orland Kurtenbach and Chico Maki.

His first game was in Philadelphia, the inhospitable home of the Flyers or as they were becoming better known, the Broad Street Bullies. Homenuke became involved in physical confrontation with "Battleship" Kelly. Homenuke took the worst of that war, but he never backed down.

It turned out that would Ron's last NHL game, as well. Homenuke would sit out the next two games, and would never get back in. During practice his skate blade caught a rut in the ice, sending him back first into the unforgiving boards. The back injury would hamper him for weeks, and eventually cost him his job in Vancouver. He would be sent down to the Canucks farm team, the Seattle Totems, for a couple of unnoticed seasons. He also ended up playing in Albuquerque of all places, with a team called the Six Guns

Here's a kick to fans of today's million dollar athletes. Homenuke signed his three year contract with the Canucks for an annual NHL sum of just $27,500 a year. That number became $17,500 if he played in the minor leagues. The deal also included an $11,000 signing bonus.

In 1975-76, when his contract expired, Homenuke gave up on professional hockey as a career. He took a job with the British Columbia Forest Service in Nelson, BC. Of course this was a natural fit for Homenuke, as he spent most of his time off the ice working in and enjoying the forests back home in Smithers. Nelson proved to be a welcome break from the big city life of pro hockey, and Ron enjoyed his new found tranquility. Homenuke did not give up the game entirely, choosing to play amateur hockey there with a local team called the Maple Leafs.

While participating in a field trip for Selkirk College's Wildland Recreation class, Ron suffered serious injuries when he fell 1500 to 2000 feet down the Kokanee Glacier. He spent several months recovering, including three weeks in a coma. He was temporarily paralyzed and wheelchair bound. He suffered brain injuries affecting his memory. But he survived, and thanks to the doctors at the G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Center in Vancouver, eventually would recover fully.

Needless to say, that was a life altering experience. But Homenuke was already, and perhaps unknowingly, undergoing another life changing experience once he got to Nelson. He was discovering God. His beliefs got him through his near-death situation, making him forever a servant of God.

Nowadays "Homy" continues to call Nelson home. Beginning in 1985 he found his life's calling as a missionary for a ministry called Action International. He has spent considerable time in the Philippines working with street children, as well as working with churches across Canada.

Much of Homenuke's autobiography is dedicated to God and to his work in the Philippines. I stumbled across his autobiography in Mountain Eagle Books used bookstore in Smithers. Copies are available online through Amazon.com and AbeBooks.com


Anonymous said...

This seems hilarious in hindsight, but I turned 9 in 1972, and I recall Ron Homenuke as my favorite player on the Seattle Totems' roster the next winter.

I even recall taking a city bus way out in the sticks to meet Ron Homenuke when he was appearing at a local Jack in the Box restaurant!!!

Had he not had such a unique name, I'd never have been able to learn whatever became of him.

Hopefully fate has been a bit more kind to him circa 2010-2011 than had been the case at critical points since I first knew of him.

Thanks for having this biography here!

-one-time kid in Seattle

Anonymous said...

I too watched Ron play for the Totems in Seattle and was amazed by his gutsy nonstop play on the ice. He was my favorite player to root for. I met Ron in Canada several years later in the early 80s & as well in the Philippines in the late 80s & 90s. You won't find a better man than Ron. He is a humble servant & gladly serves the Filipino street kids even to this day. I am a life-long fan of Ron Homenuke, truly a comeback guy in life. Rosy

Anonymous said...

My parents are really good friends of Ron's and he is actually sleeping at our place outside Edmonton, Alberta right now. I haven't read his biography but I am most certainly going to start reading it! From what my dad says about him, he seems like an amazing guy. I've only talked to him a bit but he's a go getter for sure!

Anonymous said...

Great article, Joe, on one of my favourite players. When he was with the Seattle Totems, he and another player, goalkeeper Dave McLelland, came to our peewee team's practice. They were great, spending time with us kids, giving pointers, encouraging us. It's because of guys like Homenuke I'm still a hockey fan today. Cheers, Louis Chirillo

Anonymous said...

I was a Totems fan as a kid as well. His parents were missionaries in Smithers and knew Homenuke. We went to a game together and either before or after the game my friend got his attention. He came over and shook our hands or made some kind of gesture of acknowledgement.He then became my favorite all time Totem even though I never had any personal contact with him again.

Anonymous said...

I met Ron in Bible college around 82-83. That's a ways back, almost 30 years, wow!

I can't picture him as i used to, but he was not 'fully recovered' as you state here. Nor was he expecting to be. He still suffered a balance problem (spine, hips, and head) and walked a lot like a flat gingerbread man would, like he might tip over with any step he took. I would say fairly restricted physically.

He was a great guy. Nothing bad to say about anyone or anything. He was my friend and hockey coach on one of the 3 teams i played for in college. He taught me to swallow chopped garlic cloves to avoid regular cold symptoms - worked like a charm. Think it chased the bug right out of me for good cause i don't do it every day like he did, and i haven't had a cold in years.
He's on Facebook.

God bless you, Ron.

Anonymous said...

I was in Bible college with Ron for four years. Nothing about his character indicated his wild youth. I remember him as the kind of person who impressed you right off the bat. He gave his life wholly to God and has been a dedicated servant for 40 years.

Anonymous said...

I went to high school with Ron and his Brother Denys in Smithers, graduating in 1969. Yes, he was wild in his youth, my favorite memory was riding a mining ore cart over a tailings drop of several hundred feet. Two bailed out early but I couldn't get a footing so lasted 1/3 of the way, Ron rode it all the way (only on a dare)into the trees and not a scratch.

Ron was very gifted with his hockey strength and wit. We followed his career and Jim Watson's (also from Smithers and a year younger)into the NHL.

Ron made an amazing recovery and dedicated his life to helping others, truly an amazing guy.

He is truly blessed.