January 30, 2009

Shoebox Memories - Terrace is Hockeyville Edition.

My favorite hockey card from the 1989-90 season was not that of Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux or Trevor Linden. It was Jeff Sharples' rookie card.

Jeff who?

"Sharps" was the local kid who made it big, at least for a time. Terrace, a.k.a. Hockeyville 2009, had our very own up and coming NHL star!

I was just starting grade 7 when Sharples broke into the league and impressed as a rookie defenseman in 1987-88. He made the jump directly from junior to the Detroit Red Wings who had drafted him 29th overall in 1985.

Detroit’s coach at the time was Jacques Demers who, especially at this time, preferred to use veteran players, especially on the blue line. But Sharples came in and had himself a heck of a training camp and made the team. He played in 56 games scoring 10 goals and 35 points while accumulating 42 PIMs.

The one game in particular that I remember was the first time Detroit played on Hockey Night in Canada that season. Of course, there was no satellite TV channels carrying every game back then, so I had to patiently wait for the first time the Red Wings played the Toronto Maple Leafs to watch Sharples play.

I don’t remember the exact game, or many of the details. But I will always remember legendary play by play commentator Bob Cole applauding the young rookie, saying he has a bright future in the league. I also will remember Sharples shrugging off a thunderous body check from Leafs’ banger Wendel Clark.

Sharples would suffer through a horrendous sophomore jinx, and never really recovered. He was traded to Edmonton as a part of the big Jimmy Carson/Adam Graves trade, and then was soon off to New Jersey. He never had chance to play in either city. Instead he was destined for a long but respectable career in the minor leagues.

In Terrace, Sharples' name is as synonymous with the 1983 Terrace midget reps as it with any NHL team. That 1983 team made it all the way to the national midget championship - then called the Air Canada Cup, now known as the Telus Cup. That team featured Sharples on defense, an exciting but tiny Terry Zaporzan up front, and two other players who went on to the big leagues: Dale Kushner at forward and Wade Flaherty in net.

It was no easy road for Kushner. He was never drafted by the NHL, and had to fight and claw his way to a minor league contract with the New York Islanders. A strong over-aged junior season 1987 really helped him. The veteran helped Medicine Hat with the Memorial Cup. Trevor Linden was just a rookie with the Tigers back then.

Kushner was then invited to the Islanders camp, working his butt off to impress enough to get a minor league contract. Kushner never stopped working over the next 3 seasons, finally earning a 2 game cup of coffee with the Islanders in 1989-90.

The Philadelphia Flyers were also impressed with the big left winger. They signed him as a free agent in 1990-91, and Kushner made the team. He played in 63 games, scoring 7 goals and 18 points and picking up an unfriendly 195 PIMs playing with teammates like Rick Tocchet, Scott Mellanby and Mike Ricci.

As the weak Flyers team continued their rebuild, they organizational depth would soon improve. Kushner would get into 19 more big league games, but was destined to return to the minor leagues.

Then there was Flats, Wade Flaherty, perhaps the most notably Terracite to make it to the NHL.

Flaherty was a goalie who just never quite got the break he needed in the NHL, yet he somehow managed to keep popping up in the league. Over the years Flaherty has seen as many minor league cities as he has pucks, but he has managed to enjoy some time in the NHL, too. Flaherty has played in 121 games, but has spent more time sitting on the bench as an NHL back up netminder. Flaherty was hoping to achieve a childhood dream by joining the Vancouver Canucks organization in the 2004-05 season. However a season long labour dispute followed by complicated waiver rules have conspired to keep “Flats” toiling for the Canucks farm team, the Manitoba Moose. He' just finished playing in China, of all places, and has announced his retirement to become a goaltending coach for the Chicago Blackhawks.

You may also want to read two articles I wrote for a local airline. One is about hockey players from other communities from northwest BC. The other looks at Ron Homenuke, the only northwest BC player to ever play for the Vancouver Canucks.


Anonymous said...

Flaherty also played for the Canucks in the minors but never suited up for the team

Rudy Poeschek was an NHL enforcer also from Terrace. I think he played the most actual NHL games.

Zaporzan was not tiny, he was short but stocky (probably 200lbs by senior year in hs)

There were a few other players from that generation that came close but for one reason or another didn't pan out. Not sure if there was something in the water at that time but Terrace never produced a crop like that again (at least so far after 25 years.)

Anonymous said...

I was at a game where Flats did suit up for the Canucks. He was backup but in the lineup. I remember it really well as Terrace minor hockey had our kids in the timbits div playing in the intermission. We all waited after the game for Wade to come up to where we all had our kids to meet the Terrace legend. Unfortunately he had better things to do and never showed.