Tony Stiles was one of the most unknown players on the 1988 Canadian men's Olympic hockey team. So much so that it is almost impossible to find a photo of him in the Canadian uniform despite two years of service.
The Carstairs, Alberta native was a gifted defenseman who never burdened himself with pressures or dreams. He loved playing the game and continued to take advantage of the opportunities it provided.
"I just loved to play the game--I was just happy to go out on the ice and go. I had the good fortune that people took notice and liked what I did--it took me to higher places. Sure, you're always living the dream when you're playing road hockey or shinny, but when I was playing on teams, I didn't worry about stats. It was more, 'If it happens, it happens.' "
And it happened.
After four years at Michigan Tech, the sturdy defender got a couple of NHL offers, including one from the Calgary Flames.
Following a year and a half of seasoning with the Colorado (Denver) Flames of the American Hockey League, Stiles made his big-league debut Dec. 23, 1983, at Edmonton. Merry Christmas.
"I remember that game very well," says Stiles, who, wearing No. 21,was paired with Kari Eloranta during the 5-5 tie.
"I remember how nervous I was. My legs were wobbly. Gretzky came down one-on-one, I poke-checked the puck away from him and went the other way . . . my legs were shaking so bad, I dumped it in from the red line and got off the ice."
After those 30 games of 1983-84 - plus-14, two goals and nine points - Stiles never tasted the NHL again.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed that I didn't get the chance to play more," he says. "But I also realize that I was very fortunate to get even that opportunity.
"A lot of guys, with good skills, never even get the opportunity to go pro, let alone play major-league games. I would have liked to pursue it further, but such is life."
Stiles returned to the minor leagues for a couple of seasons before making a two year commitment to the Canadian national team. Even though he played in the program for two years, he almost missed out on the opportunity to play in his hometown Olympics thanks to a couple last minute additions to the team like NHLer Tim Watters.
Stiles did get to play, albeit in only five games as he suffered a couple of concussions during the two week tourney.
Stiles continued his hockey career in Germany until 1990 before returning home to Calgary.
After years of chasing pucks, he went on to chase bad guys. But not until after three years of figuring out what to do with his life.
"I worked five or six different jobs," said Stiles. "Delivering auto glass. Working in the construction industry. Telus. Climbing microwave towers with a private outfit. A number of different occupations like that.
"I had no real idea what I wanted to do once I finished (playing hockey). I had a business degree, so I thought I might work with that down the road. But until I found really what I was looking for, I just worked where I could. But I had a family to support, so I started looking around for something a little more secure and stable. It was suggested by someone that I go and join police force. So I did."
Stiles really enjoyed working with undercover tactical units, first in Edmonton and then back home in Calgary.