by Fred Sgambati ('83)
The Montreal Canadiens Alumni Tour touched down at the Kings Mutual Century Centre in Berwick, Nova Scotia on Wednesday, March 29. Fans were treated to some terrific hockey, but one in particular had a unique vantage point that was certainly better than a front-row seat.
Len Hawley, the voice of the Acadia Axemen and a Development Officer at Acadia University, has been a Habs fan since age 12. Now 52, a unique gift from members of the hockey Axemen allowed Hawley to suit up with the alumni squad for this special fundraiser in support of the Apple Dome project in Berwick.
Hawley rose to the occasion, notching three points on the night and scoring on a penalty shot. To say it was a highlight would be an understatement, but the moment wasn’t lost on him and he’s grateful for having had the opportunity to live out a lifelong dream.
“After the game, my wife Rachel showed me a picture of myself in the warm-up, and that’s when it sunk in,” he said. “The days of playing road hockey as a teenager and dreaming of playing in the NHL was just that, a dream. I’ve been very fortunate in life to have a few highlights around hockey, but mainly from broadcasting or my involvement with fundraising or community events. This, though, will stand out forever.”
There were so many great Montreal teams in the ‘70s that Hawley watched, and his heroes included Guy Lafleur – “tops the list!” – Larry Robinson and Ken Dryden, to name a few.
Teammates on Wednesday night included Stephane Richer, Patrice Brisebois, Chris Nilan and Richard Sevigny. “They’re a great group of guys who made me feel very much at home,” Hawley said.
He started the game on a line with two-time Stanley Cup winner Richer, who told him before the opening face-off to only shoot the puck when it was passed to him. “My first shift, I tried to pass it back to him,” Hawley said. “Not good! I got chirped quite a bit for that.”
Hawley added that the alumni squad brought great energy and atmosphere to the arena and he was thrilled to share a dressing room with them. “That might have been the best part. Music was blaring, coach (Yvon) Lambert addressed the team and called out the lines. I haven’t had a coach behind the bench in over 30 years. I also had an opportunity to share some stories. There were three or four guys that played in Halifax in the late ‘70s with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs. I went to many games at the Metro Centre as a teenager, and it was fun talking about the many players who were there at the time.”
But as it turns out, dreams don’t come without a price. The pace was hectic and Hawley said afterward he was a little sore. “I only wish the Acadia Athletics Complex hosted a massage clinic!” he joked. “It’s been a while since I skated that hard. The alumni guys don’t take 45-second shifts and the two-minute shifts were a bit more than I’m used to.”
Regardless, it was a blast, Hawley added. “A wonderful opportunity to give back to the community and experience something that I thought was just a dream. It was incredible!”