Reggie Leach figures he’s accomplished most of the goals he set early in his life, except for one: making it into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In telling his hockey life story to a gala fundraiser crowd at the Westin Bear Mountain Resort that included members of the Victoria Grizzlies organization, players’ parents and other members of the West Shore hockey and business community, the former National Hockey League superstar hinted that poor life choices brought an early end to his career.
A recovered alcoholic who got sober once he entered treatment in 1985 – two years after scoring his 381st and last NHL goal – Leach, now 66, said seeking help for his addiction issues gave him a new lease on life.
“I’m more proud of what I’ve done after hockey than what I did during hockey,” he said, referring to getting clean, building new relationships and connecting with First Nations youth in Canada. “Hockey was a basic stepping stone, it gets me in a lot of doors and I think that when I changed my life around, everything changed for me.”
The point of telling a group of young hockey players about his life choices was two-fold: He wanted to emphasize the value of getting an education, and teach them they need to take responsibility for bad choices they might make. “They’re just starting their career and they’re going to make a bunch of mistakes and I think it’s my responsibility to let them know that it’s OK to make a mistake, as long as you correct it and move on.”
The value of education figured in speeches given by Leach and fellow former NHLers John Grisdale, Lyle Moffatt and Matt Pettinger at the Grizzlies fundraiser last Thursday. That was mainly due to the fact the B.C. Hockey League has become a pipeline to the college ranks for up-and-coming players, including several on this year’s Grizzlies.
Moffat and Grisdale, the BCHL president and a big proponent of aiming for college scholarships, were teammates at Michigan Tech in the 1960s. Pettinger went from the Victoria Salsa – the predecessor of the Grizzlies – to Denver University where he played almost two seasons.
In the late 1960s and early ’70s when Leach was coming up through the ranks of junior hockey and breaking into the NHL, most players didn’t have an education to fall back on if their hockey career ended abruptly or never took off. “I never had a second choice,” he said. “All I knew was playing junior hockey.”