GUEST COLUMN: Pat Stapleton was much more than a famous hockey player

Pat Stapleton, left, dressed as a referee with Rick Fraser, right, presents the cake while singing Happy Birthday to fellow Sarnian and former NHL ref Neil Armstrong on his 84th birthday. The gesture captures Stapleton’s true nature and how he cared for others, the Greenwoods say. Submitted Photo

Dave & Janet Greenwood

Most people knew Pat “Whitey” Stapleton for his exploits as a hockey player: NHL All-Star, captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, Team Canada member in the famed 1972 series against the Soviet Union.

But as city council considers renaming Sarnia Arena for this man, it’s fitting to know what he did off the ice.

Few are aware of the substantial body of work Pat achieved in the 40-plus years after his playing days. For those accomplishments, he was nominated for the Order of Canada.

Prior to his passing last year, Pat was visiting educators across Canada to discuss his leadership program. It’s called “28,800 seconds: The Power of Teamwork,” a reference to the time it took to play eight games against the Soviets in ‘72.

Pat’s initiative is part of the Niagara Catholic School District’s Social Studies and Canadian History curriculum, taught to 6,000 students in Grades 4 to 6. It stresses leadership and perseverance, resiliency and the importance of teamwork. His efforts were featured in major Canadian newspapers and the New York Times

Pat was a tireless advocate for members of Team Canada. He was responsible for the restructuring and creation of their legacy, called 1972 Summit Series Hockey Team Inc., which supports charities and ensures the players’ stories and lessons are taken to communities and classrooms.

After his playing days, Pat grew concerned about the way hockey is taught to young people, in terms of technique and human values. He saw youth being pushed and pressured with negative results.

He developed a new, holistic approach called “Fundamentals in Action,” to help young players believe in themselves.

He developed unique and creative on-ice drills to encourage creativity, something he saw missing in player development. With sponsorship from Pepsi Cola and Canadian Tire, he took the program to 1,300 communities from Newfoundland to Vancouver. Notably, the U.S. National Junior program prevailed upon him to redesign its approach.

Many have seen Pat speak at banquets throughout Ontario, including Sarnia. He refused the speaker’s fee.

He also spoke at Sarnia high schools and elementary schools. His message was simple: live properly and do the best you can. Often he posed three basic questions to students. What do you want in life? What will you sacrifice to get it? Are you willing to do the necessary work?

Hockey parents would ask him to come and watch their son or daughter play, to provide an evaluation, and perhaps to speak to them. He never hesitated, and at his own expense travelled to arenas in towns throughout Southwestern Ontario.

A few years ago, Pat became aware of a Sarnia man who was down on his luck, sick, and dying. Through this tough time, Pat delivered food and provided financial help. It was his basic philosophy: “Do something for someone else every day, with no expectation of return.” He loved his hometown of Sarnia and cared about people.

For all these reasons, we believe there is no person more deserving of having an arena named after him.

Pat was an extremely modest man, and much of what he did went unnoticed. So it would be right and proper to honour this hometown hero who was so much more than a hockey player, just as we have honoured Andy Brandt, Chris Hadfield, and Mike Weir, to name a few.

We support the Sarnia Arena being named for Pat “Whitey” Stapleton.

Dave and Janet Greenwood are long-time supporters of Sarnia sports.