Celebrity Dinner Headlined by Denis Potvin

Acadia hockey dinner continues to pack ’em in

Published on July 2nd, 2010
Kings County Advertiser/Register

Thirteen years is a long time to sustain an annual event, but the Acadia Hockey Celebrity Dinner continues to draw impressive crowds.

A big reason is the amount of work that goes into the dinner – far more than any of us realize – and for which the organizing committee deserves a huge pat on the back.

I don’t know what exactly the founders of the dinner envisioned when they began the event back in 1998 but, chances are, it wasn’t that it would still be going strong – or even stronger – 13 years later.

I recall well that first dinner. The committee pulled out all the stops and brought in Ron MacLean as the headliner. MacLean turned out to be an audience favorite – not to mention a great interview.

As hard as it is to top that kind of a start – and I, for one, hope they have MacLean back someday – the organizers have done so, time after time, bringing in a dizzying array of hockey’s elite – past, present and future.

The list of headliners has been a veritable who’s who of hockey: Mike Bossy, Johnny Bower, Dennis Hull, Denis Savard, Darryl Sittler and, this year, Denis Potvin, to name just a few. There have been coaches, like John Brophy, Jacques Martin, Jacques Demers and Billy Harris – who, of course, was a long-time NHL player before turning to coaching; and broadcasters, such as Gord Miller, Pierre McGuire, Scott Russell and Kelly Hrudey, also a former NHL goalie.

And then there are the legends – not that hall of famers like Bower, Bossy and Potvin don’t fit into that category, but it’s pretty hard to top Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe. It was a real coup to bring in Howe – “Mr. Hockey” himself – to help celebrate the dinner’s 10th anniversary in 2007. He didn’t disappoint the more than 500 in attendance – a record turnout for the event, which has sold out on numerous occasions. Beliveau is on a level with Howe as far as legends are concerned – and, in French Canada, might be even more revered. A true gentleman, Beliveau’s visit in 2009 was his second to Acadia – the first, 11 years earlier, was to receive an honorary degree.

Other than the chance to interview Gordie Howe one-on-one (the dream of any sports journalist, I’m sure) and Beliveau (twice now), there have certainly been many highlights for me from the past 13 dinners. One was listening to Dennis Hull – one of the funniest men you will ever hear. While he might only be “the third best Hull” (in his own words), he takes a back seat to no one as a comedian.

I still remember the vintage slide show given in 1999 by the late Billy Harris from his years with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the early 1960s – an era that included three consecutive Stanley Cups from 1962-1964.

It was a real experience to listen to former Ottawa Senators owner Rod Bryden talk about owning an NHL franchise, the problems facing Canadian teams in today’s NHL, and the future of hockey in Canada.

It was a thrill to see – and hold – Vicki Sunohara’s gold medal from the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

I continue to be impressed with the committee’s ability to bring in headline guests that are classy, knowledgeable and articulate – Darryl Sittler and Denis Potvin are two notable examples in recent years.

I don’t know how much longer the Acadia Hockey Celebrity Dinner can continue – long enough, I hope (and dream), to have Sidney Crosby as a headliner – but I hope it’s at least for the foreseeable future.

Let’s face it, it isn’t getting any easier to run a competitive university hockey program, and for all the hockey Axemen give us, year after year, on and off the ice, they deserve all the help they can get.