Graydon Crowley Canadian Hockey Enterprises
It’s been a long time since we started CHE back in 1987. Just around that time I honestly wasn’t sure if I was headed back to the AHL in Binghamton, NY as Tommy Mitchell, still an owner there, had offered me a job in the front office. I wasn’t sure and then the working visa became an issue. I remember it was a blur but then suddenly I was admitted into the hospital June 1st, 1987 and had a tumor carved out of my prada gland in the side of my head. Some people say I had part of my brain removed (ha) but I remember that’s when I started to think fearlessly and I wanted to hit a home run in my life. I actually loved my career as an AHL player and actually set a record for most consecutive games played as a current player. I think it was around 530 but I’m not sure and I averaged 22 goals per year with highest at 28. But I wanted to feel like a major leaguer. I wanted to feel like I was an NHL ‘ER and it occurred to owning my own hockey business might just do this!! It was time to fish or cut bait. August 1st, 1987 CANADIAN HOCKEY ENTERPRISES WAS BORN. I remember when I had to borrow $75,000 and re mortgage the house to start the dream. My sister Kathleen loaned us her Austin mini for CHE Toronto marketing trips and sister Maureen gave us an old IBM computer, which looked like a main frame! We were ready to drop the puck. I think! After 29 years it’s been a great ride and many amazing people have had a piece of our history. Starting with of course my dad, lawyer Gregg Gates and long time friend and former Pittsburgh Penguin Al McDonough, close friend Doug Gibson who was a star Junior, Boston Bruin and current Habs scout were all instrumental to our launch but the stories along the way and the hockey characters have become priceless. Without stories in hockey you have nothing!! Ha!
Our first ever program was the 1987 Christmas Camp. It featured legendary and the great innovator coach Roger Neilson, who showed up for 1-day with his dog and no skates. I thought that was a little odd but when he told the story about his dog and how it helped illustrate a fore-checking system, the story became iconic! Roger on his fore-checking theory – ” for months I watched my Peterborough Pete forwards on the fore-check chase defencemen needlessly around the net NEVER coming close to checking or creating a turnover. It was then I took my dog on the ice who stood in front of the net. I then positioned myself behind the net with a milk bone. I would move slightly to one side but my dog wouldn’t commit. Then I moved slightly to other side behind the net but my dog wouldn’t commit to chasing me. He knew intuitively I would come around in front of net and he would be left only chasing me. It was only when I exposed myself openly that my dog committed to chase me for the bone. My theory was if my dog can judge when to chase or when not to chase them my hockey players should be able to use common sense.” Roger was famous for his tactics!
Or when I hired Gordie Howe to be our head instructor in a Las Vegas January adult hockey camp.. A sure hit-one would think! We ended up with 2 people signing up and I had to cancel but Gordie’s late wife Colleen demanded I pay Gordie anyway and she cashed the check! I was mad but she was right-Gordie was a legend- A valuable lesson I learned from a classy yet shrewd business person. Speaking of Gordie wasn’t that great seeing him at a recent Red Wing game celebrating his 88th birthday. A miracle really. I have had the good fortune of following the Howes around. It started in the 1972-73 season when I was chosen in the draft to play with the Toronto Marlboros Jr A team where sons Mark and Marty were playing. Although I played infrequently with that star studded Memorial Cup winning team I did manage to play 20 or so games including the playoff run. What an experience. Mark, now a Hall of Famer, especially was a phenom in his own right and I remember him smashing the glass behind the net in Sault St Marie one cold night with one of his patented wrist snap shots. Marty too was no slouch and I soon became very good friends with Marty mainly because we both loved to fish and I think I appreciated his down to earth demeanor and his ability to grow as a player in the shadow of both Gordie and Mark. We saw and talked to Gordie a lot after games as he had retired from the Wings and I began to figure out where the humble attitudes of Mark and Marty came from. It became clear to me at a young age that this quality was deeply embedded in most gifted people. Then as fate would have it in 1975 I was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Houston Aeros of the WHA and decided to join the Aeros. Gordie had been coaxed out of retirement to play with the boys in Houston, a shrewd move orchestrated by wife/agent Colleen. After all when does someone get a chance to play with Gordie, Mark and Marty- how lucky was I! Years later in 1989 another former legend and Red Wing trainer/back up goalie helped me staff a CHE fantasy camp beginning with Gordie Howe and bolstered by Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Dennis Hull, Gilles Gilbert, Yvan Cournoyer and even Scotty Bowman behind the bench. 50 paid recreational hockey players joined us in Montreal for what proved to be the “who’s who” of hockey! Even today I don’t know how I pulled that one off but it really put CHE on the map. I joke with people that Montreal fantasy camp never made any money- $65,000 in and $65,000 out but the good – will was enormous. No amount of money could replace the 2 years we operated that fantasy camp.
Speaking of the late Lefty Wilson, the “old left hander” was a story a minute. He really was my best friend and made CHE tournaments more special just because of him. After 34 years with the Red Wings his stories were JUST LIKE BREATHING to most people-Just a natural thing to do! He would tell stories at our tournaments about how he and his wife would baby sit the big guy – Gordie Howe- when he was a rookie in Omaha Nebraska the farm team of the Red Wings. Gordie was 18 years old and Lefty and Lil would take him out for a hamburg and milkshake after games while all the other players were headed to the pub! Lefty said Gordie never stopped talking and all he wanted was a red leather Red Wing jacket-a big signing bonus for a kid from Saskatchewan! My how times have changed….
Another time I was walking on the beach in Florida at one of early tournaments and happened to pass by Mike Keenan… I was Mike’s captain with the Rochester Americans AHL team in 1979-80. While on the beach I asked Mike what he was doing there and he told me after his early playoff exit he was burnt out but when I asked him to help us at our Montreal tournament the next weekend he said yes- and he wouldn’t take any money… What a classy guy!
Back to Gilles Gilbert.. Gilles has worked for CHE for over 25 years. I kid him now that he is our new Lefty Wilson and he gets a little cranky! But Gilly is a legend- he still holds an NHL record for most consecutive wins as a goalie-17! At our tournaments, especially Montreal, Quebec City and Lake Placid Gilly can be found holding court somewhere detailing stories from especially the Don Cherry era in Boston. They are doozies!! For years at CHE both Gilles and Red Wing Goalie coach Jim Bedard have also operated top notch goalie camps which Jim still does in Kelowna and Peterborough.
Speaking of Jim Bedard, this past week I drove to Montreal to see Red Wings at Habs in action. Of course Jimmy B set me up with tickets and passes after the game to chat with him, Glen Merkosky, Red Wing scout and CHE’er and long time friend Ken Holland the GM of the Red Wings. Kenny ( I still call him Pungy) Merk and I played pro together in Binghamton for 5 years and to watch Ken’s success now as an NHL executive is astounding! I’m so proud of him. Kenny is another example of a truly humble guy who never talks about his accomplishments. Can you imagine he has 4 Stanley Cups as GM with the Wings, 2 Olympic Golds as a co manager for Team Canada, a World Championship as GM and people can barely remember his name in Canada. To see a former AHL’er be so successful in such a prestigious NHL role makes me happy. Most NHL teams are swallowed up by egos of former NHL’ers who just can’t get over themselves and forgot how to work! Kenny works and his team of scouts work! The Illitch family works.. There’s no hand outs in that organization. Look at Jimmy Devellano and Jimmy Nill! Hard hard dedicated hockey men not to mention first class and humble. People always ask me how the Wings scouted so well.. Luck of course plays into it but after a while of hanging around scouting rooms and listening to ex NHL guys talk about themselves and whisper they didn’t want to drive the next night to a game because of bad weather, it soon resonated clearly in my mind why the Wings drafted so well. Wing scouts are always at the games!!! In a way there’s a blue collar mentality there..In the early years of CHE Kenny helped me by giving me scouting jobs. I needed the money and I saw zero downside other than I had a day job and a night job. It was a little hard on my family but I did my best. It started as a full time role in 1989-90 with the Rangers and later part time with the Wings between 1991-98. I was lucky to be part of 2 Cups in 1997 and 98 and it was sweet to see Darren McCarty notch the winner in game 4 against Philly in 1997 to win the long awaited Cup! He was my guy!!!I think it was a 42 year drought and the Illitch family deserved it. The Red Wings are class through and through and it starts with Mr. And Mrs. Illitch! How lucky am I..After rambling on and on in this blog I realize that I have countless stories associated with CHE and its past… I know I’ve enjoyed headed down Presidents Lane!! Until next time..
President – Canadian Hockey Enterprises
With just one more Youth Tournament left on our docket (Canadian Cup March 11 – 13 in Montreal) it’s time we focus our attention to the 30 tournaments we’re holding for men’s and women’s recreational teams in 15 locations across North America this spring. No matter how old your team is, what your skill level is or where you’re from, CHE almost certainly has a great tournament weekend for your team. But we don’t just book ice, take your money and let you play away, so in an effort to clarify what makes OUR tournaments the best, here’s a few reasons why your team should check out a CHE event.
First and foremost, CHE only runs tournaments in locations your team wants to go to anyways. Want some warm weather? Head to Fort Lauderdale, Phoenix, Las Vegas or Nashville and get a head start on summer. Live in the west and don’t want to go south due to the exchange rate? There’s Vancouver, Kelowna, Whistler and 4 weekends in Banff your team can attend. Want somewhere with some hockey legacy? Quebec City, Montreal, Lake Placid, Chicago and Ottawa have tons of hockey history and are great cities for a weekend with your friends. Love to gamble but tired of Vegas? You can visit Canada’s little Vegas in Niagara Falls, go to London with a horse track and slots connected to the arena or head to the east coast and check out Atlantic City. Regardless of what extra curricular activities you’re into, we’ve got a tournament in a city that will meet your teams needs.
If you’re a fortunate team, there’s one guy on your team who does all the dirty work; goes to scheduling meetings, orders the jerseys, collects payments and generally manages all of the non-hockey realities that are necessary for you to be able to show up and play. Those guys are the best!! Most teams distribute team responsibilities around to different team members, which works great for your once-a-week season, but makes it difficult to organize 12 guys, travelling 5 hours to play in a tournament for a weekend. This is where CHE steps in. We arrange hotels, meals, parties and all tournament aspects so the only thing your team needs to worry about is making it to town and showing up for your game. Once you’ve arrived at your destination the rest is already set up and organized and your only concern is getting all of your teammates out of bed in the morning. The great hotels we use in each location will make sure you’re all close together in the hotel so waking players up is as easy as knocking on a few door….sometimes.
So you’ve found a city that entices your team, you’ve made it to the destination and everything has been set up to you liking. Everything could be perfect but if you go to play your games and either kill or get killed 16-0 every game it’s going to be a less than memorable experience. At CHE we take the utmost care to make sure you’re in a division appropriate for your teams age and skill level. For divisions we have each team complete a roster form listing each players age and then highest level of hockey played (Major Junior, Jr B, house league, etc). We then group 4 – 6 teams into a division by comparing their rosters, what level they sign up as, where they’re from and how they’ve done in previous tournaments with us to ensure you’re playing against teams that are basically the same age and have the same level of hockey experience. We’re less concerned with checking ID’s and more concerned with close game scores, and do everything in our power to keep games a close as possible. We are not always perfect, but if we get you in the wrong division one year, you can be 100% confident you’ll be placed in the right division every tournament after that.
Friendly & Professional Staff
Whether you’re dealing with someone in our head office making changes to your room list, or with tournament staff at the event, all of our staff are professional and there to make sure this weekend goes as smoothly as possible for you and your team. We don’t have buddies volunteer for the weekend, but bring in a select group of courteous and competent people who all play and love hockey as much as you do. We’ll be there to greet you first thing in the morning at the arena, say good night after the last game, and will most likely run into you later on in the evening, whether at the bar or in your hotel.
Little kid feeling, big kid experience!
Though you probably won’t find time for a game of mini-sticks in the hotel hallway, it’s our goal to make the entire weekend event feel the same as it did when you were a kid. From the player of the game awards presented to each team after every game, to the medal presentations on Sunday, the whole experience is enjoyably just like it was when you were young. The only exception is that we substitute the Gatorade for ice cold beers, and all of the late night shenanigans your parents got into are now reserved for you and your teammates. And trust me, there will be more than enough shenanigans to keep your dressing room in stitches for months to come.
So for anyone that’s been convinced this is something they want to get into, take a look at our Tournament brochure HERE and see if you can find the right weekend and destination for your team to have the least stressful and most memorable weekend of the year.
Canadian Hockey Enterprises
Peyton Manning stole all of the headlines after the Denver Broncos recent victory at Super Bowl 50, but most people would argue it was the stellar play of the Broncos defense that brought Vince Lombardi trophy to the Mile High City. February 7th was also a big winning day for 50 lucky customers here at CHE, who’ve each won a $200 bar tab at the tournament they’re attending this spring. Take a look at the list below to see if your team came out a winner too.
No need to fret if you weren’t a winner this time, as our next draw takes place February 29th, 2016. CLICK HERE for details on the draw and make sure to sign your team up right away for a chance to win.
Canadian Hockey Enterprises
It’s often hard to believe this small town has hosted not one, but two Winter Olympics, especially when compared to the corporate sponsored leviathan of recent Olympic games. There are very few places in the world that offer the picturesque surroundings, world class facilities and incredible history like Lake Placid, NY. Arriving in this sleepy city nestled in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains is like stepping into a time warp, where the hustle & bustle of regular life is replaced a quiet serenity that hearkens to a time before smartphones and social media. CHE has been running hockey tournaments in Lake Placid for over 25 years, and here’s the top 3 reasons you should bring your team to Lake Placid this spring.
First Class Hockey Tournaments
First and foremost, you’ll be treated to a first class hockey tournament that CHE is renowned for. A 3-game guarantee with tournament games played at the The Olympic Center including the Herb Brooks Arena, the setting for the famous Miracle on Ice in 1980. Featuring 2 Olympic sized ice surfaces and 1 NHL sized surface, this historic facility is located right in the heart of town, walking distance from most hotels. Considering the relatively small stature of the town, there are plenty of great hotels in Lake Placid and participants will stay at the Crowne Plaza, Quality Inn, Hotel Northwoods, Summit Hotel & Wildwood. Our professional tournament staff will make sure you’re in a competitive division with separate age and skill levels, including men’s and women’s divisions on both weekends. Teams party and compete all weekend for an opportunity to create their own Miracle on Ice.
Great Outdoor Adventures
Beyond the rinks, restaurants and bars there’s plenty of fantastic outdoor activities for you and your teammates to experience while in Lake Placid. It all depends on what the weather is doing which is always an uncertain and dramatic. If you’re lucky enough to catch some late season snow you can hit the slopes at Whiteface Mountain, featuring the most vertical feet east of the Mississippi, and if skiing isn’t your thing, you can grab your skates and take a few laps of the Olympic Oval right beside the rink. If spring comes early, there’s a good chance you can hit up one of the great golf courses in town such as Whiteface Club & Resort, Craig Wood or The Lake Placid Club which has 2 distinct 18-hole courses. Regardless of weather, you can always go check out the Ski Jump and for those who are truly adventurous, take a ride down the Bobsled run, just 10 minutes from town.
Small Town, Big Party!
Lake Placid is truly a unique place for many reasons, but the most unique aspect is that it’s a small, intimate town with a lot of hotels and a world class 3 rink facility, so we’re able to put together a large event that we’re typically only able to do in large cities like Montreal or Las Vegas. Like many of our other tournaments we put together a great tournament party where teams can relax and mingle after a hard day of competition, but when the party is over in a big city, teams have so many options for entertainment they rarely run into each other. Conversely, there are only 5 or 6 watering holes in Lake Placid so the party never ends as teams all end up at the same spots each night, and you’re certain to have a drink or two with one of the other teams. As an added bonus, both the April 15 – 17 & April 29 – May 1st weekends in Lake Placid have both men’s and women’s divisions so it’s not just leg wrestling and chugging contests with the boys, and the dance floor is always hot in the Adirondacks.
With the Canadian dollar slipping lower and lower each day, it’s not as affordable for Canadian teams to head down as it has been for the past few years, so CHE is currently running a limited time offer to match teams initial $500 USD deposit, and you can read further details HERE. There’s no excuse not to grab your teammates and head to Lake Placid for a metropolis sized tournament in a quaint, and historic mountain town.
Canadian Hockey Enterprises
The 50th installment of the Super Bowl is just 30 days away, so to celebrate this momentous occasion CHE is going to hand out some money for you and your friends. It’s very simple: sign your men’s or women’s team up for a tournament at one of our 16 fantastic tournament locations and you’ll automatically be entered into a draw to win one of fifty $200 bar tabs at the tournament you attend…but there’s more. The earlier you register, the more times your names in the hat. Click below for details.
Canadian Hockey Enterprises
From all of us here at CHE we wish everyone a safe and happy new year and look forward to seeing everyone in 2016.
Canadian Hockey Enterprises