Playing professional hockey in Switzerland is no holiday for Daniel Winnik.
That’s why Winnik, who plays for Genève-Servette HC of the Swiss National League, has signed a petition asking that Canadian professional hockey players returning home from overseas be placed on the COVID-19 essential travelers list and be exempt from a mandatory three-day hotel quarantine.
“I know there’s a bunch of ‘Snowbirds’ who go to Florida and southern places to get away from winter,” Winnik, a Toronto native who spent 11 seasons in the NHL, said from Geneva. “We’ve got guys that come over here to work. Obviously, all of us would love to be playing in North American in the NHL or AHL but the reality is we couldn’t get jobs there.
“We came overseas to be able to provide for our families. We’re not here on vacation. We’re making a living for our families.”
In February, the federal government introduced measures that call for most air passengers to take a COVID-19 test after landing in Canada and spend up to three days of their 14-day quarantine period in a designated hotel to await their test results. The hotel stay could cost up to $ 2,000.
Maxim Noreau, a Montreal native who plays defence for the ZSC Lions in Zurich, estimates the mandatory hotel quarantine will cost around $ 4,000 for him, his wife and two sons.
“We are all here overseas trying to earn income to supply for our families and coming back to Canada is a big stress for us, especially with my two little boys,” Noreau said in an email.
“Coming back to Canada is a safe haven for us and we 100 per cent want to quarantine in our own home for 14 days as we would expect everyone else to do the same without bias.”
The petition, on Change.org, says Canadians playing hockey overseas are there “for their livelihood” and “putting these individuals and their families into the same category as travellers/vacationers would be unfair.”
The petition’s goal is 10,000 signatures. So far over 7,800 people have signed.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said in an email it is aware of the hockey players’ petition, but said the border measures are in place to prevent the introduction of new COVID-19 cases.
The government has issued exemptions to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period under national interest grounds for professional athletes, staff and third-party personnel “to support safe return-to-play when robust measures are in place to mitigate the risk of importation and spread of COVID-19 in Canada.
“These exemptions are not intended for professional athletes returning to Canada,” the agency said.
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No difference between vacation, working
Anita Ho, an associate professor in bioethics and health services research at the University of British Columbia, said COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate.
“I don’t really see the [argument of] vacationing versus work destination,” she said. “COVID spreads among people. So, if you are in close proximity, whether it is through work, whether it’s through playing hockey or playing and vacationing, it makes no difference.”
Ho acknowledged the mandated hotel stay can impose a financial hardship on some people.
“The government should make it as affordable as possible for people to do those three days,” she said.
Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault recently said the federal government has agreed to offer 750 Olympic and Paralympic athletes — along with members of their support staff — exemptions from some quarantine-related travel restrictions in the lead-up to the Olympics.
Ho understands the exemption for Olympic athletes who have lived in a bubble and have been routinely tested.
‘A lot of money’
“That’s why you can show their risk of being infected is very low,” she said.
Winnik was taken 265th overall in the 2004 NHL draft by the Phoenix Coyotes. A six-foot-two, 210-pound forward he would play 798 games — scoring 82 goals and 251 points — with eight teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Winnik has played the past two seasons with Genève-Servette, collecting 22 goals and 44 points in 49 games this year.
Winnik’s team is currently in the playoffs, but the season is over for many other Canadians who are looking to return home. The mandatory hotel stay adds another cost.
“It’s a lot of money,” Winnik said. “They’re asking people to pay to be able to return home to where they’re from.”
Cyril Bollers’ ultimate goal in coaching is to reach the NHL. But for now, he’s happy leading Team Jamaica.
“I think there’s been a lot of frustration in the past with me that I have all the certifications … I just don’t know why I haven’t been given that opportunity,” Bollers said. “But there’s other coaches that are in the same boat of colour that haven’t been given that opportunity either. So I’m not going to say it’s just me, but for me, my goal is to one day coach for Team Canada.”
The 52-year-old doesn’t expect to make a jump straight to the NHL or Olympics, and speculates that the reason he hasn’t advanced much, despite recommendations from the likes of Hockey Hall of Famer Paul Coffey, is a lack of connections at the next level.
“I don’t want to say it’s colour, especially with hockey being for everyone. Other people may — I don’t. I just want to say that the opportunity hasn’t arisen yet and I’m hoping it does. So based on that, I’m continuing to network,” Bollers said.
Bollers is the president of Skillz Black Aces, a Toronto-based program that helps bring hockey to underprivileged and BIPOC youth. It has produced NHLers such as Anson Carter, Wayne Simmonds and brothers Anthony and Chris Stewart.
Born in Guyana, Bollers now lives in Scarborough, Ont., after moving to Canada when he was four. He was inspired to become a coach when his son was six and playing house-league hockey for a coach who heavily favoured his own son.
Soon, coaching became a passion. He’s since worked with the Toronto Red Wings and Marlboros of the GTHL and the Pickering Panthers of the OJHL.
“I was told that I couldn’t because of the colour of my skin, which fuelled the fire, which promoted the education in regards to quality certificates, which gave me the opportunity to prove others wrong,” Bollers said.
In addition to his work with the Black Aces, Bollers has also served for the past four years as head coach and general manager of Team Jamaica — a country that doesn’t contain so much as a single ice rink.
Bollers also works with the Black Canadian Coaches Association in hopes of reaching a broader base of BIPOC coaches throughout the country to serve as a mentor and to help create a network between coaches and sports organizations.
Legacy with Black Aces
But it was with the Black Aces where Bollers helped inspire a generation of BIPOC players, many of whom followed him to Team Jamaica.
“I guess when they say build it and they will come, that’s what it was. Everybody wanted to become a Skillz Black Ace,” Bollers said.
The program began around 20 years ago, partially the brainchild of former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes, as a camp that would run a few times per year. Bollers helped build it into more of a team that would enter — and quickly dominate — tournaments against top competition.
In addition to a heavy majority of BIPOC players, Bollers led a group of five Black coaches on the bench. The team consistently stunned its opponents with blazing speed and won way more often than it lost.
For parents of colour, the Black Aces was an opportunity to show their children there are other hockey players who look like them.
“And that was the main thing was he was not an outsider or ‘that one kid’ with this group,” said Mark Francis, whose son Peyton played for the Aces and now plays centre for the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers.
Loren Francis heard racist comments from the stands when she watched her son play on predominantly white teams. Since Loren is white, other parents did not realize she was Peyton’s mom. When the Black Aces opportunity arose, Mark and Loren were intrigued.
“I thought this was going to be more like a how-to-play hockey type of thing,” Mark said. “And then we went out and I was shocked because not only were the kids very highly skilled, but [Bollers’] coaching methods, I would say, were top notch.”
Vancouver Canucks forward Justin Bailey is another Black Aces alumnus. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., a 12-year-old Bailey was hesitant about joining a team across the border where he didn’t know anyone.
It took some convincing from his mother, Karen Buscaglia, and the decision was an instant success.
“People embraced their differences. And they had fun music playing in the locker room. And it was the first time that I could look at him and I could see he just had a blast. And obviously hockey was predominantly white, so he had never been exposed to anything like that,” Buscaglia said.
While a fun atmosphere certainly existed around the Black Aces, both Francis and Buscaglia say Bollers ran a tight ship where discipline among players — things like walking in an orderly fashion and politeness — impacted players’ ice-time.
The Black Aces, counting one edition of the team featuring one of Bollers’ three sons, often faced racism from other teams, including hearing the N-word uttered against them on the ice.
“We used to laugh at it because we were so good we would beat people. And for me, I would just tell the guys, ‘They can’t beat you on the ice. They’re going to try to beat you with their words. But words are just words,'” Bollers said.
Equal success with Jamaica
As a white player born in the Caribbean, Ethan Finlason had a slightly different experience when he joined Bollers’ Team Jamaica. Finlason played inline hockey in his home country of the Cayman Islands before eventually moving to Canada to pursue ice hockey.
He was met with hostility from other kids who said he should quit because he was Caribbean. Then a goalie from his academy team stayed behind to watch one of the team’s games.
“The Canadian goalie was shocked that Jamaicans could skate,” said Ethan’s father Andrew. “And I don’t know where this bias comes from. I mean, most of these kids grew up in Canada. But they’re tremendous athletes. They have a tremendous coach. But there’s this stigma that they shouldn’t be able to play.”
In 2019, Jamaica went 5-0 en route to winning the championship at the LATAM Cup, an international tournament pitting top Latin American and Caribbean teams.
But Jamaica can’t be fully sanctioned by the IIHF until it builds a rink. When that happens, more resources could be poured into the program and the pitch to NHL players of Jamaican descent, like the Subbans, can begin.
“I’m sure that once that’s happened, we can just place a call to Karl [Subban] and then Karl will round up the boys and then we’ll take it from there. But I think until it’s fully sanctioned, we don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” Bollers said.
When that finally happens, Bollers said his admittedly lofty goal is to qualify for the Olympics.
Between the Black Aces and Team Jamaica, Bollers’ hands are plenty full in the world of hockey, even as he continues to eye a pro position. He can take solace in the fact that if nothing else, his teams simply win.
“They used to come and watch us play because we were fast, we were strong, it was entertaining hockey. But more importantly we could coach, and I think what people forget is I’m a hockey coach by choice, Black by nature.”
A formal farewell to Walter Gretzky, the famed Canadian hockey patriarch, focused on his faith, his family and his love of the game during a pandemic-adjusted funeral service held in his hometown of Brantford, Ont., on Saturday afternoon.
“He was a remarkable man who loved life, loved family,” his son, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, said Saturday, as he paid tribute to his late father inside St. Mark’s Anglican Church.
“We’d be a way better world if there were so many more people like my dad.”
Walter Gretzky, died on Thursday at the age of 82. He left behind his five adult children and 13 grandchildren.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, mourners wore masks at the service, which was limited to family and located just a few blocks from the home where Gretzky and his late wife, Phyllis, raised their family.
WATCH | A look back at the life of Walter Gretzky:
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“I don’t think I’ve ever met a prouder Canadian than my dad,” he said.
But Walter Gretzky also loved hockey — so much so that the game wove its way into family history in many ways, including when Wayne Gretzky’s brother Brent, a fellow future NHLer himself, was born.
Wayne recalled that his father, who played minor and Junior B hockey, missed Brent’s birth due to a hockey tournament out of town.
“On a Friday night, we were going to the tournament, and my mom said to him: ‘Walter, we’re going to have this baby this weekend,”” Wayne Gretzky said, recounting the tale during the service.
“And he said: ‘It’s OK, you can wait till we get back.'”
Brent Gretzky was born the next day, and Walter Gretzky took a lot of ribbing about having missed his delivery — and he had one comment to make after one too many people chided him for what happened.
“He was so mad,” Wayne said. “He stood and he grabbed the trophy and he goes, ‘Yes, but we got the trophy!”‘
‘We’re all going to miss Wally’
Tim Dobbin, the religious official delivering the homily at the service, described Gretzky as a gregarious and generous man who always made time for others.
“This is a painful day for us, another chapter in our lives is drawing to a close,” Dobbin said.
“We’re all going to miss Wally.”
Hockey Night in Canada fans would recognize the theme that was briefly played on the church organ as the funeral came to an end, and the casket with Gretzky’s body was carried outside. An interment ceremony was to take place at the Farrington Burial Ground, according to an online obituary.
As the funeral cortege left the church, people on the street — some wearing hockey jerseys — gathered along the sidewalk and gently tapped hockey sticks in tribute to Gretzky. Hundreds of people were there, according to a report from The Canadian Press.
How Walter Gretzky helped make The Great One great. 5:53
Glen Gretzky told the Brantford Expositor that his father had dealt with a series of health issues over the years. He said family had gathered at his father’s Brantford home to be with him in his final hours.
“We always said he’s had nine lives,” Glen said. “But he was unbelievable. He just wouldn’t stop and nothing would keep him down.”
The backyard rink
It was in Brantford that Walter Gretzky famously built a backyard rink where Wayne, who would go on to be known as the Great One, honed his hockey skills from an early age.
“His birthday falls in January, so it was the winter that he turned three that he had skates on,” Walter Gretzky said, when recalling Wayne’s early days during a conversation with CBC back in 1982, as his eldest son was playing in the NHL playoffs.
That support continued throughout Wayne Gretzky’s pro hockey career, something that the people who shared the ice with No. 99 noticed.
“We all know that the relationship between Wayne and Walter was incredible,” Mark Messier — the Hall of Fame hockey player who won four of his six Stanley Cups playing alongside Wayne during his Edmonton days — told CBC News recently.
“I think it’s something to be emulated, the way he nurtured Wayne.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says Walter Gretzky “embodied all that is great about being a hockey parent.”
Bettman released a statement on Friday following the announcement of the death of Wayne Gretzky’s father late Thursday night.
Walter Gretzky, who had battled Parkinson’s disease, was 82.
Bettman says Walter’s influence on the league and the game was “profound.”
“Teaching the game to his children on the famed backyard rink he built in his beloved hometown of Brantford, Ontario, Walter instilled in them not only an uncommon understanding of hockey’s essence, but a love and respect for the game that has become synonymous with the name Gretzky, all while ensuring that the game was fun to play,” Bettman said.
Bettman praised Walter for staying connected to the game after Wayne retired as a player.
“Walter’s passion for the game and for teaching it to young players transcended place, status and skill level,” he said.
WATCH | Rob Pizzo joins CBC News Network to remember Walter Gretzky:
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“During the two decades since Wayne retired, Walter could always be found at a rink, sharing the game with players and fans at all levels. Quietly and humbly, Walter dedicated so much of his time to countless charities with little fanfare but with a deep commitment to improving the lives of so many — particularly children.”
Oilers release statement
The Edmonton Oilers released a statement, extending their sympathies to the family. Wayne Gretzky played with the team from 1979-88.
“On behalf of the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club, I extend our deepest sympathies to the entire Gretzky family on the passing of Walter Gretzky,” said Oilers chairman Bob Nicholson. “The fabric of our franchise has been woven by some of the most influential players, coaches and executives the game has known and included in that too, are the loved ones that make our team a family.
“From his development and constant influence on one of the greatest players our game has known, to the tremendous impact he had on Canada’s gold medal-winning team in 2002, Walter was truly everyone’s hockey dad. He will be missed by all of us, but the memories created by his tremendous character and passion for our game will remain with us forever.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also offered his condolences in a social media post on Friday morning.
Walter Gretzky cared deeply about his family and his community – his kindness was undeniable, his passion was obvious, and his impact was immense. My thoughts are with Wayne and the entire Gretzky family, and all who are mourning the loss of Canada’s hockey dad.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Doug Gilmour mourned the loss of “Canada’s Hockey Dad.”
Heartbreaking to hear we’ve lost Canada’s Hockey Dad Walter Gretzky. Sending love and condolences to the whole Gretzky family at this difficult time. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/RIPWally?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#RIPWally</a> <a href=”https://t.co/u1iIhGXEGp”>pic.twitter.com/u1iIhGXEGp</a>
“Always the gentleman. Always had a smile and so incredibly generous with his time. Canada’s Hockey Dad is a very fitting description,” said Leafs president Brendan Shanahan.
WATCH | Walter Gretzky, Canada’s Hockey Dad:
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Hockey commentator Don Cherry said that “he was truly a great guy. Godspeed Walter.”
Leafs centre Auston Matthews also paid respect to the Gretzky family.
“Obviously a pioneer of the game. And it’s a really sad day, so my condolences go out to the Gretzky family,” Matthews said.
Tribute from former journalist
Mark Ritter, a former sports journalist and Brantford, Ont., resident, drove an hour on Friday to the city about 100 kilometres west of Toronto to leave a hockey stick at Walter’s reserved parking spot at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre.
He recalled once spending an hour talking hockey with Walter at Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant in Toronto.
“He was always really kind,” Ritter said. “He was always shaking hands. He was always making eye contact with people. I think his greatest gift really was time. I think it’s something that people take for granted these days. And I think we’ve kind of learned a little bit more about that during [the COVID-19 pandemic]. That time is really important. And he gave it up unselfishly with kindness and love and care. We lost someone really special.
“I don’t think you’ll hear a negative word about him. He was a great asset to our country.”
Canada’s most beloved hockey dad left a legacy beyond the rink.
Walter Gretzky died Thursday at the age of 82 after a nine-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Gretzky raised and coached his son, Wayne, considered by many to be the greatest NHL player of all time.
“Everything I am is because of him. It’s as simple as that,” Wayne said in a 1996 CBC interview.
But it was the elder Gretzky’s dedication to minor hockey and charities and his friendly demeanour for which he became so well-known to many Canadians.
Walter Gretzky was born on Oct. 8, 1938, in Canning, Ont., northwest of Brantford, to Belarusian immigrants.
Hockey was an early passion and he had aspirations of playing professionally in the National Hockey League. He became known as a prolific goal scorer as a teenager, playing with the Junior B Woodstock Warriors.
But his size held him back from pursuing a professional hockey career. At five-foot-nine and weighing 140 pounds, Gretzky was already considered small. He became ill with chicken pox before his tryout with the Junior A Toronto Marlies and was judged to be too small to advance beyond the junior level after losing weight from his illness, so he embarked on a more traditional career path.
He married his wife, Phyllis Hockin, in 1960 and moved to nearby Brantford, where he worked as a telephone cable repairman. Wayne was born on Jan. 26, 1961, the first of the couple’s five children.
The Gretzkys moved to a home that would accommodate their growing family and also allow for a backyard hockey rink. There, Walter helped coach and develop Wayne’s skills starting at the age of three.
Wayne credited his father’s creative drills and approach to coaching for helping him develop into the player who would become the NHL’s all-time leading scorer.
“He taught me the basics of life as far as schooling, as far as how I treated people,” Wayne said in a 1996 interview with CBC-TV. “I don’t think there’s any question in my mind I wouldn’t be playing professional hockey if it wasn’t for him.”
WATCH | Walter Gretzky, Canada’s hockey Dad:
How Walter Gretzky helped make The Great One great. 5:53
Walter’s contributions to minor hockey began with his first son but his dedication to the growth of young players continued long after Wayne found success. Two of Walter’s younger sons, Keith and Brent, were also drafted by NHL teams, although only the latter saw action, playing with Tampa Bay.
Walter coached locally in Brantford with minor league teams for years and lent his time to minor tournaments on top of his charitable endeavours.
His wide-ranging involvement in charities earned him one of the highest honours that can be bestowed on a Canadian when he was named to the Order of Canada on Dec. 28, 2007. He teamed up with Wayne to organize fundraising for local, provincial and national charities.
Among their many contributions, the two worked together to raise money for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind through a golf tournament that attracted celebrities and NHL players for years and helped raise more than $ 1 million.
“In our family, we’re all Christians and we all help each other. It’s ‘Do unto others as you would like done unto yourself,’ ” Walter told Postmedia of his charitable efforts. “I’m very fortunate because I’m in a position where I can help people. Not everyone can do that.”
Other initiatives included the Wayne and Walter Gretzky Scholarship Foundation, which helps students with vision loss pursue post-secondary education.
He channelled his energy completely into coaching and charity after retiring in 1991.
Persevered through challenges
That same year, he suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm that destroyed his short-term memory.
Fortunately for hockey historians, he still held onto to some of his long-term memories and was able to open the door to his Brantford home to allow people to glimpse memorabilia from Wayne’s amateur career as well as the famed rink.
Seven years after his wife lost her battle to cancer, he was diagnosed in 2012 with the degenerative disorder Parkinson’s disease when tremors in his left hand prompted a doctor’s visit.
“That hits you right in the gut,” Wayne said at a conference in Vancouver following the news of his father’s diagnosis. “Something like that happens, there’s really no cure or answer. No amount of money can solve that kind of problem.”
However, Walter didn’t let his health hold him back from public appearances.
He is survived by his five children: Wayne, Kim, Keith, Glen and Brent, as well as several grandchildren.