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Hockey, The Stepping Stone to Success

By Mike Toth on November 22, 2016

Justin Sinclair photography


It's not difficult to find successful people in the game of hockey. 

Sidney Crosby is coming off one of the best year's of his hockey life, capturing a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe trophy, a World Cup and a tournament MVP award. 

How about the talented gaggle of "Young Guns" that have infiltrated the NHL this season? Everywhere you look, there's a teenage terror creating nightmares for opposition goalies.

Or how about a crusty old coach?

Mike Babcock is pulling down a record salary of over $6 million bucks per season to babysit the Toronto Maple Leafs promising band of fresh-faced gladiators.

Sometimes, though, you have to look outside the NHL to find success stories. In the next two editions of "Hockey Now", we introduce you to a number of people with winning attitudes and outstanding careers, despite the fact that none of them skated a single shift in professional hockey. 

But that doesn't mean they haven't used hockey as a stepping stone to their success.

Far from it.

In fact, the individuals you'll meet inside the next two issues believe that hockey provided the foundation for the successful lives they now lead. In this edition, we focus on a pair of leaders from the world of business and entertainment, explaining how the game has had a definite impact on their lives and their ability to influence the people around them.

For Part 1 of the series, we talked to Dave Bidini, author and frontman for the Rheostatics, and Anthony Hollyoak, Director of New Business Development at Pattison Sign Group. Both grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, where they developed a connection to hockey that they’ve maintained to this day – and both of them credit much of their current successes to the game.

Look out for Part 2 in our next issue, featuring Ontario Women’s Hockey League pioneer Fran Rider and SportsNet broadcaster Daren Millard.

So read on, enjoy and see if you can spot the "puck connection" in each of their unique stories.  

Dave Bidini was a founding member of Rheostatics, who released 11 albums over two decades. Bidini is also an acclaimed writer who has extensively covered music and hockey and most recently published Keon and Me: My Search for the Lost Soul of the Leafs.

Dave Bidini: The Puck Poet
To say that hockey plays a huge part in the life of Dave Bidini is sort of like saying that Brad Marchand is a rather pesky individual.

Call it the living, breathing example concerning a pair of massive understatements.

Music fans, of course,  will know Bidini from his work with the Rheostatics. Bidini is one of the founding members of the Genie-award winning Canadian rock band that's enjoying a recent resurgence. Next month, in fact, the veteran group is headlining a pair of gigs at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, as the storied concert venue celebrates its 69th anniversary.

But the 53-year-old Bidini also holds a special place in the heart of many Canadian hockey fans.

He's written a number of impassioned and thought-provoking books on our national game, including the well-received Tropic of Hockey, an around-the-world tour of all things puck that was also turned into an entertaining CBC documentary. Meanwhile, Bidini's latest book, Keon and Me, is winning rave reviews. The coming-of-age tale documents Bidini's youth in the Toronto neighbourhood of Etobicoke and how cheering for Maple Leafs captain Dave Keon helped him deal with the challenge of growing up while being bullied.

And, hey!

You've got to love a guy who played the role of a rink rat in Score: A Hockey Musical. Okay, it wasn't a very good movie. But Bidini's reputation and obvious devotion to the game survived totally intact; a devotion that kicked in very early. In his minor hockey days, Bidini was a scrappy left winger who hit the ice, indoors and outdoors, as often as he could.

"Etobicoke was part of the new suburbs that sprouted up in Toronto back in the 1970's," remembered Bidini. "There were tons of kids around and lots of different teams, and leagues because there was always a bunch of rinks nearby."

There were also a bunch of great players growing up in Etobicoke, as future NHLers and Hall-of-Famers such as Ken Dryden and Paul Coffey hailed from the neighbourhood.

"Turk Broda (another Hall-of-Famer who played goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs) lived right around the corner from where my family lived," said Bidini. "In fact, when Turk passed away, he was literally just a few doors down. Turk was always around and so was (fellow Leafs netminder) Johnny Bower. I was also friends with the son of (Leafs forward) Billy Harris and can remember looking at all his dad's old trophies and memorabilia in their family rec room. So, you were pretty much born into hockey when you were growing up in Etobicoke back then."

When you're born into the game, it has a way of sticking to your ribs. Bidini still plays hockey three or four times a week. These days, he's a stay-at-home defenceman; although with his busy schedule, he doesn't "stay at home" very often. And when he's not minding the blue line, he even slaps on the pads and plays goal in a weekly pick-up tilt that features a number of women in their 40's who have just started playing the game. It's all part of the unique hockey culture that Bidini treasures.

"I think we all need a safe place that goes beyond work or home. The hockey rink is like that. It's a place where the rest of the world kind of peels away. In society, there's so many excuses to keep us apart. But the game and the rink bring us together. In this fractured and online world we live in, we think we're having relationships through our computer screens, but we're really not. I'm so glad that I'm able to be with different groups of people through hockey. There's a real intimate relationship between people on hockey teams. I have a whole set of friends I only see when I play hockey, but we have a great ‘rink relationship’ and I think it's very important that it can carry over like that."

What about the relationship between being part of a hockey team and playing in a successful rock and roll band?

Bidini says the similarities are front and centre.

"Hockey teams and bands are very similar. You have to figure out a way to get along. When a team is going well, people are able to connect in an emotional, physical and spiritual sense. When a team or a band is on a good run there's really nothing like it. You're able to communicate in a very particular way. You have to share responsibility and work together. The front line of a band is very similar to a line in hockey. People, for instance, often make the parallel between a goalie and a drummer. They're both the backbone and the last line of defence. There are all kinds of parallels. It's important to look for ways to get along together and blend a group of people who all have individual personalities but still find a way to get along in spite of some of their differences."

Everybody knows hockey is a tough, rugged sport and, even though it seems glamorous, being part of a successful band isn't a picnic either.

"I've definitely learned about hard work through hockey. When you're playing left defence and the puck is in your corner, you've got to go get that puck. You've got to battle for it and figure out a way to get it over your blue line. It's really just putting your head down, going to work and getting it done. Forwards love to score beautiful goals, but it's on 'd' that all of that dirty work gets done. Being on tour with a band is very similar. Going into another town, not feeling great, eating bad food, travelling seven hours from one town to the next. But when you're on stage, you've got to be a pretty big goof if you don't at least try to put on a good show. In hockey, we've all played with guys who don't try, who just go out there and float around and they get exposed in a hurry."

Speaking of being exposed, it takes a lot of courage to stand on a stage or write a book and share your raw, personal emotions.

But as long as there's a song to be sung, a story to be told, or a speedy winger to chase down in a corner somewhere, Dave Bidini is willing to take his best shot.

Anthony Hollyoak has celebrated many milestones in his almost 25 years at Pattison Sign Group (including $300M in career sales, RIGHT, which he has since surpassed), but he also makes time to coach on his sons' teams (pictured with 2013 East York Bulldogs, LEFT).

Anthony Hollyoak: Selling The Game
Anthony Hollyoak makes no bones about it.

He's a competitor, through and through.

"It comes across the wrong way with some people, but you need the desire to win," said Hollyoak. "There has to be something that ignites you. I'm competitive and I want to win and I got that from sports. But you have to understand that it's not enough to want to win, you also have to prepare to win and that's another lesson you learn from sports." 

It's obvious the 50-year-old Hollyoak has learned a lot of successful life lessons through the game of hockey.

He's approaching his 25th year working for Pattison Sign Group, a stint that includes wearing various management caps with the successful Canadian-owned company. But it's the sales game that serves as Hollyoak's ace-in-the-hole, with over $530 million in career sales to his credit – an all-time Pattison record.

The big, red "Rogers Centre" sign outside the home of the Toronto Blue Jays?

That's just one example of how Hollyoak makes a living for his family.

But hockey?

Hollyoak believes the game has helped keep his family life on track.

"When I first started out in the business world, I was a lot younger and had a lot of energy and the kids weren't in hockey. All I thought about was work and trying to get ahead. But as I got a little bit older, I like to think I got a little bit smarter and I tried to strike a better balance.

People always say, ‘Anthony, how do you put so much time into hockey?’ But I used to put all that time into work and I tell people that hockey probably saved my family and marriage, because it forced me to come home to pick up my kids and head to the rink."

This year, Hollyoak is spending time at the rink with two Toronto teams. His youngest son suits up for the Minor Atom AA West Hill Golden Hawks, with Hollyoak serving as an assistant coach. His older son, meanwhile, plays for the Minor Pee Wee AAA Don Mills Flyers, and Hollyoak is into his third season as the head coach of the program. Coaching is definitely in his blood and the roots of his passion go back to his days growing up in East York, a hard working, blue collar Toronto neighbourhood. Hollyoak was a hard working, blue collar forward, who was part of an early-80's city AA championship team in Minor Midget. A gentleman by the name of Jack Bain coached Hollyoak through those impressionable teenage years and left a huge imprint on his life.

"Jack wasn't a parent-coach. He was just a volunteer and he was also a competitive guy. He challenged us and you had to work hard for him. My parents didn't have much money and quite often we didn't have a car. We lived a fair hike from the rink and on Sundays we used to practice at 7 o'clock in the morning. Jack drove by one morning and saw me walking to the rink and when he realized I had to walk to the rink for practice, he started to pick me up and drive me."

Bain eventually arranged for Hollyoak to get a part-time job that helped pay his way through college and, when his playing days were over, Hollyoak began serving as an assistant coach under his veteran mentor.

"Every year Jack would bring in a young coach. The younger coach would take on more of the technical, teaching role. But Jack oversaw the program and made sure everyone busted their butt and if you were fooling around in practice, he'd be the guy to lay down the hammer.

When I started coaching with him, it was the same process. Jack was the guy who dealt with the parents and collected the money, and I was the guy who ran all the practices and handled the break-out play and everything else."

Soon, Hollyoak developed his own coaching style and philosophy – a system that works at the hockey rink and in the sales field. 

"As a young kid, my teams always sucked. But as I got older and Jack started coaching me and you win the league, all of a sudden you really enjoyed how that felt. You didn't mind walking to practice because you were so excited about being part of a successful team and it just feeds the monster. You realize that the harder you work, the more dedicated you are and the more I listen to my coach, we're going to win more."

And that's where the art of preparation really kicks in.

"At Pattison, I could be getting ready to go to see a major customer for a two-hour meeting," explained Hollyoak. "I'm not overstating it when I tell you that we'll spend 100 or 200 hours getting ready for that two-hour meeting. It's very similar to sports. My Don Mills team practices twice a week for two hours, which means you're spending four hours a week getting ready for a one-hour game. Swimmers, for instance, will spend hours and hours in the pool getting ready for a single race that might last one or two minutes. In business, it's exactly the same.

You have to be extremely dedicated to preparation and working as a team."

It's a philosophy that has served Hollyoak very well in his professional and hockey life, and the benefits continue to kick in.

"Some of my best friends are because of hockey. A lot of my assistant coaches and dads on my team are good family men, they're reliable and they're part of the game for the right reasons. I'm very lucky that I have those guys in my life."   

And, like Jack Bain (who, by the way, is still alive and kicking), a lot of young hockey players are fortunate to have a dedicated coach such as Anthony Hollyoak in their young lives.

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By Mike Toth| November 22, 2016
Categories:  Minor Hockey

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