Hockey part of Canadians’ DNA, says Ronning

Cliff Ronning never tires of giving back. To him, it’s an obligation and an honour.

“I think it’s very important as a player to give back,” says the former Vancouver Canuck, who helped lead the NHL team to the Stanley Cup final in 1994. “I was very fortunate to play hockey for a living and being able to help raise funds for different charities now (playing oldtimers’ hockey) is great.”

Ronning, 47, is an active participant with the Vancouver Canucks Alumni who will face off against the Richmond Sockeyes’ Alumni as part of Richmond Celebrates Hockey Day Saturday at the Richmond Olympic Oval. Tickets for the 4:30 p.m. game are $15 and tickets ($15 each) for the 4:30 p.m. face-off, as part of Richmond Celebrates Hockey Day, are available at or at the door. Partial proceeds will benefit Richmond KidSport.

“It goes to help kids that can’t afford equipment, and through this game we’re trying to give back to our community so that they can actually get in the game,” he said. “Vancouver loves its hockey and I know a lot of the players enjoy being out in the community and helping in any way we can.”

Among the other former Canucks slated to play in the game are Orland Kurtenbach, Doug Bodger, Larry Melnyk, Garry Monahan and one-time draft pick and rising country crooner Chad Brownlee.

Ex-Canucks Jack McIlhargey, Darcy Rota, Doug Halward and Tony Tanti are all slated to participate in a celebrity ball hockey game at 11 a.m. featuring Hockey Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur and coach Pat Quinn.

A product of the Burnaby Winter Club program, Ronning began playing hockey at five years old and has loved the game ever since. Throughout his minor and pro careers, he continually demonstrated a proficiency for putting up points. But his size—being five-foot-eight and 170 pounds—often seemed to be more of an issue for some at the pro level. It only made him that much more determined.

“The biggest advice I would give is to make sure you’re having fun, and I’ve always felt hard work pays off,” he said. “One thing you can do as a player is to be in the best physical shape you can be by training and working hard when you get on the ice.”

Ronning made the most of his opportunities to score 89 goals and 197 points in 70 regular-season games with the New Westminster Bruins in his final season of junior hockey in 1984-85, before joining the Canadian National Team for which he earned 118 points in 71 games. But still he was considered a long shot, not drafted until the seventh round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, 134th overall, by the St. Louis Blues for which he played five playoff games that spring registered a goal and an assist.

Ronning scored three goals in his first game against the Minnesota North Stars the following season, but still only got into 42 regular-season games and just 26 the year after. He spent two more seasons with the Blues—sandwiching a year in Italy in which he totalled 135 points in 42 games—before his big break arrived in the form a trade to the hometown Canucks at the trade deadline in 1991. He had 12 points in 11 games with Vancouver to close out the regular schedule and six goals in six playoff games. After 71 points in 1991-92, he scored career highs in goals (29) and points (85) in the 1992-93 season and had 15 points in 24 games for the Canucks during their magical playoff run of 1994.

“When I did get to the NHL it took a while to break into the league,” said Ronning, who credits former Blues Bernie Federko and Doug Gilmour for helping him learn to be patient.

Then when he was 32, having played for 12 years in the NHL, he met Rick Tocchet who, battling back problems, inspired him to work even harder. He thinks it contributed to him playing until he was 40.

Ronning was also influenced from a young age by his coaches, notably in hockey by Al Patterson who coached him both at the minor and junior levels.

“I was also fortunate to have great players around me,” he said. “You cannot make the pros without being around people who make you better. As I got older and understood the game more, I came to realize how much you need your teammates to be successful. Hockey is a great game to learn a lot of life lessons, from teamwork to camaraderie that can be applied even in business.”

Further, Ronning believes hockey truly reflects what it is to be Canadian.

“There are so many opportunities now to play college and to get an education through hockey, or to play overseas,” he said.  “I really think hockey is more than just a game, it’s a culture that breeds people to work hard and I believe it’s that work ethic that makes Canada so special. I hope we never lose that.”

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