Once a Sockeye, always a Sockeye

Dave Tomlinson doesn’t get on the ice much during the hockey season anymore, thanks to his gig as the radio colour commentator on Team 1040’s broadcasts of Vancouver Canucks games. So the chance to suit up for the Richmond Sockeyes’ alumni game Saturday night at Minoru Arenas was a special treat.

“With the Canucks’ schedule, I’d say on average I probably get to play five or six games a year,” he says. “I also play with the Canucks Alumni, and the one good thing about the lockout was the opportunity to play in more charity games like Hockey Helps the Homeless. Any chance or excuse to go play hockey is great.”

Tomlinson, 43, who spends much of his summer as an instructor at former Canuck strength and conditioning coach Peter Twist’s camp, like his teammates showed flashes of brilliance last weekend, but in the end the young guns—the current Sockeyes which lead the Pacific Junior Hockey League with a 32-8-4 record—pulled away for an 8-5 victory.

Tomlinson has mostly fond memories of being a Sockeye. The North Vancouver native joined the team for the 1986-87 B.C. Junior Hockey League season, one that would end with the team winning the Centennial Cup as the top Junior A hockey club in the country. It was a talented, tough club, coached by original Canuck captain Orland Kurtenbach.

“Kurt was an awesome coach, and we realized we could have a pretty good season if we kept our heads in the game,” he says.

“We had some adversity along the way (because) each small town we went to was set against us. We had difficult times in Red Deer and in Humbolt. They were not very welcoming to us. “

“I remember we had to defeat (Humbolt) and then go play in their building. One thing that stuck out after defeating them in the final was their coach, after the game, saying, ‘If we played them again we would have defeated them and we would have been the champions.’ I thought, all right, too bad you don’t have another game because we’re going to celebrate.”

After pacing the Sockeyes with 108 points, including 43 goals in 51 regular-season games and adding four goals and seven points in five Centennial Cup games, Tomlinson earned the chance to further his hockey acumen at Boston University. But he wasn’t there long before he learned an important lesson that, he says earned him a shot at playing pro.

“I was coming off a couple of 100-point seasons here and went over there thinking I’d just play offensively and everything would be great,” Tomlinson says. “But coach Jack Parker (a legendary figure in U.S. college hockey) pulled me aside and said, ‘If you don’t learn how to play this (defensive) side of the puck you’re not playing for me.’ The last two years I was the top defensive forward in New England and that completely transformed my game. Without that, I don’t think I would’ve got the shot (at playing pro) I did.”

The Toronto Maple Leafs selected Tomlinson in the 1989 NHL Supplemental Draft, following his second season at Boston University in which he scored 46 points in 34 games for the Terriers. He completed his final two years of eligibility, capped by a 60-point season with the Terriers in 1990-91, before joining the Leafs who initially assigned him to their AHL affiliate in St. John’s where he scored a respectable 57 points in 75 games in 1991-92. He managed to get into three games with the Leafs, but was held off the scoresheet. He set the AHL ablaze in 1992-93 with 84 points, earning another three-game stint with the Leafs but again going scoreless.

In 1993 Tomlinson joined the Winnipeg Jets’ organization, splitting the year between the NHL and AHL. In 31 games with the Jets he scored his only NHL goal and had three assists. In 1994 he signed with the Florida Panthers, playing five games with the NHL club, but played the majority of the season in the IHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones for which he scored 110 points. He returned to play for Cincinnati again in the 1995-96 season and again showed his offensive skill with 96 points, but then opted to continue his pro hockey career in Europe, joining the Mannheim Eagles of the German elite league. He spent the next decade playing in Europe, before retiring.

Further reflecting on his hockey career, and specifically the 1987 Centennial Cup season with the Sockeyes, Tomlinson says all championship teams have at least one thing in common—all the players see the team as bigger than themselves.

“Inside the (dressing) room everything is the same, whether it’s Midget, Junior, Europe or the NHL it’s just playing hard for one another. It’s just that simple and if you get every guy in the room believing it multiplies. The (defending Stanley Cup champion) Los Angeles Kings are a perfect example.”

It’s been some time—perhaps, says Tomlinson, not since they won the Centennial Cup—that the 1987 Sockeyes have hung out.

“It seemed like we all came together for one year, did our job, and then went our separate ways,” he says. “ I would love it if we could get that group back together, but I think we’re pretty widespread now.”

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