Ed Wahl: The Soldier of Hockey

August 26, 2010

In hockey, the lure of money has many parents subscribing to the notion of the Canadian dream. However, many times the Canadian dream is elusive and ends up taking a turn for the worse for many hockey parents. The Ontario Central Scouting Organization robbed $3500 per player to send kids to a tournament in Europe that never existed. I remember one year a police organization asked me for a sponsorship for them to play a tournament in Montreal; again that tournament never existed. Nonetheless, these were qualified men that should have known better.

Two of my employees paid $2000 to play on a pro hockey team somewhere in Vancouver. It took them two months to realize that there was no pro hockey team in Vancouver even though I suggested from the beginning that they had lost their money. Of course, once I heard the news it was too late for me to save them.

I remember one individual by the name of Steve whose son went to the Crease Goaltending Academy. He came in and told me that Dave Dolecki from the Crease would pick up the tab for the goalie pads he was purchasing. I called Dave and he told me he didn’t make any arrangements whatsoever with this individual and to not give him the pads. One of my employees took out a wad of cash ‘accidentally’ and told me he was going to make $20,000 in one month by giving Steve $5000 as an investment. This is $5000 that his mother gave him, and aside from his job, there were no other available funds for them to live with.

I asked my employee if he was losing his head. His response was that I was actually losing my head. Apparently the guy drives around in a Mercedes with 4 or 5 gold rings on his knuckles making an indelible impression on my employee that he would get his $20,000. I put a stop to this and called his mother and he returned the money.

I asked Dave Dolecki whatever happened to Steve. Apparently he’s in jail and was charged with multiple counts of fraud. Unfortunately because of this, many hockey parents lost an enormous amount of hard-earned money.

Hockey is a small community and one hears a lot of things. Even someone like me who makes sure to take all the necessary precautions, needless to say, I’ve lost money too. One owner who had countless amounts of hockey teams under his belt came to me to purchase hockey equipment for his organizations. I knew the reputation of the man. He stiffed several of my retail colleagues. I made it known to him that all equipment has to be paid by cash or credit card. I also warned my staff that this particular individual should not come in and take hockey equipment unless it’s paid for.

Unfortunately this man knew Sunday was my day off and planned his wife’s visit accordingly. She came in with a mini-skirt and my manager was so enamored by her that he handed her the equipment without her paying for it. I had no choice but to fire my manager. He should’ve known better because he was also in the hockey industry as a sales rep for a major hockey manufacturer. He pleaded that he would get the money back, but this was to no avail.

Once I came across a trainer for a hockey association who wanted to buy goalie equipment. However, he was perplexed over the fact that the association simply did not have any money. He indicated that the problems are so endemic, to the point whereby one individual took $10,000 from the association to put a down payment on his house. Of course, the association was caught in the dilemma of either charging him which would supposedly bring disgrace to the hockey association that bears the community name, or perhaps a more convenient resolution was to take a more clandestine approach and hide it.

It is indeed a dilemma that the association must come to terms with. However, this episode brings me back a few years whereby one particular trainer profited enormously at the expense of the board members' ignorance.

When I met the trainer, he was always puffing on a cigarette. Even while he was talking, his cigarette dangled up and down on his lips. He was diminutive in stature with a Napoleonic mentality. Every once in a while he twitched his head back to see if anybody was behind him. Frankly, after two years of dealing with him, I asked him; "Why do you twitch your head like that?" He glared at me as though I said something inappropriate. Nonetheless, I was commissioned to make the entire goalie equipment line for the association. The trainer mind you, was a board member and had a registered company. When I invoiced him it went through his company via the association. I always felt that this kind of profiteering was indecent, especially when the sole aim of a non-profit organization was to provide hockey to the community.

In my mind in the 1950s I had a feeling Las Vegas was bad for skimming money. We have our own Vegas in our backyards here in Toronto; it’s called hockey. With one association, I barely made four dollars supplying hockey bags. When one of the parents came to my store for a warranty, I asked them how much they paid for the bag. He told me $100. I charged the association $28.

Fortunately most organizations run smoothly. Then there is the occasional exemplary hockey club that is cognizant of the growth in their community. These have a soul attached to them that mirrors our national character.

One such club that adheres to this belief was Cedar Hill, now part of the Scarborough Hockey Association. When I met the trainer, Jack Turner, the first words he uttered were "It is a thankless job, but someone has to do it.., someone has to do it."

Not only was Jack a fireman by vocation but he was an executive member of his union as well. But the main objective in the role he served for Cedar Hill was for the kids that play hockey. When he resigned his position he indicated to me that it was too much for him to handle everything. However, he did remain a silent sponsor to the association. In fact, when he was leaving, I asked him, "How did you manage to handle it; being a fireman, union boss and goalie trainer?" He managed to smile and said, "Don't forget the wife and kids!" The next day he phoned me and said, "I put a good word to the new trainer, his name is Ed Wahl."

Just like Jack, Ed possessed the same beliefs, "We do it for the kids." Often, I arrive late at night delivering hockey equipment. Ed and his son are working diligently fixing helmets. He told me that sometimes tragedy strikes within a family. "Our aim is to provide hockey regardless of the cost." That is why the board was able to buy new equipment for a child who had a passion to play hockey but no means to afford it.

Unfortunately, I did not bother to delve into the past of Cedar Hill hockey for the past often reflects the future. It was a hockey club that knew its past and was conscious of where it must go under the amalgamated Scarborough Hockey Association. As you walk along the stretch of hallway in Cedar Hill you can see that it is adorned with pictures. These pictures take on a different connotation when you walk out of the office. For Charlie, Jack, and Ed.... you are right! It is a thankless job, but it is a job that carries glory far beyond the reach of the sacrifice that any one individual can make. Curiously enough, you see the community that this hockey club has built, but better yet, you can hear it.

I was pleased to hear that Ed Wahl won this year’s Most Outstanding Volunteer Award because of his dedication and passion for the growth of minor hockey in Canada. When he came into the store I congratulated my long-time friend and told him no one else deserved this award as much as he did because of his relentless effort for kids and the love of hockey itself.

As often the case, when he comes in, we tell each other jokes. I asked whatever happened to the Wexford Hockey Organization; they had close to $200,000 in their bank account. He shook his head and looked at me, “What do you think Fio?”

“You know what Ed? They don’t make men like you no more.” I told him. He smiled, “Nor like you Fio.” I put my hand on his shoulder, "Perhaps a good man is hard to find nowadays?" He laughed, "Let's not tell our wives about that, there's always someone better." Our laughter resonated throughout the whole store.


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