Monday, December 1, 2008

Brian's Song

Brian used to be able to give blood.

Didn’t know who he was helping but knew it always felt rewarding to know that somehow, someway he had helped somebody in need.

Then, one day, back in the early nineties, Brian’s doctor advised him maybe it wasn’t such a good idea anymore. Medical concerns dictated it was time to change some of his lifestyle habits, including his regular visits to blood donor clinics.

What do I do? Guess there’s not much choice given what he said so it looks like I gotta follow doctor’s orders”.

It was about this time that Brian receives a telephone call from a Moncton hockey personality known around the rinks as “Jai Beau” (I’m Beautiful), This hyperactive, self-proclaimed hockey social butterfly was asking about the possibility of Brian’s organization sponsoring a an all-star team to play a high school team in Riverview, trying to raise money to go to Europe. And, with that first game, (played at the drafty and frigid Byron Dobson Arena) largely inspired by conversations involving Brian, Jai Beau and a New Brunswick hockey legend named Oscar was how the Tim Hortons All-Stars were conceived. Following that game, an ad-hoc version of that team took to the ice and played one-off events in small towns such as Buctouche and Richibucto before deciding to take the show on the road, so to speak and develop an annual Maritime tour.

As anyone who has been involved in an organization knows, one guy may come up with an idea, but it takes another type of person to make sure all the great ideas get put in place.

Brian has been “that guy” for the Tim Hortons All-Stars.

But, what do you do when “The Boss” who assembled the team, recruited a support crew, organized the logistical, equipment and transportation aspects and did most of the behind-the-scenes heavy lifting while raising more than $1.5 million dollars for charity decides its time to call it a day? As far as the players on the Tim Hortons All-Stars are concerned, you could look up the word "irreplaceable" in the Webster's dictionary and every single one of those fun-loving, prank-minded pucksters would swear they see a picture of their general manager Brian Foster smiling back at them.

Over the past 14 seasons, the Tim Hortons All-Stars, loaded with ex-NHL’ers and other Maritime pros have played over 100 games (mostly against local law enforcement agencies), raising more than $1,500,000 for local charities. Thanks to Brian’s vision and in keeping with the values of the Tim Hortons brand, it was decided to make these games a fun-filled, family-oriented evening of entertainment; the Maritimes answer to the Flying Fathers and the Harlem Globetrotters.

As Brian explains, none of this would have been possible without the selfless commitment of a most interesting cast of characters. Brian looks at his experience with the Tim Hortons All-Stars this way: “It’s kind of like the way you look at your kids and the pride you feel that you helped bring this wacky group together for a common cause. We’ve had all types, readers and chatters; business guys and wise guys; clowns and comics. Hopey tells the same baseball stories, Jai Beau never shuts up, Eddie is the foil for every joke and when Oscar talks – everybody listens. I guess it’s kind of like hockey’s version of the Dirty Dozen”.

One night in particular is forever etched in Foster’s mind, as an unusual story developed while the All-Stars visited the Aitken Centre in Fredericton.

"Just before the game somebody told me that Everett Sanipass and his father had shot a moose on the Salmon River Road and that someone else from Big Cove was coming over to pick it up and bring it back with us to Moncton. I turned and asked Ronnie LeBlanc, they’re going to put a moose under the bus? Is that legal? Well, Ronnie is a Moncton lawyer and he is telling me as long as there is a native on the bus, you can transport wild game. But I’m not sold on this idea of bring a moose back to Moncton on our bus and now I’m sweating, I start to imagine my boss finding out and now I’m worried about losing my job. So, I walk over and tell Everett there’s no way can we have wild game going back with us and we better be more concerned with just playing tonight’s hockey game. Everett tells me not to worry, assuring me he will make other arrangements.

During the third period, the bus driver’s wife comes over and tells me that a pick-up truck has backed up and they’re putting something on our bus. She tells me only that it’s huge and doesn’t know what it is. She just thought I should know.

Now I’m steaming.

I march right over, grab Everett and start telling him in no uncertain terms to get that go&%@*am thing off of our go&%@*am bus!!!

He looks me straight in the eye, apologizes and says he is sorry to have upset me in any way and he will make sure his uncle finds another way to transport the moose back to Moncton. He seemed really sincere so I walk away thinking, I’m not even going to look, I’ll trust them and we’ll all get home in one piece. The moose won’t be loose … at least not with us".

Following the post-game reception, the Tim Hortons All-Stars bus is packed and ready to go and at about 10:30 that night, is heading across the St. Margaret’s Bridge when two Fredericton City police cruisers start following.

After about a minute, the flashing lights are turned on.

The bus slows down and pulls over.

"Right away, the fun, frivolity and the jokes die down as guys start saying ‘Put the booze away, shut up and everyone just act normal’. The driver pulls over and an officer comes on board and asks Jim to see his driver’s license. Then, much to my horror, I can see from my window how the second officer is opening up the bottom part of the bus and now he is walking around to get on board.

The second officer walks up the steps and announces they have had reports about the illegal transport of wildlife and he needs to know who is in charge of this operation. He no sooner says that when all the players are pointing fingers at me and in that moment I say something they have NEVER let me forget,

“Not My Bus”.

The officer though is not buying and he invites me to step off the bus, saying he wants me to explain what is it we are transporting and by now I am dying inside thinking my whole career is about to come to an and of course, the players are watching this and they’re busting their guts, biting the backs of their seat cushions to keep themselves from laughing out loud.

As soon as I step off the bus, the officers let me in on the joke and to this day, I shake my head and smile every time I think about that night in Fredericton when the Tim Hortons All-Stars set me up and nailed me to the cross with that line.

“Not My Bus”.

There are far too many stories to mention, but rest assured Brian treasures the many storytellers who have played and traveled with the Tim Hortons All-Stars over the past dozen years or so.

This roster reads like a who’s who of Maritime hockey stars.

At any given time, the Tim Hortons All-Stars have featured NHL’ers such as Ray Bourque, Charlie Bourgeois, Rollie Melanson, Colin White, J.P. Bordeleau, Mac Davis, Cam Russell and Mike Eagles and other former pros, including Oscar and Deny Gaudet, Marc Hussey, Denis Gingras, Robbie Forbes, Kent Paynter, Doug McGrath, Brian Ford and Sheldon Currie.

After hearing news about the farewell tour, Currie’s brother, Tony, a former 50-goal man in the American Hockey League as well as a solid pro with the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and Hartford Whalers felt it was important to acknowledge Foster’s contribution. Tony took it upon himself to compose a recent e-mail that best expressed the sentiments shared by his Tim Hortons All-Stars teammates.

“Though it has been a few years, I can't express enough, my gratitude for your efforts in making the Tim Hortons All-Stars the success it has been. From early days until the present you helped a group of guys, all who love the game, give something back to those in need. You were tireless and always patient in times of frustration. Not that a bunch of jocks still living the dream would frustrate anybody. I think back to all those bus rides, sing alongs and the odd hangover (St. John's NFLD anyone???) and can only smile. These memories will stay with us all, and no doubt there will be occasion to resurrect the squad for the right cause. I am sure everyone will jump at the chance. All the best in retirement (have a hard time seeing you sit still unless behind a set of drums) and I'll look forward to telling the stories we all helped create over the years.”

Brian Foster will be savoring every moment of every game and every road trip on this final tour for the 2008/09 Tim Hortons All-Stars. He even admits to looking forward to hearing whatever verbal tidbit Paul-Emile (Jai Beau) LeBlanc has to offer to and from each tilt as the end of an era approaches for a Maritime band of brothers linked by a common goal of helping others they may not even know.

Brian has more than earned the right to look forward to a more relaxed pace as he and Sandra begin planning for their eventual retirement. Hard to imagine this guy ever sitting still, but when he does decide to retire for good, you can be sure that when he is sitting around thinking about it, he won’t have any regrets or be trying to recapture what was. Everyone privileged enough to work with this "Boss" knows Brian showed up. Delivered the goods each and every night.

He leaves behind a legacy filled with a spirit of fun, fellowship, community giving and anything but, boring stories of glory days.

“Now there's so much that time, time and memory fade away, we got our own roads to ride and chances we gotta take. We stood side by side each one fightin' for the other, we said until we died we'd always be blood brothers”

Brian and his "brothers" begin their farewell tour this coming Thursday night, December 4th at the Aitken Centre in Fredericton. The fun begins at 7:00 p.m.

Other dates on the 2008/09 Tim Hortons All-Stars Tour are as follows:

Thursday, December 18th - Moncton, NB
Thursday, January 15th - Saint John, NB
Thursday, January 22nd - Wolfville, NS
Wednesday, February 4th - New Glasgow, NS
Thursday, February 19th - Halifax, NS
Thursday, February 26th - Charlottetown, PEI


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