Tuesday, March 6, 2012

These are Happy Days for Spike

Greg (Spike) Wallace has watched a lot of WHL games during his
career with the Kamloops Blazers and Victoria Cougars.

(Photo by Murray Mitchell / Kamloops Daily News)
Daily News Sports Editor
Brendan Ranford, the longest-serving member of this edition of the Kamloops Blazers, says Greg (Spike) Wallace is a “legend.”
Upon hearing that, Ryan Huska, a former Blazers player who now is head coach of the Kelowna Rockets, bursts into laughter.
“That was one of his nicknames,” Huska says. “He had so many nicknames and that was one of them.”
The legend of Spike Wallace will grow again tonight at Interior Savings Centre as he is to be presented with a WHL Distinguished Service Award prior to a game between the Blazers and Portland Winterhawks.
According to the WHL, the award is “presented annually to an individual associated with the WHL who has made an extraordinary contribution over an extended period of time” to the league or a team. The late Doris Rubel, the Blazers’ long-time billet co-ordinator, was honoured with the award during 2004-05.
“I’m pretty thrilled,” says Wallace, 54, who is the Blazers’ community and sponsorship co-ordinator. “Only one person in each conference wins it every year. So to be selected, I was thrilled.
“I realize it’s the teams that I have worked with and the players and management we have had over the years that have helped me.”
As for the nickname, he has been wearing it since he was in Grade 8, or ever since someone noticed a resemblance between him and the character Spike, who was Fonzie’s nephew, on early episodes of the then-popular TV show Happy Days.
These days, Wallace no longer orders skates and tapes ankles. Instead, he keeps busy booking player appearances throughout the community, including numerous school visits, working with a couple of programs involving minor hockey, and keeping in touch with the RCMP as part of the EDGE program.
In other words, tonight is a long way from the days when he started with the organization.
In fact, his first stint with Kamloops lasted about 10 days and, as Wallace says, “I never worked a day for them.”
Wallace, a Kamloops native, signed on as the trainer/equipment manager for the Kamloops Jr. Oilers over the summer of 1982. However, the team, then owned by the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, soon hired a new general manager and head coach in Bill LaForge and he brought along is own trainer, Ron Coleman.
Wallace was released without having worked even one day at his new job.
He followed up by sending his resume to the Victoria Cougars and soon was on his way to Vancouver Island where Dave Andrews, now the president of the American Hockey League, was the head coach.
In the meantime, the winds of change were blowing through Kamloops where a group of local businessmen banded together and purchased the Jr. Oilers. The franchise was renamed the Blazers and soon had a new trainer.
Wallace had reapplied after the franchise changed hands. He met head coach Ken Hitchcock at an under-16 tournament at the Sungod Recreation Centre in Delta, and later spent some time with Gary Cooper and Colin Day, both of whom were involved in purchasing the club.
“I figured a Kamloops guy could have the job here so I reapplied,” Wallace says.
The rest, as they say, is history and it isn’t at all farfetched to suggest that after all these years he is the face of the franchise in the community.
“He was a lot of things to us when we played here,” says Huska, who won three Memorial Cup titles during his time (1992-95) with the Blazers. “Not only was he our trainer and equipment guy around the dressing room, he was a good friend to a lot of the guys here. Players felt comfortable with him. . . . He did a great job of running our room and keeping young guys happy and feeling part of the group.”
Even though Wallace no longer is a regular in the Blazers’ dressing room, he still has relationships with the players.
“He’s got a lot of stories that he tells us about being in the old room . . . he’s been around for a while, you can say that,” Ranford says. “He’s good friends with Ken Hitchcock and he still keeps in touch with a lot of players who are in the NHL. You hear the names and you’re in awe because those players, even when I was growing up, were in the NHL and they are elite hockey players.”
Huska says the friendships are part and parcel of being in the Kamloops organization.
“You feel a part of something here and he was a big part of that,” Huska says. “When the old guys come back he always hunts them down and guys always make sure they go out of their way to find him as well. That says a lot about him and what he means to each individual player and this organization.”
JUST NOTES: Game time at Interior Savings Centre is 7 p.m. . . . The Winterhawks (46-16-4) lead the WHL’s overall standings, by one point over the Edmonton Oil Kings and Tri-City Americans. The Blazers (44-17-4) are three points back. . . . The Blazers put playoff tickets on sale yesterday. They are likely to open at home on March 23 and 24. . . . Kamloops is 15-2-2 against U.S. Division teams. That includes a 1-2-0 record against Portland. . . . The Blazers list F Chase Schaber as day-to-day with a lower body injury. He appeared to injure his left leg late in the first period of Friday’s 6-3 loss to the visiting Kelowna Rockets, although he did finish the game. Schaber, who was plagued by leg injuries last season, played in Saturday’s 4-3 OT loss in Kelowna.

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