Matt's (giving) back 0
It's part paradigm and part recipe, rolled into a tight karmic ball.
It's what the good ones do: give back.
And we like the good ones.
They remind us of the potent possibilities inherent in a smile, a whispered word, and the precious donation of one's time.
Which is why it was nice to see Matt Duchene back at home in the old Dysart Arena last Tuesday afternoon, giving back, hot-stoving, spinning yarn and spending quality time with some old friends and many new acquaintances.
For those unfamiliar with Duchene, he's the local kid who grew up with a dream that chugged into reality in large part through the auspices of the Dysart et al Arena ice, a supportive family, great schools, nurturing community, and Haliburton's perplexing and peculiar penchant for churning tykes in Tacks into hockey superlatives.
The old Dysart barn is where young Duchene started his hockey career; just like a lot of the kids - young and old - who came to see him last Tuesday to get autographs and have their pictures taken with the rookie sensation currently toiling splendidly for the NHL's Colorado Avalanche.
Drafted third overall in the 2009 NHL entry draft by the Colorado Avalanche, his favourite team when he was growing up, Duchene is currently leading all NHL rookies in scoring, a stat made more impressive by the fact that the list of rookies includes the number one overall 2009 pick, effervescent sniper, John Tavares.
Duchene remains one of only a very select group of 18-year-old rookies who broke into the pro ranks in their draft year. He's the beneficiary of a hefty signing bonus, a nifty salary, and he's sitting on the speckled horizon of a career that thus far seems blessed and bedazzled by far-reaching promise. And, oh yeah, he just turned 19 a few weeks back.
So what the heck was young Duchene doing in the Dysart et al Arena last Tuesday, when a large portion of NHL players, currently on a mid-season hiatus engendered by the Olympic hockey tournament, were spending quality time on a beach in St. Bart's, body surfing in Nassau, or golfing in Arizona?
Duchene answered that question last Wednesday in Lindsay. He had just helped his old high school hockey mentors Ron Yake and Gary Brohman coach the Red Hawk hockey team to a 7-3 victory over I.E. Weldon Wildcats at the Lindsay Recreational Complex.
He was preparing to board the old school bus for the return trip down Highway 35 to Haliburton.
Asked if he was happy that he could now add the perfect coaching record - 1-0 - to his growing list of hockey accomplishments Duchene just laughed.
"Well, yeah, but I coached Adam Foote's [Colorado teammate and in-house landlord] kid two weeks ago, and we won that game too, so I guess I'm really 2-0 as a coach," smiles Duchene.
Earlier that day, just outside the Hal High gym, Duchene's former teacher Walter Tose made a point of coming up to him and thanking him for coming back. "It means a lot to people," Tose said.
Duchene is reminded of that poignant moment in Lindsay, and when asked about how it feels to hear things like that, he thinks for a minute and attempts to place it all in perspective.
"Very nice to hear that [comment from Tose]," says Duchene. "I came back, but it's not like it's a totally selfless thing. I want to be back in my hometown. I love being in Haliburton. And I'm going to do something for the community and the kids, because I was them once; and I looked up to different guys that played in the NHL, so I know what it's like to be able to meet [an NHL player]."
Understand that despite those gentle protestations, last Tuesday Duchene showed his true commitment to this community. All proceeds from the autograph sessions last Tuesday in Haliburton, last Thursday in Minden, and on Sunday in Wilberforce went to the Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto. The funds donated are to be submitted in the name of Dawson Hamilton, Duchene's young friend, who for five of his nine years spent a great deal of his time on the cancer ward of the Sick Kids battling, in vain, against the cancer which finally took his life last December just a week before his 10th birthday.
He got permission from the Avalanche to leave the team to attend Dawson's funeral in Minden.
And Duchene came back to Haliburton last week because there's really no place else he'd rather be.
Last Tuesday he was on the ice practising with his old high school team beginning at around 3:30 p.m. After the high school practice was over he came back out on the ice to skate a bit with the Haliburton Highland Storm Novice team. And after that he changed, and popped upstairs to the recreation hall on the second floor of the arena, had a quick meal, brought to the arena by mom Chris and dad Vince, and then spent two hours from 6 until 8 p.m. signing autographs and sitting for photographs.
"I feel like a regular guy and at the same time I know how I'm looked at in the community, so I want to do as much as I can to give back and to help out where I can," says Duchene. The high school hockey junket was especially gratifying, because just three years ago he was riding that bus to Lindsay and Peterborough. And he still remembers just how fun it was; among friends, with guys who just wanted to play. No money. No per diem. Just rolling wheels and the excited buzz.
"I wanted to come back home, and I said to my mom, ask coach Bro' [Gary Brohman - Hal High hockey coach and principal] if I could come practice, skate with the team and maybe help out coaching and I'm happy he let me do it and it was a lot of fun," says Duchene. "I've had it in mind for a long time to come home . . . I'm not a big guy for the sun. This was definitely my first choice."
Some kids who met Duchene will be taking this moment well past their childhood.
Ryan Hall plays defense for the Highland Storm Novice team that was on the ice practising when Duchene paid a visit to their Tuesday afternoon workout.
Hall came upstairs after practice for Duchene's autograph. Asked who his favourite NHL player was, Hall's answer was succinct and definitive.
"Matt Duchene is my favourite player," smiles Hall.
Asked what words of advice Duchene had for the young Novice team, Hall thinks for a bit. "He told us to play hard; have fun," says Hall.
A pretty nice gift of advice, from one aspiring star to another.