When John Guinan underwent open-heart surgery four years ago, he was unsure of where his life would end up.
Lifestyle changes and rehabilitation were sure to follow, but rubbing shoulders with NHL legends didn’t seem to be in the cards. However, that’s exactly where Guinan found himself last month, as he skated with the stars for the third time in Halifax.
The life-changing event started with a lifesaving surgery in 2010.
“When I went through that journey I met some fantastic people with the Heart and Stroke Foundation,” Guinan said. “I thought these people were pretty dedicated, so I decided to help them out.”
Returning the favours they paid to him, he decided to reach out and make a financial contribution to the organization. He called to ask how he could pay up. Surprisingly, the person on the other end of the phone asked him if he played hockey.
“Poorly,” he replied.
He then heard about the BMO Hockey Heroes Weekend, a then-new event being organized by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, wherein Average Joes got the chance to skate alongside former NHL players in a tournament. Sixteen teams would be responsible for raising $16,000 apiece for their chance to play with 16 former pros.
Guinan immediately jumped onboard.
“I told a few other people, and we went as the first Truro participants,” he said. “It has since grown to having 45 guys on three (Truro) teams, with the teams collectively raising north of $80,000 for the cause.”
While each team is only required to raise $16,000, there is an advantage to going above and beyond. The NHL pros are placed in a draft, with the highest fundraisers getting the first pick. Guinan’s squad, aptly named the Truro Heart Attacks, raised $39,000 to earn the top pick.
“You should see this draft,” Guinan said. “It’s so professional.”
Walking into the ballroom at the Westin Hotel, there were 16 tables set out with each team’s jersey draped over the front. The teams assembled at the tables and began a bidding war for the service of a former pro. With the first overall pick in the 2014 BMO Hockey Heroes draft, the Truro Heart Attacks were proud to select former Chicago Blackhawks star Denis Savard.
“What an awesome dude,” Guinan said. “That guy is absolutely incredible.”
Fellow Truro resident and longtime friend of Guinan’s, Jim Perry, took his own team to the tournament for the second straight year, selecting Gilbert Dionne.
“He was a great guy,” Perry said. “We got off the ice at 1 p.m. and he sat there in the dressing room and told stories until he had to go on the ice at 4 p.m.”
A diehard Leafs fan, Perry even got a picture wearing Dionne’s 1993 Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup ring.
While Perry’s first year was near perfect, this year was even better.
“Everyone gets blown away the first time,” he said, noting that nobody really knows what to expect. “But I think it’s safe to say this year was even better.”
Perry and his so-called “hop-scotch kind of team” were thrown together by Guinan and Perry the previous year. While many were strangers to each other at the time, over three-quarters of the team came back for this year. They’ll be busy again, as they scramble to get funds together for their second Hockey Heroes weekend in as many months when they take part in Moncton’s event in two weeks.
“It’s a lot of fundraising,” Perry chuckled when asked about the task of raising another $16,000. “It essentially turns your one grand contribution into two grand, but we’re confident we’ll hit the mark.”
The fundraising has been a mix of individual contributions, as well as community events and raffles. Despite just finishing one tournament, and having another at the end of the month, Perry already has an eye on the future.
“We don’t want to lay everything out at once, because we have next year coming too,” he laughed.
The third Truro team, captained by Ashley MacKay, was also among the leaders in fundraising. In total, the event brought in over $400,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, with over $80,000 coming from Truro.
Perry said it is no surprise Truro pitched in with a big contribution.
“We have a phenomenal community when it comes to supporting worthwhile causes.”