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Hockey for healthy hearts

TRURO – John Guinan reaches into the top drawer of the desk in his office at CIBC and pulls out a picture.

Shannon McInnis, left, Jim Perry and John Guinan will be captains for their BMO Hockey Heroes squads this spring in Halifax and St. John’s. Each team will raise a minimum of $16,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and get the chance to skate with a former NHLer for the weekend. Other Truro teams will be captained by Ashley McKay and Jim MacDonald.

He ponders over it for a second before reaching across the desk and handing it to his friends and fellow rec hockey teammates, Jim Perry and Shannon McInnis.

“This is why I do it,” Guinan said as McInnis took the picture in his hand.

The photo showed a doped up, hollowed version of Guinan, his towering frame propped upright in a hospital bed. An open gown shows a scar traversing the length of his torso – a permanent reminder of how close he came to losing his life to a heart attack five years ago.

Since that day, Guinan has devoted each spring to raising money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation through his favourite pastime – playing hockey.

“I keep this (photo) here in my desk. I look at it every day and I see (the scar) every day when I get out of the shower. This is my reason for doing this. I am absolutely lucky to be here.”

This season, Guinan and his friends will send five local teams to BMO Hockey Heroes tournaments across Atlantic Canada. Each team is made up of 16 players, with each player responsible for raising a minimum of $1,000. The five-team total is the most the group has ever sent.

Last season, Truro had three teams, captained by Guinan, Perry and Ashley McKay. Together, they raised $80,000 for the cause. Guinan’s team raised $39,000 to take top spot in the 16-team tournament.

Their prize? Their pick of the litter among the 16 former professional hockey players signed on for the tournament. This year, the top fundraiser will have their pick of players like Darcy Tucker, Marty McSorley, Raymond Bourque and Paul Coffey.

This year, the Truro squad will send teams to Halifax (April 24-26), Moncton (May 29-31) and, for the first time, St. John’s, NL, on May 8-10.

Perry, who said he couldn’t turn down a chance to spend a weekend on the rock, will lead the Newfoundland expedition.

“We were over to Newfoundland probably 15 years ago and we had a good time,” he said. “So we figured hey, if there’s one of these in Newfoundland, that’s where we’re going.”

The fundraising is a daunting task, and each player pays out of pocket for travel and expenses. But it’s the cause that unites them all and pushes them to raise funds.

It also helps having someone as connected to the cause as Guinan, the others added.

“He’s the one who dragged us all into it,” McInnis said. “He had to be very persistent in the beginning, but now I wouldn’t miss it after doing it for a couple years.”

Perry also recently had a wakeup call, when he recognized the signs in a teammate and drove him to the hospital when he suffered a heart attack on the ice. Their quick response lessened the blow, but it was still a long road to recovery.

For Guinan, he feels like a living example of what fundraising for heart and stroke research can do.

“It’s amazing, the progression and how all of this is evolving,” he said. “If I didn’t have open heart surgery, I’d be a dead man. And now look at me, I’m out playing hockey poorly four days a week.”

Each team will continue raising money right up until the draft night for each tournament. Anyone interested in helping out can contact Guinan, Perry, McInnis, Ashley McKay or Jim MacDonald.

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