Steve Ludzik doesn’t believe there should be an expiry date for being a teammate, especially when it comes to helping those who have fallen through the cracks and landed on hard times.
Try as he might, the former NHL and one-time Tampa Bay Lightning head coach hasn’t been able to overcome the profound sadness he felt when attending the funeral of a long-forgotten teammate two years ago.
At the service Ludzik wasn’t only alone confronting his own feelings of mortality, he was nearly literally alone in the chapel. Though Blair Barnes was celebrated as one of the all-time Windsor Spitfire greats after he graduated from the junior ranks, averaging nearly two points a game in his last two seasons on his hometown team, his funeral in Chicago, where he died alone in a basement apartment of a heart attack at age 49, attracted only four former teammates.
The experience left Ludzik feeling bitter that so few came to pay their respects, and helpless when Barnes’ son asked him “what was my dad like when he was younger.”
“I was distressed by the fact I couldn’t find any of his teammates. There has to be a way for players to keep in touch after they stop playing.”
Toward that end and to “reconnect, relive and regale” to recall happier times, such mad-cap pranks on and off the ice, Ludzik has spent the past two years developing a social media site that will let athletes stay in touch with former teammates.
He likened www.oldteammates.com, which will be launched Sunday and promoted during an interview streamed live over the Internet next Tuesday from the Boston Pizza in Welland, as the cyberspace version of the bar old hockey players are invariably drawn to.
“After every alumni game the hockey guys always meet at the bar and talk about the old days.”
And those old war stories aren’t limited to game-winning goals and come-from-behind victories, according to Ludzik who now lives in Niagara Falls. He said those are only a “small part” of the memories that are shared over one or a few cold ones.
“Actually, it’s more about the people you played with and against. You could be asking ‘Whatever happened to that red-headed goalie we played at that tournament in Montreal,’ something like that.”
Among the most vivid hockey memories for Ludzik, who scored 42 goals in 413 games in parts of eight seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, is the first game he played against Wayne Gretzky, then an up-and-coming junior rocketing his way toward NHL superstardom.
“I’ll never forget he had all that tape wrapped around the top of his stick. I don’t know why I remember that one thing, but I do.”
Gretzky told Ludzik after the game that tapping the knob of the stick was a habit he picked up playing lacrosse while growing up in Brantford.
“He told me that way the lacrosse stick would never slip out of his hands.”
Ludzik, whose new teammates to reconnect with old teammates include Niagara Falls website developer Danima Technologies and Anthony Pasto, a marketing consultant based in Welland, hasn’t set a goal on how many profiles he hopes to have on the social media site.
“The more the merrier, of course, but I would like to get to the point where we can get to give money to help these guys,” Ludzik said in pointing out that, contrary to popular belief, not everyone who played pro hockey had contracts in the millions that allow them to live more than comfortably on pensions bringing in thousands every month.
“Some guys are eating putty out of the window sills.”
Initially Ludzik wanted to limit www.oldteammates.com to hockey players but Pasto convinced him that opening the doors to their home on the World Wide Web to the whole wide world of sports is the way to go.
“To get this up and running, we need to attract eyeballs to the site and attract advertisers to the site,” said Pasto, who floored Ludzik by telling him the number of former football players in the United States is in the tens of millions.
In addition to Tuesday’s 7 p.m. live streaming from the Welland Boston Pizza, where Welland native and Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck will be the special guest.
Via Welland Tribune