Every great journey begins with a single step. Having someone who believes in you and helps you take that first step can ultimately make all the difference.
For John Paddock, who played parts of two seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings from 1972 to 1974, that person was the club’s general manager, Rudy Pilous. Paddock wouldn’t earn a full-time role with the club until he was in his 19-year-old season.
“Rudy deserves, in my mind, a tremendous amount of credit for my opportunity,” Paddock said. “He sort of stuck with me. I obviously wasn’t capable earlier, maybe I was late growing or late maturing physically. I was at camps starting at 16 for sure. It was a steady, slow progression for me.”
Since then, the 64-year-old Paddock has built an extraordinary resumé in hockey that included time playing and coaching in the National Hockey League. He now serves as the vice president of hockey operations and general manager of the Regina Pats.
Paddock, the oldest of three sons and four daughters in the family of father John and mother Alvina, grew up on a farm northeast of Oak River, which is 68 kilometres northwest of Brandon.
Paddock remembers skating by age six, and guesses he started a year or two before that. He would get a ride into town for public skating, but also strapped on the blades outside to skate on the river or whatever nearby water had frozen over.
“There was ample opportunity to skate or have a stick and puck and go out there as kids and make like you’re the guys you watch on TV,” Paddock said.
Paddock’s father also flooded a rink on the farmyard for a couple of winters when he was around nine or 10 years old.
He quickly started to play hockey, and in the 1960s several of the area communities —places like Hamiota, Cardale and Rapid City — had enough kids for teams. His parents were always happy to drive him to games as required.
“It was probably easier for them to take care of my sporting needs because the family wasn’t near as big as it would get,” Paddock said. “As I got older there were more kids. They certainly did their part in transporting me around to play hockey.”
The number of youngsters was starting to dwindle in the community, so by age eight Paddock played both in his age group and the one above it. He said the schedules must have been worked out between age groups, because he remembers playing two games in a row many times.
At age 15, he also began playing senior hockey in nearby Strathclair, a decision he speculates was made by his father because it was the best available competition.
The family would go to a Wheat Kings game every year —”That might not seem like much today with all you do but it was big to us and big to me” —and Paddock vividly remembers watching a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game in the old Wheat City Arena when Fran Huck and the Pats visited.
“There was definitely a real interest in hockey, period,” Paddock said.
He also attended the Dunc McCallum hockey school in the late 1960s that was put on by the former NHL player and future Wheat Kings coach.
In Paddock’s 18-year-old season in 1972-73, he moved to Brandon to play with the junior B squad, a team that would be named the Travellers and join the Manitoba Junior Hockey League a year later.
The club skated in the senior South West Hockey League and participated in the provincial junior B playoffs.
He was also called up by the Wheat Kings for 11 regular season games and six more in the playoffs.
Paddock isn’t sure when Pilous listed him, but he became a full-time Wheat Kings forward for the 1973-74 season at 19.
He joined a team with his minor hockey rival from Minnedosa, Ron Chipperfield, along with Rick Blight, Dale McMullin, Ron Pronchuk, Frank Taylor and others.
“It was sort of the final step,” Paddock said. “It was a lot of fun because I had been there the year before and I knew some of those guys for a long time. I knew Chipper, and Frank Taylor and I played hockey and ball against each other for a long time, and a few other guys … It just felt sort of right or natural.”
Paddock was one of just two players on the team to skate in all 68 games as the Wheat Kings went 27-37-4 and missed the playoffs. He scored 34 goals, added 49 assists and piled up 228 penalty minutes.
Paddock didn’t go into the season thinking he would finish second on the team in penalty minutes —he had always scored goals as a kid — but quickly realized he would do whatever he had to in an age when fighting was a integral part of the game.
“When you hit junior, it wasn’t your job per se, but I understood that I wasn’t going to be in the top two or three forwards on that team,” Paddock said. “I probably felt that after that there was something else I could do to help them win. It was an era where that sort of became more prominent.”
Interestingly, he said the kind of player he was may have hinted at what lay beyond his playing career.
“I could score goals and play physical when I had to,” Paddock said. “I didn’t have a lot of speed; there wasn’t a lot of speed in the game. Skating would be a bit of a downside. I felt as a player I always had to listen to the coaches closely to be able to really contribute. Maybe that’s why I ended up as a coach. I think I was a reliable guy in a lot of areas but I never viewed myself as a star, that’s for sure.”
Nevertheless, Paddock parlayed that one Brandon season into being drafted twice in 1974.
He and Chipperfield both went in the World Hockey Association’s secret draft in February: Chipperfield was selected with the 20th pick to the Vancouver Blazers and Paddock in the second round by the Minnesota Fighting Saints with the 28th choice.
Chipperfield called to tell him the news, which Paddock admits was a shock.
“I didn’t know I was on anybody’s radar until then,” Paddock said. “I wasn’t a great student, but was interested in agriculture so thought I’ll probably go to the (University of Manitoba), take something in agriculture and start farming, until that day. Everything changed.”
In May, he was selected in the NHL draftby the expansion Washington Capitals in the third round with the 37th overall pick. He received a five-year offer from Washington and four-year offer from Minnesota. The NHL money was iron-clad, so he headed there.
Paddock played 10 seasons of professional hockey, skating in 87 NHL games with the Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Quebec Nordiques.
If he has a claim to fame in Washington, it would come from their very first exhibition game, which was played against the Buffalo Sabres in the fall of 1974 in St. Catherines, Ont. Paddock scored the first goal in team history, albeit in an exhibition game.
Paddock was playing with the Maine Mariners in the American Hockey League in the 1983-84 season. The Mariners were an affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, who had just been called a “Mickey Mouse” organization by Edmonton Oilers superstar Wayne Gretzky.
The Devils fired Bill MacMillan and called up Mariners coach Tom McVie. Paddock was offered the coaching job, with a tight time frame to accept it.
He did. Incredibly, the rookie coach led the Mariners that season to the first of three AHL titles he would capture.
By 1991-92, he was coaching the Winnipeg Jets and then served as the team’s general manager. He would also work with the New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators and Flyers organizations.
His contract ended after the 2013-14 season in Philadelphia, and Paddock was looking for work. The Pats had just been sold to a new ownership group, which included former Brandonite and Wheat Kings goalie Todd Lumbard, and they reached out to Paddock to see if he would be interested in coming back to junior hockey.
Paddock talked to Wheat Kings owner Kelly McCrimmon, who spoke positively about the new owners. Paddock knew Lumbard a bit from skating together in the summer — and Lumbard also roomed with Paddock’s younger brother Gord in pro hockey — so they built on that connection.
“They were just good people and they bought a team because they like hockey and they wanted to have a special team in Regina,” Paddock said. “It went from there. I thought this would be a really good situation, and that’s how it’s turned out.”
Paddock was named the team’s coach and general manager in August 2014, and led the team to four consecutive seasons with 36 or more victories for the first time since the early 1980s.
With his strong emphasis on communication, and a message tailored to the way that best reaches a player, the Pats won a lot of hockey games. But Paddock wasn’t just focused on building hockey players, which is the target in the pros. In junior, he wanted to craft better people.
“You become in some ways a father figure for them,” Paddock said of his players. “You’re a big part of raising them, and not in any sort of cozy, comfortable way necessarily. You have two or three hours a day and also make sure they’re going to school and have some rules or standards that are in some ways about being Regina Pats but also how you should act as a young man.”
This season, he stepped back to allow Dave Struch to take over behind the bench.
Paddock, who is married to his second wife, Lori, has four daughters, Jennifer, Sally, Anna and Alyssa, and seven grandchildren. He looks forward to the summers when he can see everyone.
He has been named to the American Hockey League and Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fames, but wasn’t the only one to enjoy athletic success in his home.
His brother Gord, who also played with the Wheat Kings and minor pro hockey after that, is in the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame. Gord’s sons Duncan and Ty are both elite senior AA baseball players.
And Russ, who is the athletic director at Brandon University, is in the Manitoba Volleyball Hall of Fame. His son Max is also a very good volleyball player, but is a goalie for the Pats.
Paddock said it started at home with their father.
“I wouldn’t say we always had to work our fingers to the bone because I think Dad let us put sports first, but we worked,” Paddock said. “We had stuff we had to do and we were glad to pitch in. As exciting as it was to play hockey, it was exciting the first day you got to drive a tractor and felt yourself evolving. There was a passion for the farm that passed over to hockey and sports period.
“We knew that none of us were super blessed at what we did or super talented. We had to have that work ethic if we were going to succeed, but we had enough attributes going for us that if we did work, we would have a chance to be pretty decent at what we were doing.”
Paddock said he can’t imagine a life without hockey at this point, even as he acknowledges he’s closing in on the final chapter of his long hockey career.
“I know it’s going fast or creeping towards the end,” Paddock said. “I’ve been going to training camp … since I was 16. It’s very hard to imagine. It’s easy to imagine what I would do if I wasn’t at camp. I would be on the combine because I haven’t been able to do much of that for a long time.
“It will be very strange not to go to training camp and not have something to do or just go and watch and not have some significant time invested in it. I do know it’s coming.”
He remains grateful for the time and place that it all became possible.
“That year in Brandon was a huge stepping stone for me,” he said. “I’ve been living off hockey since the summer of 1974.”