Paddock found success on ice, ball diamond

(Courtesy of Perry Bergson, The Brandon Sun)
Gord Paddock’s time on the ice certainly prepared him when life led him back to the farm.

Paddock, 56, played one season with the Brandon Wheat Kings in 1983-84 season before embarking on a seven-year professional career. After retiring following the 1990-91 season, he returned to the family farm northeast of Oak River.

Gord Paddock, in white, is shown with goaltender Ron Hextall in Western Hockey League action with the Brandon Wheat Kings during the 1983-84 season.

BRANDON SUN FILE PHOTOGord Paddock, in white, is shown with goaltender Ron Hextall in Western Hockey League action with the Brandon Wheat Kings during the 1983-84 season.

“I think hard work is one thing,” Paddock said of what he took from the game. “Anybody who is going to be successful, no matter what profession they’re in, definitely has to put some time and effort and work into it. I suspect that maybe a sport as physical as hockey, there are going to be injuries and there are going to be setbacks. There are going to be days you’re wondering why but that happens in farming too. It definitely takes a strong mind and body.”

Paddock was one of three sons and four daughters born to father John and mother Alvina. Gord’s older brother John also played in the Western Hockey League with Brandon and went on to a long professional career that saw him play and coach in the National Hockey League.

Gord’s younger brother Russ, who is now the athletic director at Brandon University and father of Prince Albert Raiders star Max Paddock, is a couple of years younger than Gord. The two spent a lot of time on the ice together when they were growing up.

“The rink in town was a little busier then and there wasn’t as much free time,” Paddock said. “I remember Russell and I walking probably half a mile — we were seven, eight, nine years old — where the first water froze in the slough in the field. We would carry our skates. Basically, it was whatever was available, the river sometimes, the slough. I remember walking down to the river and skating with my neighbour because he was my age.”

He was also entered in figure skating as a youngster, because his father thought it would provide extra ice time. Paddock said his parents were key as he developed an enduring love for the game.

“Mostly just by providing by the opportunity for us, driving us or whatever,” Paddock said. “I don’t think any kid in my age group had top-notch equipment. We took what we could, second-hand skates and used equipment, but it was there for us.”

In another era with very different rules, Paddock skated on six different teams at age 10, playing more than 80 games between November and the natural ice going out.

His parents had been through it all before with John, who now serves as general manager and vice president of hockey operations for the Regina Pats.

Gord said John provided the road map for a career in the game, and the inspiration to pursue it.

“It was certainly something to look up to and to follow in his footsteps for sure,” Paddock said. “He’s 10 years older so I don’t remember a lot about going to his Wheat Kings games but I remember guys like Ron Pronchuk and Rick Piche coming out to the farm. I was around that culture and strived to do that as well. I’m sure having him ahead of me might have opened a little door or made people take a longer look. It was a definite advantage.”

Paddock played in Oak River in the youngest age groups, and also in Hamiota and later Rivers growing up. He came along before the evolution of the current under-18 AAA league, so his midget regional club played other nearby communities.

At age 15, Paddock was playing in a tournament in Reston when he was noticed by the right people.

“Nobody told me there were scouts there,” Paddock said. “I wouldn’t say it was hush-hush but we just didn’t know. Sometime later, I got a letter in the mail saying I belonged to the Saskatoon Blades. There was no draft then, they just saw me and put me on their list.”

Paddock said his father was surprised the team hadn’t communicated with the family at all, but he began attending the Blades’ training camps.

He made the move for the 1981-82 season in his 17-year-old year, playing 59 games with the Saskatoon J’s in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and 20 games with the Blades.

It was a big year of transition for the farm kid.

“That’s what I wanted to do,” Paddock said. “I guess everybody is a little homesick sometimes but my parents came out to Yorkton and Melville. I also played 20 games with the Blades so I made two trips to Brandon, so they got to see me there. It wasn’t a huge transition for me. It wasn’t something that bothered me.”

He said his billet family was a huge help, and he also met a lot of new people at school.

“You get exposed to a whole new world,” Paddock said. “I have no regrets at all.”

In 59 games with the J’s, the defenceman scored eight goals and added 21 assists while also piling up 232 penalty minutes. He had four assists and 41 penalty minutes with the Blades in 20 WHL games.

“I guess that was part of my role,” Paddock said of the penalty minutes. “It was a different era of hockey then too. When I went there, I certainly wasn’t an enforcer.”

He said the numbers are a little inflated because anyone who fought in the SJHL was also assessed a misconduct to go with their major, making every fight worth at least 15 minutes in penalties.

Paddock said a player could have three fights in the WHL at the time, something he did only once.

“It wasn’t like I went out looking for it, but if something happened to a teammate or someone on the other team had some ideas, then you just don’t back down,” Paddock said. “I wasn’t the enforcer on any team I played on. There were guys ahead of me who were specifically for that.”

He was eligible for the 1982 draft, and was selected by the New York Islanders in the ninth round with the 189th overall pick. It wasn’t a complete surprise, because the Islanders had a scout in Saskatoon who had spoken to him and some teammates a couple of times.

After his one-year apprenticeship with the J’s, who folded after that season, Paddock made the Blades full-time in the 1982-83 season. In 67 games, he scored four goals and added 25 assists with 158 penalty minutes as Saskatoon went 52-19-1 to finish first in the eight-team East Division.

After a first-round bye, the Blades fell 4-2 in the division semifinals to the eventual league champion Lethbridge Broncos. (The Broncos moved back to Swift Current in 1986, and the Hurricanes began play in 1987 after the Calgary Wranglers relocated.)

The 1983-84 season would bring him much closer to home due to a blockbuster trade the Blades made midway through the 1982-83 campaign.

Brandon sent the rights to 19-year-old defenceman Dean Kennedy to Saskatoon for future considerations, with Paddock’s part in the deal announced in July 1983.

“It was definitely mixed feelings,” Paddock said of leaving Saskatoon. “Dean Kennedy (who had been with the Los Angeles Kings on emergency recall) came to us just before the playoffs and that was going to give us the boost to go to the Memorial Cup. Unfortunately we ran into (Brandon-born) Ken Wregget in the Lethbridge goal and that was the difference there. I didn’t know (about the trade) for sure until July. There were rumours and talk that somebody was going.

“I was home already and I said at the time that if I had to leave Saskatoon that Brandon would be my first choice. It worked out good to come home.”

While the Blades missed the playoffs in the 1983-84 campaign, Paddock joined a high-scoring Brandon team led by Ray Ferraro, Cam Plante, Bryon Lomow, Stacy Pratt and fiery netminder Ron Hextall.

In 72 games, Paddock posted a career-high 51 points on 14 goals and 37 assists in 72 games. He also had 151 penalty minutes.

“I think I just got more opportunity to be offensive,” Paddock said. “I didn’t see a lot of power-play time in Saskatoon. That was a high-scoring era … I wasn’t on the first power play all the time but we had Ray Ferraro and Cam Plante was amazing with the puck and Stacy Pratt moved back for the power play. If you get the puck up the ice to Ray Ferraro, the assists are going to start adding up.”

Paddock did a lot of penalty killing as well, in part because of how he played. His first focus was protecting his own goal.

“I liked to body check,” Paddock said. “I wasn’t the biggest guy but at that time I was probably average. I liked the collisions and to keep guys on their toes. If they were coming in front of our net, they were going to know they were in front of our net.”

Paddock said with a chuckle that if something was going to happen, it might have been started by Hextall, who in 46 appearances set a WHL goalie record by taking 117 penalty minutes in a season.

“I remember this one game we were a little shorthanded and somebody got a five-minute major,” Paddock said. “I stayed on the ice the whole time to kill it off and I said to Hexy ‘I need a little break.’ He looks around to make sure the ref isn’t looking and he takes his skate and digs a gouge in the ice, so we had to have a little delay to fix the ice.”

Like Hextall’s penalty minutes record, Ferraro’s single-season mark of 108 goals is unlikely to be broken in today’s game. Paddock said Ferraro was simply amazing.

“He had the opportunity and he produced,” Paddock said. “He absolutely produced. In the game he had seven goals, I think he had six halfway through the game against Prince Albert and he didn’t get the seventh until there were about 20 seconds left and I think I got the assist on that. I also remember when he got another milestone goal I assisted on, when he passed (Bill) Derlago, who had the (Wheat Kings) record at 96.

“Ray was just a natural. He was a good skater and just had that touch.”

Plante also had an incredible year, setting a single-season Brandon record with 118 assists.

“He had amazing hands and feet,” Paddock said of Plante. “He could skate and do amazing things with the puck that I couldn’t even dream of doing. He was definitely a special talent, and you put those two together, and the goals would add up.”

The team was led by veteran head coach Jack Sangster, who was new to Brandon after coaching the WHL’s Seattle Breakers for two seasons. He proved to be a good fit with the Wheat Kings.

“Jack was tough but it was a great year with him,” Paddock said. “He was just a good coach. I really liked him and I thought he did a good job with us.”

Paddock remembers losing on a Sunday to an inferior Winnipeg Warriors team, which would move to Moose Jaw the following season. Sangster wasn’t impressed, and he let his team know.

“We had a week off but we were on the ice at 6 a.m. on Monday morning and we skated for 45 minutes without pucks,” Paddock said. “The first half we started at the end and went down and back in two different groups. Halfway through, we would do the sideboards back and forth. We took our skates off and ran the stairs with our equipment on and then we had a break to get a bite to eat. Then we had practice, and we also happened to have a power-skating instructor coming in that week so some of us had to go back for that.

“So we never lost to Winnipeg again that year.”

Paddock said it was a good team-bonding experience because the last guy to finish each drill had to do 25 pushups. As a result, the players took turns being the final one in.

“As cruel and harsh as it seemed at the time, it did bring us together and made us a little bit closer to each other,” Paddock said. “We shared that experience. It happens in hockey and it happens in life too.”

Paddock was close to Deloraine’s Jim Agnew, plus the Wells brothers, Bryan and Brad. He also spent time with Stacy Pratt, but he said the team did a good job of including everyone in activities.

Brandon was buoyed late in the season when Kelly Glowa returned from Europe to pile up 21 points in seven games, but after defeating Lethbridge in the first round of the convoluted playoff system at the time, Brandon played in a round-robin and fell to 2-1 to the Regina Pats in the division semifinals.

In his overage season in 1984-85, Paddock graduated to the pro ranks.

He didn’t attend his first camp until he was 19, and the Islanders had just won their fourth Stanley Cup in a row.

“I was a little bit in awe of those names that you watch on TV,” Paddock said. “You’re there with them all of a sudden. I was on a scrimmage team with Ken Morrow and Denis Potvin, so I was a little bit in awe to start with that you’re actually on the ice with these guys but I never ran into a bad situation. Everybody was friendly, from the training staff to the coaches.”

They were on the ice once a day for a couple of hours and did some stretching, and that was it in his first of five training camps with the veteran Islanders. When he attended camp with the Philadelphia Flyers a few years later, it was a completely different story, with a couple of on-ice sessions and stricter conditions.

“Things started changing then, where you didn’t go to camp to get in shape, you had to be in shape,” Paddock said. “In my opinion that’s when the transition started.”

The Blades had played an exhibition game against a minor league team during his second season in Saskatoon, giving him his first exposure to playing against men. He had one clear memory.

“It hurt,” Paddock said. “I remember getting hit a couple of times so hard by these older men that I thought ‘Holy smokes, this is really tough.’”

He said after the lack of real hitting in training camp, that it’s very different to get down in the trenches in minor pro hockey.

“It was an adjustment for sure,” Paddock said.

He split the 1984-85 season between the American Hockey League’s Springfield Indians and the International Hockey League’s Indianapolis Checkers.

He was originally sent down to Springfield, where the Islanders shared a farm team with the Minnesota North Stars. He was later dispatched to Indianapolis, where he played with former Wheat Kings defenceman Tim Lockridge and Brandonite Todd Lumbard.

“When you move away when you’re 17, you go and live with a family and everything is kind of looked after for you,” Paddock said. “It was a stepping stone to figure things out on your own but everything worked out for me. I got that first year under my belt and carried on.”

A change in the Lumberjacks coaching staff and a brief move to forward heralded his next change in destination. In November 1985, he was traded by Indianapolis to the Muskegon Lumberjacks for forward Don Murdoch, who had earlier played with the NHL’s New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wings and was near the end of his career.

Paddock was still Islanders’ property, however, and was called up for 20 games to Springfield, where he finished the season as Muskegon went on to win the IHL’s Turner Cup.

“I played on three different teams and scored one goal for each team,” Paddock said with a chuckle.

Paddock spent the full 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons in the AHL with Springfield, signing with the Philadelphia Flyers on Aug. 29, 1988 after his four-year contract with the Islanders came to an end.

He thought about going to Europe but his brother John had coached the Hershey Bears to an AHL title in 1988 and called his younger sibling about joining Philadelphia’s top farm club.

“I talked to my brother and signed with the Flyers,” Paddock said. “We had a good team too. We lost in the semifinals after going up 3-0 against the Adirondack Red Wings and losing four in a row, three in overtime, and then the Red Wings went on to win the Calder Cup. That’s as close as I probably got.”

Gord said the two brothers did fine with one of them on the ice and one behind the bench.

“I certainly wasn’t treated as a favourite and he certainly didn’t come down any harder,” Paddock said. “I was just a player. We would visit off the ice and go to his place and I would look after his kids sometimes but on the ice, I was a player and he was the coach. It was as simple as that.”

Gord noted the same dynamic existed when their nephew Max played for John in Regina.

After two seasons in Hershey, Paddock found himself at another crossroads as a free agent. He remembers talking to his Hershey teammate Warren Harper, who had been in three NHL organizations.

“He said he was going to retire after the season,” Paddock said. “He had played seven or eight years, and he said three teams can’t be wrong because he never got to the NHL. I finished in Hershey and was debating whether I was going to play again. My parents were getting older on the farm.”

His retirement plans were delayed, however, when he heard from his former Muskegon teammate Dave Allison, who was set to coach an IHL expansion team in Albany, N.Y., called the Choppers.

Since he didn’t have to attend an NHL camp too, he could finish harvest at home and head to Albany in October.

“That sounded pretty good,” Paddock said as he returned in 1990-91 for one final season.

It proved to be an interesting decision. Albany was located a long ways from all of its opponents, so the team had to fly to every road game.

That was complicated by the fact that the team wasn’t drawing good crowds, and there were a couple of teams in other leagues located nearby.

“The team ran out of money,” Paddock said. “Eight or nine of us independent players were getting paid by Albany and then the rest of the guys were on NHL contracts. We didn’t get a paycheque for a week or 10 days. My parents actually came down to watch and I remember we took a vote after warmup if we were going to play or not. We played but by that time guys had to go to the store and buy sticks for themselves.”

When they did get paid, the players and staff rushed to the bank to cash their cheques. On one occasion, the trainers didn’t get there fast enough and didn’t get any money.

After the team collapsed on Feb. 15, 1991, Paddock signed with the Binghamton Rangers a day later and had a second chance to play for his brother. He called it quits after that season.

“I got paid by the Islanders, the Flyers and the Rangers so three teams can’t be wrong,” Paddock said with a chuckle, recalling Allison’s words.

It was a decision made much easier by the fact he knew what was coming next.

“I didn’t make it to the NHL but I got to play hockey and I got to farm,” Paddock said. “I felt very fortunate. I didn’t have a tough decision about ‘Where am I going to school?’ or ‘What am I going to do?’ I’m very thankful for that. When hockey ran out, it really wasn’t that hard for me because the farm was here.”

The operation near Oak Lake includes plenty of cropland, but in a nod to an earlier era when mixed farms were the rule, it also has cows, pigs, chickens and hens.

“It’s kind of rare probably to have that much stuff but that’s what we’re doing,” Paddock said.

Paddock has four children — Paula, Duncan, Ty and Jordyn — and lives with his partner Jill on the farm.

Baseball was always a big part of Gord’s life, as it was for his two sons. He joined the Manitoba Senior Baseball League’s Hamiota Red Sox in 1982, and spent more than 30 years playing, coaching and organizing.

He was inducted into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame into 2017.

“It’s an honour,” Paddock said. “People are still playing baseball because of our forefathers who kept the communities up and kept the diamonds up. It’s a great spot so it’s definitely an honour to be considered in that class.”

Coincidentally, his brother John has been named to the American Hockey League and Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fames, while Russ is in the Manitoba Volleyball Hall of Fame.

“We were all given the opportunity to do as much as we could in any sport the whole time we were growing up,” Paddock said. “We all thought of being hockey players first, my younger brother included — he was a goalie — and he grew six inches in Grade 12 and became a volleyball player … Our only goal growing up as Canadian kids was to be in the NHL.

“Things don’t always go the right way but they obviously go a good way for some people and we were fortunate to have that.”

While the era of 12-month hockey players is upon us, Paddock grew up in era when simple necessity turned youngsters into multi-sport athletes.

Baseball was always part of his life too.

“At the time, summer hockey wasn’t there,” Paddock said. “There were no choices. Hockey was over when the ice went out of the rink and then we maybe kicked a soccer ball before the ground got dry and then we started playing catch and ball. It was a natural cycle. I’m a little worried for kids who are playing hockey 10 or 11 months a year and not doing other things.”

Paddock mainly caught, but also played shortstop and first base when he got older. He also pitched sparingly, something he thinks allowed him to take the mound longer because he hadn’t thrown his arm out.

He said being inducted into the Hall of Fame was certainly a nice honour.

“There were circumstances that allowed me to play that long,” Paddock said. “I played in the MSBL when I was 17 with the Hamiota Red Sox and then the town started a team in Oak River so I played in Oak River. Then I went back to the MSBL when I was 37 and played another four or five years. I was very fortunate for that opportunity.”

He tried to slow down his playing as he coached his boys, spending one final season in the Andrew Agencies Senior AA Baseball League when they needed him to pitch.

But that’s certainly not the Brandon logo that provides him with the fondest memories. Nearly four decades later, he’s thrilled he had a chance to be a Wheat King.

“It means a lot,” Paddock said. “When you’re growing up being that close, you’re thinking you want to be in the NHL but first you’re going to be a Brandon Wheat King. It didn’t start that way for me but it was very nice to come back and finish in that town and wear that Wheat Kings sweater.”

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