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November 19, 2004 - Stars shine on Dunlops

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Nov. 19, 2004. 01:00 AM
 
PAUL HUNTER/TORONTO STAR
Wayne Primeau, left, and brother Keith flank Whitby Dunlops’ Scott McCrory, who’s also their business partner, for the camera. The brothers are among the headliners at a Shoot for a Cure charity game featuring locked-out NHLers tonight at the Oshawa Civic Auditorium. Leafs’ Joe Nieuwendyk, another Whitby product, is also on the team.
Stars shine on Dunlops
Primeau brothers practise with Senior A squad to prepare for tonight's charity game in Oshawa
`I think they could help us,' deadpans assistant coach after brisk workout, writes Paul Hunter



It was a fantasy scenario scrubs of any age might replay in their own minds, complemented by an imaginary play-by-play.

Except this was actually happening to Whitby Dunlops defenceman Brian Heard, a 38-year-old maintenance man who never played above Junior C hockey. Here. At the Dunlops' practice, of all places.

"It was tic-tac-toe. Wayne Primeau to Keith Primeau and then back to myself and I buried it," he said. "I'll never forget that."

Heard recounted the artistry, omitting just one detail — the skate-by celebration when, with arms in the air, he shouted at the players' benches: "I'm living a dream."

This was no ordinary mid-week huff-and-puff session for the Dunnies. Not with the Primeau brothers — local shinny heroes locked out of the NHL — joining the Senior A squad on the ice for a brisk hour of drills and scrimmaging.

"I know we're all grown men," said defenceman Jim Luciuk afterwards. "But that was a lot of fun for us."

Grab-a-camera-and-record-the-moment fun. No one had to be reminded to smile.

"Some of the guys were a little star-struck," said Dunlops forward Paul Brooks. "It's a big deal for some of the guys, doing a passing play with Keith and Wayne and even getting a goal or an assist off of it. It might even be the highlight of their career. People live for those type of moments."

That the Primeaus made their way — Keith from Philadelphia; Wayne from San Jose — to Iroquois Park for a skate isn't a total shock. Their sporting roots reach deep into the home turf. They played their minor hockey and lacrosse in Whitby, often in the same arena that the Dunlops now call home, and many of the current Dunnies were once either teammates or opponents along the way to the NHL. Wayne Primeau and Brooks, for example, were even linemates in peewee hockey.

Their parents still live in Brooklyn and the brothers are business partners with Scott McCrory, another of the Dunlops, in owning 55 Hockey Products Inc., the local company that develops and markets Fury equipment.

But this visit home is more about charity than business, though the Primeaus have surprised more than one area retailer — grab those cameras again — by arriving at their stores to tout the virtues of their own pants, gloves and sticks.

Keith and Wayne Primeau, their company helping as one of the sponsors, are among the headliners at a charity game featuring locked-out NHLers tonight at the Oshawa Civic Auditorium. Others include Maple Leaf Joe Nieuwendyk, another Whitby product, Patrick Marleau from San Jose and Carolina's Jeff O'Neill. Funds raised will go to Shoot for a Cure, a hockey-centred charity dedicated to the awareness and prevention of spinal cord injuries.

Not wanting to embarrass themselves in front of their hometown fans, the Primeaus figured they'd better get in a couple of good, hard skates before the game and the Dunlops, after the NHLers signed a waiver, were happy to oblige.

"We've spent so much time on the phone recruiting guys (for the game) since we came home Sunday, we thought this was the best chance to get out and do some skating," said Keith Primeau.

Or, as McCrory put it more colourfully: "They're back at home and they want to make sure they don't cough up a lung in the big game."

The result was one of the Dunlops' crisper workouts this season. After the photos and autographing of sticks, the players were clearly focused on leaving their guests with a good impression — and trying to keep up.

"We don't want them to think we're a joke. We were keeping our pace just so they could see how good we are too," said forward Ian Martin.

At one point during the workout, Heard turned to the guests of honour and asked cheekily: "Do you want us to slow it down a little for you?"

The Primeaus, though understandably not in typical mid-season form, stood out among the Dunnies, a team made up mostly of men who once played minor pro or major junior. Of course, how could they not stand out when Keith is 6-foot-5 and Wayne just two inches shorter.

"That was an eye-opener. They just dwarf our guys," said Luciuk, whose resumé highlight is playing for the Ryerson Rams. "And the way they skate ... those guys in the NHL are good. It's as simple as that."

The Dunnies and the Primeaus do have one thing in common — neither is making money from playing hockey this season.

"We're just tying to make the best of a bleak situation," said Keith Primeau of the lockout. "We're not afforded the opportunity to play at the NHL level so at least (tonight's game) gives us a chance to give something back to the community."

Keith Primeau, by the way, didn't need any history lessons on the heritage of the team he skated with this week. He said since he was a schoolboy, he'd heard stories of the original Dunlops and how they won a world championship for Canada in 1958. That success, he believes, is one of the reasons why a smaller centre like Whitby has sent so many players to the NHL over the years — Gary Roberts and Adam Foote are among the others — and developed so many lacrosse champions.

"I always thought (the Dunlops' championship) was the motivation behind the excellence in Whitby minor sports. It formed the basis for how people view and interpret sports in the town of Whitby," he said. "That tradition still lives on and (the return of the Dunlops) is a way to revive it and revisit that history.

"I'd heard so much about the senior league," he continued. "It's sounds like a great league of older guys who played junior, maybe some pro, but moved on to other careers, other avenues, but without ever losing that passion and love for the game. It was exciting to be here. It was fun. I really appreciated it."

Whitby coach Bill Purcell, after chatting with the Primeaus, came away convinced that, if they still lived in Whitby, he'd have them in his lineup for as long as the lockout lasts.

"It was a great experience for our players. To see the size of those guys and to see just how quick and how strong they are," said Purcell. "And (the Primeaus) had fun too. If they were living in Whitby, they'd be playing in Whitby. Can you imagine the crowds you'd get? You'd be turning them away."

"Yes," deadpanned assistant coach Doug Keeler: "I think they could help us."
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