I had convinced myself that the captain of the Edmonton Oilers, the hard-nosed defensive defenseman, Number Two, Lee Fogolin and I were destined to be best buddies. It was, in my mind, inevitable.
We had heard rumours that Lee lived in Mayfield, or perhaps across the road in High Park. No one really knew for sure. We’d have a “Lee Watch” of sorts; rumours were everywhere. “Did you hear that Justin’s older brother’s girlfriend saw Lee buying milk at the little store?” Going for bike rides in the summer became a kind-of moving stakeout. Intel, normally gleaned from conversations overheard between older siblings, narrowed Lee’s house to a few locations, but Our Captain remained illusive.
But, just because we never saw Lee in the flesh didn’t mean we weren’t convinced he was among us. A real NHL player, in our neighbourhood! The captain of the Oilers, no less. And, he and I were going to be friends.
What caused such certainty in my mind? It was announced that Lee would be visiting our third grade class at Our Lady of Peace school. No longer did we need to search for him, he’d be coming to us.
I had it all planned out.
Of course, I would be getting Lee’s autograph – in that I was certain. I had carefully chosen a few prime O-Pee-Chee cards for him to sign. No doubt he’d be impressed with the thoroughness of my collection, and he and I would strike-up a brief conversation about the various merits of different card manufacturers, and whether he was a fan of the hockey sticker books (I was very pro sticker book, and was certain Lee was a sticker book man too).
After a bit of banter, Lee would likely answer some questions from the class. I was sure my classmates would go for the banal, the “what’s it like to play with Gretzky?” sort of thing. Me, I’d ask about his pairing with Kevin Lowe, whether the lively boards at the Boston Garden made things difficult on a defenseman to play the dump-and-chase game, and if he though GM Glenn Sather was going to make a move at the trade deadline.
Inevitably, Lee would be impressed. He’d ask my teacher my name, pull me aside and suggest that we go for a skate down at the community rink. He’d show me some pointers and mention that I might have a thing or two to tell him about his game too. From there, it would be a friendship borne out of mutual respect and admiration.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
Lee did indeed visit our third grade class. Our teacher introduced “Mr. Fogolin,” asked us to open the front cover of our spelling scribblers where Mr. Fogolin would sign an autograph. Lee went row-by-row signing scribbler covers, a last shy wave to the class and off to the next classroom. All in all, about three minutes. No banter, no Q&A, no signed O-Pee-Chees, no best buddies. I was crushed.
It’s been a few years since I lived in Edmonton, and even longer since I’ve lived in Mayfield. Whenever I’m back home and take a nostalgic drive around the neighbourhood, I’d pause at many of my old haunts: the rink, the school, the playground, the little store, my old house, and the hill where we’d toboggan at recess. I’d remember my childhood, my friends and, inevitably, be a little sad at the passing years. Eventually, I’d get back in the car, disengage from my sentimental lens, and head back to reality. But, I’d be lying if, all the while and at each stop, I didn’t still kept one eye open, hoping to spot my best my best pal that never was.