By RON FANFAIR
Four years ago, Futures Aces national scholarship recipient and Toronto District School Board teacher, Laurie Townshend, did something for her brother, Graeme, that made him feel extra special. She introduced him to his childhood hero, Dr. Herb Carnegie who, he later learned, lived about three kilometres from where the former National Hockey League (NHL) player-turned-Toronto Maple Leafs skating coach grew up.
“It was just a few years ago that I found out that my sister won one of those scholarships and that she also knew Herb Carnegie,” said Graeme, who was the first Jamaican to play in the NHL. “When I told her he was my hero, she said that she also knew where he lived. I said you have got to get me over there.
“I spent almost four hours with him one afternoon and it was simply amazing. We talked about hockey and his life experiences. It was quite remarkable.”
Townshend reconnected with Carnegie last week for the first time since that meeting. He was a special guest at the Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Foundation Amazing Aces awards gala in Scarborough.
“When I got the invitation, I couldn’t wait to say yes,” said the former San Jose Sharks Player Development Co-ordinator who commutes with his pick-up jeep between his Maine residence and Toronto.
Townshend returned to Toronto last season where he grew up and learned to play the sport to work with Leafs and Toronto Marlies players as well as with the organization’s drafted prospects in North America.
When Ron Wilson was named the Leafs head coach in June 2008, he brought most of his staff from San Jose, including Townshend, whose NHL career spanned five seasons and 45 games with the Boston Bruins, the New York Islanders and the Ottawa Senators.
“My first season here went very well and everything I dreamed it would be as far as working for the Leafs,” he said. “The players were very receptive to learning some of the new concepts that I was teaching…I don’t know what the team will look like next year. The new players will be introduced to some of my methods then we will take it from there. I will pick up from where we left off with the returning players.”
Townshend was brought in to help the players improve their skating which is a crucial part of NHL players’ skills set following the crackdown on hooking and holding that resulted from the post-lockout rule interpretation. Defencemen, in particular, have to be very mobile to keep pace with lightning fast forwards and also to be able to get back to field “dump-ins”.
Like most members of the hockey fraternity, Townshend was saddened by the death of former NHL player and Canada Under-21 soccer member, Peter Zezel, who passed away last week at the age of 44.
“I played against Peter and I didn’t know he was battling health issues until recently,” said Townshend, who signed a three-year contract with the Leafs. “When I heard he was hospitalized, it threw me for a loop and now he’s gone. I saw him quite a lot when he played junior hockey and I admired the way he played the game.”