Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mighty Mike Edwards, Part I: "Who Are You?"

As regular readers already know, I tend to keep these pieces short. Every once in a while, though, the story (not necessarily the writing) is just too compelling and warrants multiple entries. That’s the case with this one. Here’s the first of three installments.

Friday, January 26, 2007
Newburyport, MA

“It is nice to know we have hired the best in the industry. Anyone we talk to raves about how wonderful you are and it is amazing how many more people keep complimenting the fact that we have hired you.”

That’s what a future bride, not knowing Mike Edwards was a DJ and a hockey player, wrote in testimony of Edwards’s reputation as a first-class entertainer. Before he became owner of the AllStar Entertainment Agency in 1989, Edwards and his band opened acts for Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, and Brenda Lee. Edwards has performed in Vegas, too. But his bread and butter act is as Master or Ceremonies at wedding dances and corporate events.

Tonight, though, he’s on a different kind of stage. Someone else will select the music as he tends goal for the Boston Hockey Legends, who’ve convened at Graf Rink in Newburyport, MA to play against the Rowley Police Association's squad. Edwards isn’t there for the paycheck. This is a chance to play in the Show.

Whoa, wait a minute! Why Edwards? What about Gerry Cheevers or Andy Moog? Must have been busy. Okay, how about Cleon Daskalakis, the regular netminder for the Boston Bruins Alumni Association? Cleon is in Detroit to take on former Red Wings tomorrow night in what Olympia Entertainment has billed the “Alumni Showdown in Hockeytown.” Cleon and company—including Bob Sweeney, and Terry O’Reilly, and Billy O’Dwyer—will go head to head with the likes of Wings legends Igor Larionov and Reed Larson.

Edwards wasn’t scheduled to MC any post-wedding parties tonight, and, right after his season-long gig as goaltender for the AMHL Tuesday Leafs, Edwards got the call to play in front of a crowd. He had met Cleon at a recent “Meet Ray Bourque” event at Banners in TD Banknorth Garden and offhandedly mentioned that he had been playing goalie for thirty-nine years and that if Cleon ever needed a backup…

Locker room: “Who Are You?”

This story has a soundtrack, and the first song is the Who’s hit from the 1978 album of the same name. In the Bruins’ meager locker room, sweaters hang on pegs lined up on opposite walls. Edwards, at his station down at the end of the bench is about to don the Black and Gold. This is his first—and probably last—shot to play with NHL players. Before now, none of the old-timers would have associated Mike Edwards with hockey. Opposite Edwards is Brad Park, who played eighteen seasons in the NHL and in probably hundreds of these games to raise money for local charities. Down a few spots to Park’s left is Paul Stewart. Stewie, a former Quebec Nordique, never played for the B's but officiated many a game at the Garden and then the FleetCenter. He’s on his cell phone when Reggie Lemelin walks into the room.

“Where are you going to play tonight?” I ask.

“Anywhere they put me,” he says, looking for a spot to sit.

He’ll play anywhere but between the pipes. Lemelin, who played six seasons for the B's, hasn’t tended goal for about four years—not even as an emergency backup because it’s harder than you might think to put on the pads again after such a lengthy layoff. He prefers to play forward these days, which sets the stage for Edwards, an unknown hockey commodity outside AMHL circles.

It’s time for the boys—Lemelin, Park, Stewart, Don Marcotte, Bruce Shoebottom, Frank Simonetti, Kenny Linseman, John Carter, and Steve Rooney—to get to know their new goalkeeper. They admire the latest TPS has to offer in the way of goalie gear. Edwards’s blocker, catching glove, and leg pads—adorned with the equipment manufacturer’s snazzy red, black, and white design—provide much more protection than NHL players from yesteryear were accustomed to.

Steve Rooney sits next to Edwards, who remembers playing in the band at Rooney’s wedding on April 12, 1986. The reception hall was in Rooney’s hometown of Canton, MA. Rooney had to leave the event early (with a police escort) to play against the Bruins in Game Three of the first- round playoffs. Rooney scored the first goal in that game and the Canadiens went on to eliminate the Bruins, 4–3. Rooney returned (again, with a police escort) to the reception, where the crowd cheered him. Edwards’ band even played “O Canada!” for Rooney’s teammates who had tagged along.

So the old-timers like Edwards’s equipment and are impressed with his entertainment acumen. Will they rave about his on-ice performance?

Stay tuned for the second installment of the Mighty Mike Edwards story, "Eye of the Tiger".
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