Sunday, May 12, 2013

Charles Bradley: Pucks, Pets and CAN-AM Camaraderie, Part I

May 11, 2013
Saturday morning
West Concord, MA

The AMHL Photographer and I sit at our usual table at Dunkin’ Donuts, discussing an upcoming doctor appointment to address my Humpty Dumpty Groin.

She notices a familiar face entering the place, and I look left to watch Charles Bradley, an AMHLer, a veterinarian and one fine Canadian, approach. Wearing a solid bold blue short-sleeved shirt and smiling, he extends his right hand to meet mine.

Half of his left thumbnail is black and blue. Looks like a hockey injury to me. Charlie raises his hands, like a begging beagle, to reenact his awkward attempt to block a shot during a 3–1 loss on Tuesday morning. He laughs at himself.

Despite his Avalanche losing to the Leafs and his bruised lunula, Charlie seems happy, like the same fellow I got to know ten years ago, when he shared his hockey (and donut) story with me.

I asked him on that Tuesday morning in March, 2003, “Given your preference, Tim Hortons or Dunkin’ Donuts?”

Just then someone opened the fire escape door, not because of an emergency but because the door was closer to his car. This triggered a fire alarm bell.

“Tim Hortons,” Charlie said.

Tim Hortons, I say, OK.

“Definitely.”

I had a feeling, but there was a pause

“Because of the bell,” he says.

I switch from donuts to hockey and learn that Charlie was born and raised in Montreal (pronounced MUN–tree–all) and started playing hockey when he was four or five years old. 

“Our grade school was in Loyola Park, and we had four hockey rinks and one skating rink right behind us. The City maintained it.” Charlie said. “And in those days (1960s), we didn’t have really artificial ice, except for the (Verdun Auditorium) and Montreal Forum. Well, we played hockey every day; we played because the rinks were maintained by the City.”

These were outdoor rinks?

Charlie said, “Outdoor ice, yeah. And the guys would come out, the municipal workers would come out and flood every night. They were illuminated, and we could play all the time unless there was a thaw. It was great. That’s where we learned our skills.”

As we chat after his Tuesday morning game, comedian and AMHL mainstay Chris Howell interrupts us. “I just want to say that Charles Bradley is probably the biggest liar I’ve ever met.”

“Thanks a lot, Donut Boy,” Charlie replied, enjoying the friendly exchange.

After Donut Boy exited, I asked Bradley if he had aspirations of playing junior hockey.

Loyola High School, he said. "Pretty high-level hockey.”

The Jesuit-run school, created for English-speaking Catholics in the Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce neighborhood of Montreal, resides on Rue Sherbrooke and is contained by Concordia University, a few blocks west of Parc Loyola.

Charlie wore the school’s maroon and white sweater.

“We did tournaments, and we were usually the champions or near the top in the Montreal league,” he said as the Zamboni did its thing around the Valley Sports rink. “And we had our rink, so that helped a lot. We skated every day. We skated probably about seven to ten hours a week. It was good for skills as well.”

After high school, though, hockey took a back seat to professional studies. He graduated from The University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College and then worked at dozens of practices in the next almost twenty years, travelling from Ontario to New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

He found his way back to hockey, though. In 2000 or 2001, Charlie says that after learning of the AMHL at a Valley Sports Stick Time session on a Friday afternoon, he registered to play.

“I was really surprised at the level of hockey,” he said. “This is a nice league because, the difference to me, other than the time, is that everyone plays hockey for the fun of it. They don’t take it too seriously. That was a real put-off for me when guys were getting really really serious, competitive, and angry at each other, smashing each other and holding grudges. We don’t see that in this league. And the idea of rotating the teams through is really good. Having the time after for the CAM-uh-rah-duh-rie and fellowship, that makes it really good.”

But financial struggles—tough to earn find stability in a veterinary market where clinic ownership can change hands— took him away from his passions: taking care of cats and dogs and playing hockey. He dabbled in local home renovation, but that endeavor never took off. He and his family decided to move to Ontario in 2009.

Upon learning of the move across the 49th Parallel, AMHLers expressed their respect for Charlie by email.

“On behalf of all the AMHL officials, we would like to extend our best wishes to Charlie and his family as they go back to the mother country. Bradley was a great competitor and statesman from Canada and will be missed,” wrote Referee Peter Bagley.

Terry Loebs: “I will remember Charles Bradley as the most accomplished backchecking defenseman in AMHL history, and the all-time leader in evoking the same question ("Is that guy playing 'D' or forward?") among AMHL newbies. Good luck, Charles (eh?)”

Mike Schneider wrote, “Nicest guy off the ice. On the ice? Tenacious, quick, strong. A beast on defense. The kind of guy you fear going towards or fear may be on your heels. If you beat Charles, you know you played your best.”


Now, Bradley is back in business and back in the game. At the Dunkin’ Donuts in West Concord, he’s his same old amiable self as he sits at the table next to my wife and me. Caring to the core about pets and humans alike, Charles Bradley listens to my wife describe my ongoing injury saga and makes a suggestion or two from his own experience as a hockey player and animal doctor. (You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker, “Be kind to animals. Hug a hockey player.” Right?)

Stop by Domino Veterinary Hospital (DVH), Charlie says, I’ll give you a brochure for the doctor that fixed my wrist.

He stands up to get in line for his coffee as my wife and I prepare to leave. 

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