On a brisk Sunday afternoon in Peterborough, Ontario, former NHL defenseman Chris Pronger was honored by the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) by having a banner raised at the Peterborough Memorial Centre. The event on November 2nd saw family, friends and media flock to the town about an hour and a half northwest of Toronto. Pronger, who played his junior career with the Petes from 1991-1993 was humbled by the experience.
“First, it’s been great being back in Peterborough,” said Pronger. “I haven’t been back in 10 years since the 2004 lockout. Things change but don’t change. It’s been great being back in the Memorial Centre. I’m very honored and humbled to have my name put in the rafters with the Petes greats. It’s a tremendous honor that certainly wasn’t expected.”
Some of the Petes greats that Pronger joined in the rafters include Steve Yzerman, Larry Murphy, Mickey Redmond and Scotty Bowman.
During his time in Peterborough, Pronger helped lead the Petes to an OHL Championship in 1993. Pronger also took home two major accolades: Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Defenceman of the Year in 1993 and the Max Kaminsky Trophy for Most Outstanding Defenceman for the 1992-93 season. For his career in Peterborough, Pronger recorded 139 points (32G-107A). On recalling his memories of his time with the Petes, most of Pronger’s focus was on the relationships he built with his teammates and the community.
“There were a few instances where I got phone calls, but no suspensions,” said Pronger. “There are a lot of great memories here in this building. A lot of playoff victories and an OHL championship, things of that nature, but I think just the bonding with the players goes into the whole process. It’s the friendship and bonds made with the people here.”
Being honored by an organization with a banner raise isn’t something the happens often. Thousands of players have come through the ranks of the OHL, but very few are honored by their team years later. While he’s won the Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, a Norris and Hart Trophy among many other accolades, this event ranks near the top for him.
“It’s right up there,” said Pronger on the moment. “Any time you can have your name amongst the greats here and raised in any rafters is pretty special. It’s got to be one of the top five moments. I’ve obviously accomplished a lot, but this ranks right up there.”
Something to keep in mind is that in junior hockey, most of these players are just beginning or right in the midst of going to high school. Teammates become brothers and relationships that will last throughout life. Pronger’s experience wasn’t any different.
“You think back to when you were a kid and where it all started,” said Pronger on coming back to Peterborough. “What you had to do to get to the next level. You see friends from high school and friends you played with in junior. When you play with people, you form a bond and camaraderie that you will have for life. It seems like just yesterday, but for some, 20 years ago.”
Since he last played for the Petes, and even in just the past few years, Pronger noted how much the game has changed.
“The games that I’ve seen, obviously kids are bigger, faster and stronger,” said Pronger. “It starts in junior and goes all the way up to the pro ranks. The skill level and the talent of each and every guy, training in the off season, I never did. I think it just speaks to the professionalism that starts at such a young age to try to reach your dreams. It’s a fun game to watch and entertaining.”
It’s been three years since Pronger has played with the Flyers, who he’s currently under contract with. Concussion-like symptoms have kept him off the ice, but he’s continuing to treat the symptoms and showing progress.
“I’m doing okay,” said Pronger. “My eye is still giving me some issues, but I continue to do the therapy and rest my eye. For right now, I’m okay.”
With his familiarity with the and overall experience, the NHL recently brought Pronger on board to become a part of the Department of Player Safety. It’s the kind of work that he seems to enjoy.
“I think just with my last game being three years ago, I’m somewhat fresh,” said Pronger. “I haven’t played under the new rules, but I understand what we’re trying to do. It’s a big adjustment for a lot of guys and a lot of it is teaching.”
The job at hand isn’t simple and involves multiple angles.
“Some of it is review and conference calls and in person hearings and things of that nature,” Pronger explained. “Some of it is injury clips, but it kind of runs the gamut. It’s pretty interesting work. I go to the GM meetings and talk about the rules, so you kind of get to be on the inside and try to make a difference.”
Pronger’s impact can already be seen. While it’s uncertain how much he was involved in the decision, immediately following the press conference in Peterborough, Pronger had to jump on a phone call to discuss the suspension of Nashville Predators defenseman Anton Volchenkov.
If you ever find your way in the Toronto area, it’s highly suggested you take a visit to where many hockey greats began their careers: the Peterborough Memorial Centre.
*Photo credit: Allyson K. Hall