Turns out Alan Thicke isn't just one of the most recognized celebrity hockey fans, he's actually been instrumental in bringing hockey to Hollywood. We chatted with him in October about how the LA Kings - currently leading their Stanley Cup Playoffs series 3-0against Vancouver - finally won his allegiance, his celebrity hockey friends and why he's still willing to bleed for the game he loves...
You're from Kirkland Lake, Ontario. How'd the LA Kings win you over?
I was born 30 miles from the Quebec border so I began as a Montreal fan. And throughout my long, checkered career, I have virtually migrated to every Canadian team at one time or another - largely because I had friends there. I'm a hockey groupie and so, over the years, I've been fortunate to have friends and acquaintances among the playing rosters and I would tend to root for those teams. Ultimately, it was like having too many girlfriends... you need to settle down. I've lived in LA for many years now so it was just time that I started supporting the Kings.
They would implore me to please bring some celebrities to the hockey games, because "nobody gives a crap about hockey and we need a little sizzle and who ya got?" This is back in the days when you'd get a couple of thousand people at a Kings game. And I would bring people, including Canadians like Anne Murray and Gordon Lightfoot when they were in town. So, I became a valuable tool for promotion for the Kings.
Years later when Gretzky was traded, Wayne and I were close, so that just upped the ante in terms of me pulling for the Kings. In fact, Wayne was house sitting at my house the day that he got traded. I was in Norway, he was in LA taking care of my kids when the phone call came and all hell broke loose.
So, you brought hockey to Hollywood!
I was somewhat instrumental, I like to think. In fact, I hosted a show for the CBC many years ago, a one-hour TV special, called Hockey Night in Hollywood and Wayne co-hosted that.
I will also take credit for creating what is now the NHL Awards that airs every June. There had been no primetime hockey entertainment, as opposed to games, even on the CBC, but I created a show called The First Annual Hockey Schtick and it was a comedy show with a bunch of clips and sketches and it went very well, got good numbers, so the head of programming at the time, Ivan Fecan, said "This was good - what else can we do? What can we do next year?" So, we collaborated with the NHL and came up with the NHL Awards. And I hosted the first couple of years and wrote it in exchange for them giving the proceeds to the Diabetes Foundation because I have a diabetic son, so I'm very active in all things diabetes. So, even to this day - these many years later - they give the proceeds to diabetes and its amounted to millions of dollars over the years.
You suffered the classic hockey player injury [in 2003 a renegade puck knocked out his five of his teeth], is it a badge of honour?
Well, you know, it is. I have sacrificed for my passion over the years. Five teeth and many stitches - yeah, I've paid the price. Not that I was ever any good, but I was always passionate and I was eager and I loved playing, and still enjoy playing, in the fundraisers with the celebrity team, which I also founded. Me and Alex Trebek founded the celebrity hockey team in Hollywood that still plays charity exhibition games around the country. I play in a few of them.
Who else do you play with regularly now?
I play a regular pickup game in Burbank, California. I also play in Gretzky's Fantasy Camp every year and Luc Robitaille's Sundance Film Festival hockey exhibition and a handful of others around the country.
Who are some of the coolest people you've ever played with?
And what about hockey players - do you ever go up against anyone big?
Oh, over the years I've been with the very best - everybody from Orr to Howe to Gretzky.... Esposito, Mario, Brett Hull. I mean, that's been really one of the great perks of being on television because I didn't get to play with those guys because of my hockey cred. I get to get on the ice because I'm a fan and I was on TV. You know, your hockey skill is directly proportional to your distance from the equator. I was nothing in Kirkland Lake... I'm mediocre in LA... I would be a Hall of Famer in Bolivia.
You need the ice, baby! So, when you're rooting for the LA Kings, so you have any rituals?
Just get there early to find a good parking spot.
Do you have a first hockey memory?
I think I do... I think my first memory was bleeding. I was six or seven and I knew it had to be in my DNA and my national identity to play hockey and everybody else was and the very first time out somebody hit me on the mouth and I bled a little bit and I thought, "Wow, this isn't quite as much fun as they said." Ironically, all these many years later, that is my greatest skill in hockey, coagulating. I'm at that stage where it's get hit, cut, bleed, coagulate. I'm at the top of my coagulation game right now. I bleed regularly but I survive it.
Because I was playing hockey with my fourteen year old in my pickup game and by the end of the game he skates over to the bench and says, "Dad, you really suck today." And I said, "Well, I'm not feeling quite right. I'm having stamina issues. It feels like I'm not getting enough air... my breathing isn't quite right."
So, the next day I go to the doctor and he gives me a chest x-ray and sends me immediately to the hospital and within an hour I'm in emergency surgery because it turns out I have one lung - I had had a total collapse of one of my lungs. And so, I'm in intensive care for about four days, while they drain and re-inflate and perform surgery to remove the part that they didn't like. And had I not been playing, I wouldn't have even noticed that - you don't notice it in your normal daily activity - and, in fact, I was scheduled to be on an airplane within a couple of days on my way to the Toronto Film Festival and the Gemini Awards, and the cabin pressure - if you were to get on an airplane with one lunge - that could be fatal. So, that was kind of traumatic.
Are you fully recovered now?
Yeah, but if I hadn't been playing that day I wouldn't have noticed it. I'm fully recovered and I do expect to be al all-star in Bolivia.
You said you play with your son, do you love watching him play?
I do, I've gotta say, one of my biggest treats is to get out there on the ice with him. It's not exactly the Gordie Howe syndrome with his kids but it's our version of it.
Do you have a favourite thing about the game?
I love the character of the players in person. I really think there's a special personality that both comes from the players and at the same time they also conform to that type of character because they're in the game. I even wrote about that in my book, How to Raise Kids Who Won't Hate You, I'm all about kids playing hockey.
But as a fan, to watch the game, I like that it has the contact of football, the finesse of basketball and they do it at a speed like no other sport.