NHL legend Reggie Leach stood in front of a gymnasium full of Saskatoon teenagers, telling them his best days weren't the ones he spent playing hockey.
"I'm more proud of what I did after hockey than what I did during hockey," said Leach, who won the Stanley Cup with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975. "Hockey to me was just a stepping stone."
"You have problems and you want to talk, give me a call. I'll talk to you. I'll listen to you guys." - Reggie Leach
Leach grew up in Riverton, Man., and was raised by his grandparents before he left home at 16, to play junior hockey in Flin Flon.
"I grew up in a very poor family," he told students. "Material-wise, I had nothing. But I thought I was the richest kid in the world."
Leach is the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy and once scored five goals in a single playoff game. However, prior to that game, concerned teammates called his wife when he missed the pre-game skate. Leach had stayed out all night drinking.
Ten years later, Leach enrolled in a rehabilitation program and has stayed dry ever since. Now a motivational speaker, Leach regularly talks to groups about his success in hockey and struggles with alcohol.
In a rare move for an NHL champion, he urged the students at Mount Royal to call him personally if they ever need a sympathetic ear.
"You have problems and you want to talk, give me a call. I'll talk to you. I'll listen to you guys," Leach promised, telling students they could call him collect.
The former Broad Street bully noted he's taken more than 50 calls from other young people since he started talking to students a decade ago. He left the school with a stack of photographs of himself, each with his number on the back.
"I've done this for a number of years. I've probably had 50 to 60 calls at night," Leach said. "Even if you talk to these kids one or two minutes and give them the acknowledgment they deserve, I think for me it's a big relief just to see smiles on their faces."
He made a point of shaking hands with every teen in the front row as he left, and made sure to pose for a photo with a group of young men drumming an honour song.
"My mind is kind of blown right now," said Grade 10 student Chaston Dustyhorn . "I'm gonna tell my grandparents I met him."
Leach recently published an autobiography titled The Riverton Rifle, and stopped in Saskatoon as part of his book tour.
"Be proud of who you are and who you came from," he told the students. He urged them to stick with school longer than he did, and to learn from their mistakes.
"Hockey was great to me," he said. "It doesn't matter where you come from guys, it's what you make of what you want to do with your life."