Island goalie back on skates 30 years later: The Story Line

"Everybody's got a story" is the theory Dave Atkinson is working on, opening the P.E.I. phonebook to a random page and stabbing his finger at the first name he finds. This time around it was Morell resident Sean Gracey.

Morell resident Sean Gracey tells Dave Atkinson about his golden years as a goalie, return to the ice

'I gave up hockey. For 30 years, I never had skates on,' says Sean Gracey, centre. Now he's back on the ice and playing once again. (Submitted by Sean Gracey)

"What'd you say your name was again?" asks the man on the other end of the phone.

"It's Dave," I tell him.

"Dave," he repeats. We're friends now. He's ready to tell his story.  "Well, I played hockey a lot as a teenager. Yeah. Then I went truckin'."

I'm sitting in the studio at CBC in Charlottetown, talking to a stranger on the phone as I do every month.

"Everybody's got a story" is the theory I'm working on, and to prove it every month I open the P.E.I. phonebook to a random page and stab my finger at the first name I find.

This month it's Sean Gracey. He's in the Morell, P.E.I., section of the book and picks up on the second ring.

'The goalie always gets it in the neck'

"I trucked all over North America from Florida to Texas to Alberta," Gracey says.

"I was gone a lot and I gave up hockey. For 30 years, I never had skates on."

Giving up hockey for Gracey was a big deal. His dad had him in skates at age three on a backyard rink built just for him. 

"He bought me a Boston jersey because I was a big Bobby Orr fan and I've been hooked on Boston ever since."

Gracey, centre, played hockey in Calgary before moving to Morell, P.E.I. (Submitted by Sean Gracey)

Gracey found his home on the ice in front of the net. He was a goalie, knowing full well the goalie is everyone's favourite and least favourite player. 

He remembers the year in the late 1970s when his Morell Peewee team made a run for the provincial title. First round of the playoffs, Souris took them all the way to game five in a best-of-five series, he says. 

Heading into the third period, it wasn't looking good for Morell.

"We're down 6-1 after two periods, and, like if we don't win this third period our season is over, right?" he says.

"So they all started at me — the team. It was my fault. The goalie always gets it in the neck, Dave."

'If that was today, there'd be people in jail'

The assistant coach, who just happened to be Gracey's dad, stepped forward to remind the team the goalie hadn't had much support the whole game. 

"We went out that third period and won the game 7-6," Gracey recalls. "We got six goals in the third period, and I didn't let in one. And then we went to the semi-finals in Tignish. Beat them in five games."

'The goalie always gets it in the neck, Dave,' Gracey says. (Submitted by Sean Gracey)

Then came the finals against Kensington, which went to five games. Game five was in Kensington and it was a rough one, on and off the ice, he says, with parents even spitting and swearing at the kids.

"'If you win this game, we'll kill you!'" Gracey recalls parents saying. "This was back in the 70s, right? If that was today, there'd be people in jail."

Gracey's team lost and, four decades later, it still stings.

For the love of the game

After 30 years driving long-haul truck, Gracey was ready for a change. He'd missed too many birthdays, too many funerals. Nine years ago, he took a job driving a school bus in Morell.

They get a real kick out of firing pucks at their bus driver.— Sean Gracey

"I work with great people," Gracey says. "And the kids are great. You give them respect, and they'll give 99 per cent of it back to you."

After his morning school run, Gracey meets a group of friends every morning for coffee in Morell. One morning three years ago, a friend mentioned his shinny hockey team was looking for a goalie.

But Gracey hadn't donned skates for nearly 30 years.

That is, until Gracey discovered one of the kids on his bus was selling his old goalie gear and that was it — the decision was made.

He was a bit shaky his first time out, he says, and had to lie down after 20 minutes, but he eventually got his goalie legs back.

Gracey now plays a minimum of three games a week. Some weeks, it's as many as ten. A good goalie is hard to come by in small towns, especially one who is available to play any time he's not driving a bus.

'The kids are great. You give them respect, and they'll give 99 per cent of it back to you,' Sean Gracey says. (Submitted by Sean Gracey)

He's even the practice goalie for the local Peewee girls' team.

"They get a real kick out of firing pucks at their bus driver," he says with a laugh.

He rolls straight into a story about the recent P.E.I. over-55 games. He's two years shy of 55, but they allow for goalies as young as 50.

"Every year, Charlottetown puts this high-powered team together, and they come out and beat us. This year, I had a pretty good game. And the guys played hard. I mean, seven guys in their 70s. We beat them 5-3," he says. 

I can hear him smiling.

Gracey is in it for the love of the game.

Winning isn't everything, but it sure doesn't hurt.

Dave Atkinson's The Story Line column runs monthly on CBC Radio One's Island Morning.

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Dave Atkinson is a children's author and writer living in Charlottetown.