Career Canuck

Sunday, 11.03.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
By Nancy Henderson
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Career Canuck

Few fans could imagine a better day job than Norm Jewison's. Currently the Senior Editor and Alumni Liaison with the Canucks, he's spent the last 30 years working for the team.

Norm grew up in the hockey hot-bed of Montreal, but his own on-ice career was restricted to, as he puts it, "beer leagues". After graduating from Sir George Williams University, he began working for the NHL in 1966, under President Clarence Campbell. The following year saw the expansion of the League from the original six teams to twelve.

Norm stayed at NHL headquarters until 1977, when he accepted the position of Director of Public Relations with a fledgling Vancouver Canucks franchise. The team had struggled out of the gate, had then enjoyed a couple of winning seasons, in 1974-75 when they won the Smythe Division, and the following year when they finished second, but had subsequently returned to below .500 hockey.

Norm arrived in the days before there were television stations devoted to sports, before everyone had internet access.

"When I first joined the club, the big rivalries were in radio: CKWX and CKNW. They were always out to out-scoop one another. When Harry Neale was hired as the new Canucks' coach, (general manager) Jake Milford had to book Harry into the hotel under an assumed name because that's how intense the rivalry was between radio stations and the two newspapers".

The hiring of Harry Neale was only part of the shake-up of the team in 1978-79. It also marked the beginning of the team's on-going interest in Swedish players: a trio of Scandinavians had been acquired in the off-season. And there were the new uniforms.

Gone were the stick logo and the familiar blue and green. According to Norm, "sports psychologists in San Francisco told us those colours were too tranquil to invoke any emotion or hostility". So in came hot orange, red and black: the famous, or infamous, 'flying V' uniforms. They were not, to put it mildly, embraced by hockey fans. That is, until the playoff run of 1982. The jerseys were being mocked by New Yorkers but locals warmed to them a little.

"People were saying 'I don't care if they wear their pajamas as long as they keep playing like they're playing'", explains Norm.

Yes, Jewison had the exciting opportunity to be with the club for both Stanley Cup playoff runs. He was in Chicago the night towel power was born.

"Being on the road, we didn't grasp the significance of it. Everybody back in Vancouver was caught up in it but this was pre-cell phones."

When the team beat Chicago in Game 6, thus making it into the finals, they had made no travel plans. Once their opponent was determined they had just two days to get ready to face the daunting New York Islanders. As Norm tells it "we didn't have any hotel reservations, no airline reservations, flying by the seat of our pants. We go into Long Island and the only place we could get to stay was a motel right on the highway."

Suddenly, the Canucks were the hot ticket.

"I remember the League telling us we had to find 100 extra seats for the media, so we built plywood benches up at the back of the Coliseum."

Sadly, the Canucks were swept in the series. Norm describes a behind-the-scenes moment from the heartbreaking loss in overtime in Game 1.

"Harold Snepsts was trying to clear the puck out of our zone and it just happened to land on the stick of Mike Bossy. Bossy scored with 2 seconds to go and they won the game. Harold went back behind the main room into the stick room, sat with his back against the wall, lying with all his equipment on for two hours after the game, with tears streaming down his face because he believed he had let the team down. Everyone was pleading with him, saying it's not the end of the world, it could happen to anyone".

Still, Vancouver fans showed their true colours, despite the series outcome. As Norm puts it "where else in the history of professional sports did you ever have a parade with over 100,000 people lining the streets for a team that had just lost four straight in the finals?"

Norm Jewison has plenty of great stories, 30 years worth, in fact. The quirkiest player?

"We had a guy we got, I think, from Buffalo. He used to wrap himself in clear tape from head to toe. Don't know why - it just made him feel more powerful. So he'd wrap himself in this tape, put his sweatshirt on, put his jersey on and then he'd complain to the trainers that the dressing room was too warm".

How about the arrival of a soon-to-be-great Canuck, Trevor Linden?

"In his rookie year, we were in Minnesota. I was travelling with the team and Trevor had a marvellous game - he scored three goals. He was just 18 years old - his first hat trick. Before the door opened to the media, Trevor came in and you would've expected him to be beaming from ear to ear. Well, Trevor came in and just SMASHED his stick in the corner and the reason was, we'd lost the game 7-6. That told me volumes about Trevor's character."

Norm has a few favourite stories of his own, especially those involving Harry Neale.

"Harry Neale was a laugh-a-minute", chuckles Norm. "When he first got here and when the Swedes first got here in 1978 and the first exhibition game at the Coliseum, Harry said he didn't know what kind of team he had."

The Canucks had apparently had something of a disjointed training camp. "Richard Loney was singing 'Oh Canada'. One of the (newly acquired) Swedes turns to another Swede and says 'you know, whenever I hear that song I have a bad game". Good thing that the Canadian anthem has turned out to be good luck for many Swedish players in Vancouver.

Norm Jewison has announced his retirement from the Canucks, effective at the end of this season. Will it be tough to walk away from a team that he has been with, through good times and bad, for 3 decades? Absolutely, according to Norm.

"I'm sure I've got a Canucks tattoo on me somewhere. It's been an unbelievable education. It's been a real rollercoaster ride but a whole lot of fun. I have no regrets".