When Don MacAdam moved from New Haven, Connecticut with the Ottawa Senators AHL farm team to Charlottetown in 1993 he brought with him the legend Ken “Gunner” Garrett as equipment manager.
“You’re gonna like him,” said the Morell native, who would become the PEI Senators first head coach. “He’s a little rough around the edges but overall a great guy.”
That was an understatement.
Gunner Garrett, born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is a hockey lifer who has been around the boonies of the minor leagues in the game since the 1960’s as a trainer, equipment manager and sometimes back-up goaltender. He did have stint with the Newmarket Saints, the Toronto Maple Leafs farm club in the late 80’s and even had a chance to push owner Harold Ballard around in a wheel chair at Maple Leaf Gardens around 1988-89. It’s believed some of his Ballard’s grumpy ways may have been passed on to Gunner during those days. Gunner was a good student. He also had quick wit about him and loved to needle. Everyone was a target but especially the players who he tended by sharpening skates, fixing broken equipment, keeping them supplied in sticks and often passing on words of wisdom whether they wanted it or not.
He started out as a trainer for the Johnstown Jets in the Eastern Hockey League in 1961. His career lasted until 2009 with the Amarillo Gorillas in the Central League. Other stops included Saginaw and Cincinnati. Gunner spent three seasons in Charlottetown with the PEI Senators from 1993 to 1996. Back in the 60’s teams only carried one goalie and if he got hurt it was the trainer who served as the back-up. Gunner Garrett was called upon to suit on 22 occasions in five seasons with the New Haven Blades in the EHL as the goalie. He even managed to record back-to-back shutouts. He made his debut in goal in 1961-62 with Johnstown. Between 1965 and 1967 he played with New Haven and the Long Island Ducks making five appearances in net allowing 10 goals against with an impressive 2.17 goals against average. His record was good at 4-1. Gunner continued to serve as trainer and sometimes goalie until 1972.
Gunner (like all equipment guys) ran the dressing room. It was his domain and you had better adhere to his rules. In the case of the Senators dressing room those rules were handed down quickly to the media members who ventured into the premises before or after games at the Charlottetown Civic Centre. The media mob in this case was made up of Kevin Barrett (The Guardian newspaper and colour man on the CHTN Senators broadcasts), Rob Landry (CHTN radio play-by-play man), Andy Walker (Summerside Journal Pioneer) and myself (CFCY Sports Director and later colour commentator on CHTN Sens broadcasts). CBC also had reporters on hand for most of the games. Nancy Russell for CBC Television and Daniel Hebert (Radio Canada and la Voix Acadienne) as well as Journal writer Paul Blacquiere. Scott Chapman also worked the road games as play-by-play man for road games in the final season.
The Senators had the main dressing room located in the east end of the Civic Centre. It was by far the biggest dressing room in the building and is set-up pretty much the same way over the past 25 years. The main entrance was a door where players entered to dress or go to the weight room which was next door. That entrance was also where Gunner had his skate sharpening table and washers and dryers in the next room and also a room where the players kept their street clothes. A long hallway stretched down to the main dressing room and coach’s room. The hallway posed a problem from the beginning. The media would often grab players for an interview in the hallway or down by the skate sharpening area which would upset Gunner.
“You guys need to find a better place to do your interviews…..you’re always in my f---ing way,” he would blurt out as he tried to get to pick up equipment including skates that needed sharpening.
He was probably right as the dressing room was a busy place, especially after games. After the first season the front office got wise and set up an interview area across not far from the dressing room in a bar (which led to more problems on some nights with players intermingling with fans).
There was also a training room down the hall where Gunner had his main office along with Rob Snitzer, Athletic Therapist. On the wall just next to the door a black and white picture of comedian Bob Hope with Gunner hung on the wall. Beside it was a picture of Garrett and Leaf owner Harold Ballard who he assisted in the mid-80's while with the AHL Newmarket Saints, just north of Toronto.
“Bob Hope and No Hope,” chuckled Snitzer.
Gunner also referred to Harold Ballard as “Mr. Ballard” when asked about his days as his assistant.
“From the same mould,” Offered up one of the players within shouting distance.
By the second year in Charlottetown the Senators had a new coach with the arrival of Dave Allison, a big red headed man, who had played a few games with the Montreal Canadiens on defense in the 80’s. A friendly enough guy but he also had a temper. One night, after a tough loss, we had to wait the customary 10 minutes before we ventured down to the office to speak to the coach. The first person we usually saw while entering the dressing room area was Gunner.
“I wouldn’t bother talking to him (Allison) tonight,” he warned us. “He’s in a pretty bad mood and may tear your heads off.” That was followed by his usual barrel laugh.
We decided to head down the hall to find Allison. It seemed like a slower pace walking the short distance down to his office that night. When Barrett and I got close enough to the open office door…..there was some loud, colourful screaming going on inside followed by a half-filled coffee carafe which came flying out the door and landed just inches away against the white painted cinder blocks wall.
No post-game interview that night.
On the way back we were met by Gunner with a Cheshire cat grin and an “I told you so, don’t go down…don’t go down.” Helaughed as we left.
Allison was usually obliging to the media. He was a colourful character himself and offered such hockey wisdom as “You play the hand you’re dealt” when it came to what player personnel was available and his idea on what was important to his players. “Hockey, beer and their wives or girlfriends (pause) that’s pretty much it.” Allison got his chance to coach the big club in Ottawa, briefly in 1996 before returning to Charlottetown. He acted as a guest voice on the Senators playoff broadcasts on CHTN that spring.
Bruce Gardiner was forward with the Senators who suffered a near career ending eye injury while playing in Charlottetown received a call-up from the parent team in Ottawa. I interviewed him prior to his departure in the Senators dressing room Gunner was within earshot and once the interview was completed he came over and pointed out a few things
“You’re getting his hopes up on staying but you know he won’t stick with the big club. He needs more time down here.”
Gunner went on to say most reporters just ask what the players want to hear.
“If you want the REAL story, come to me.” He retorted. “I’ll tell ya.”
Whether it was just in fun or if he really half meant it, Gunner was always digging at the players.
Greg Pankewicz was another forward who was raised in Canada’s west in Calgary. He was recalled by Ottawa during the 1994 season but was sent back to Charlottetown, much to his disappointment.
He returned prior to a morning practice and walked through the dressing room door with a couple of sticks in hand. Some of the players were getting suited up and welcomed him back.
Gunner approached Pankewicz with that Grinch-like grin of his and stated, “I told you. You’d be back.” He laughed.
Greg grimaced and shot back.“You (Gunner). You’re the reason I hated coming back here.”
Both went their separate ways and both were still smurking.
Gunner did have his buddies.
As mentioned Scott Chapman did some of the road games in the final season on CHTN. On one road trip he helped take the bags of equipment off the bus and into the dressing room which made for a lighter load for the training staff.
That made Gunner’s day….maybe even his whole year as Scott helped haul everything off the bus.
It also put every other broadcaster he would meet in an awkward position. I’ll bet no other play-by-play guy ever did that for Gunner.
Chapman was even invited to dine with Mr. Garrett on the road trip.
I’ll still kid Scott about it to this day.
Gunner was a character for sure. And like the Grinch you know he had a big heart in the end.
TALES FROM THE BUS LEAGUES
In the book “Tales From The Bus Leagues” minor league star Jamie McKinven has a whole chapter on on Gunner Garrett.
Here’s an excerpt:
The first time I met Gunner, I was sleep-deprived, hung over and in a furious rush. I had just driven 22 hours straight, through the night from Augusta, Ga., to Amarillo, Texas, and I was about to make another four-hour trek to Odessa for my first game as a member of the Amarillo Gorillas of the CHL. When I walked into the Amarillo Civic Center, one of the first things that caught my eye, before I ducked into the dressing room, was a large black banner with a helmet, two crossed hockey sticks and the name “Gunner” embroidered in large bold letters. Immediately, I figured it was a memorial to a former player who died.
After being redirected several times amid a mad rush of players getting ready for the road trip, I stood nose to nose with the Amarillo team trainer. The man in front of me seemed to have all the prerequisites of a minor league trainer:
He reached out his hand and said: “You must be Janine McMuffin. I’m Gunner, the team trainer. Welcome to paradise.”
I grabbed Gunner’s hand firmly and shook it: “Nice to meet you, Gunner, but my name is Jamie.”
Gunner glared at me, cocking his head to the side: “You look more like a Janine to me. What position do you play?”
“I’m a defenceman,” I replied.
“Oh ya? Well you don’t look like much,” he scoffed while looking me up and down.
“I could say the same about you, but I bet you’ve already been told that,” I jabbed back.
Gunner immediately dropped his grumpy façade and let out a low, bellowing laugh: “You might just be all right, son. Now grab your frickin’ gear and come pick out some sticks.”
“Hey, Gunner,” I asked. “What’s with that morbid banner out front?”
“Son, you wouldn’t believe it if I told ya. Those bozos thought I was dead and had a banner made up for me,” he replied, referring to an incident that occurred during the 2005 season when Gunner was the trainer for the Austin Ice Bats.
Gunner suffered what was thought to be a fatal heart attack at the rink in Austin. He was rushed to hospital and word spread that he had died. Not knowing that he was actually alive, ownership had a large banner made up that was to be hung from the rafters during the next night’s game in memory of Gunner. When word came out that he was indeed alive, the banner was given to him as a keepsake and reminder of the close call.
Gunner was a very interesting character, to say the least. He represented a unique perspective. He was straight out of the old guard. It was almost like having Don Cherry walking around your dressing room in a skin-tight Stanfield’s hockey underwear jumpsuit, throwing chirps around at all the players and talking about how it was back in the good ol’ days.
Gunner’s training and equipment managing career spanned 48 years, from 1961 when he started out with the EHL’s Johnston Jets right up to his last season with us in Amarillo in 2009. Early in his career, Gunner suited up for 22 games with the New Haven Blades of the EHL over five seasons. Back then, teams usually only carried one goalie and the trainer served as the backup. During that span, Gunner even recorded back-to-back shutouts.
Being plugged into the pro hockey culture for so long meant that Gunner, like all of the players he loved to razz, was a creature of habit. And, like all of the players, Gunner’s superstitions and routines were as head- scratching and face-scrunching as anything you’ve ever heard of. For example, some people say that they love hockey so much they basically live at the rink. In Gunner’s case, he actually did live at the rink. In our stick room—a long stretch of open space located under the north-end bleachers—there was an old, fluffy couch with a grungy old blanket and pillow. This was Gunner’s bed. A coffee maker, mini-fridge and hot plate served as Gunner’s kitchen.
Another routine that Gunner had was to wander around before games, chirping players and engaging in playful banter. He especially loved to drift in and out of the medical trainer’s room to cut guys up who were getting treatment. He would spit out lines like: “What’s going on, son? You tear some heartilage?” or, “What’s wrong with him, doc? He tear his motivator cuff?”
Chirping is a major part of the camaraderie in the hockey culture and Gunner was an avid practitioner. It was how he showed his affection for someone. If he was ripping on you, you knew he liked you. If he didn’t rip on you, you knew he wasn’t a fan.
One of Gunner’s funnier peccadilloes was how adamant he was about certain things and how lax he was about others. For example, Gunner was the only trainer I’ve ever met who didn’t give a shit about the sticks. He literally left the stick room door open all the time. This was unheard of. Usually that room is locked up tighter than Fort Knox.
Players would file in and out of there with bundles of sticks under their arms and he wouldn’t even look up from his newspaper. On the flip side, Gunner would fight you to the death and piss on your dead carcass if he ever caught you stealing the 20-year-old, raggedy, used undershirts and long underwear he kept under lock and key in a cabinet beside his desk. It was the weirdest thing. Those raggedy Stanfield’s undershirts were from his days tending the end of the bench for the P.E.I. Senators during the early ‘90s, and he guarded them like it was his daughter on prom night.
One of the reasons Gunner might have been so anal about the long underwear and undershirts might have been the fact that it was all he ever wore. Throughout the entire season, I only saw Gunner in two outfits: One was a matching set of navy blue long underwear and long-sleeved undershirt; the other an Amarillo Gorillas nylon tracksuit (which he wore on the bench during games).
Gunner also loved Christmas. It was the only time I’d ever see him be cheery. He took a lot of pride in putting up decorations and making sure the radio was on a 24/7 Christmas station. He even had his girlfriend make Christmas cookies, which he’d put on display on his desk and promptly slap anyone’s hand who tried to sneak in for a quick grab-and-dash.
One day, I told Gunner that he gave my best friend from home, Jordan Reid (who grew up in P.E.I.), his first job as stick boy for the P.E.I. Senators (the AHL affiliate for the Ottawa Senators during the early ‘90s).
Gunner snapped back at me: “No I didn’t!”
I said: “Gunner, I haven’t even told you his name yet.”
Well, what is it?” he angrily replied.
“Jordan Reid,” I said.
“Ohhhhhhhh, I know little Jordie! He’s Tom Reid’s kid. What a great family. Why didn’t you say that’s who it was?” he said, with a jolly bounce in his voice.
Confused, I replied: “Ummm, I did, Gunner.”
For more of Tales From the Bus Leagues go to www.glassandout.com
A master at his craft,Gunner sharpens skates and takes care of each player's equipment
Gunner Garrett was an emergency goaltender in the 60's with Johnstown Jets (EHL) and trainer.
Most of his career Gunner stuck to training suits and long johns for his dress around the rink but he's seen here in a rare photo from the early 60's in a suit at a Johnstown Jet's fundraiser
GUNNER GARRETT - BOB HOPE & NO HOPE
Gunner was a personal assistant for Toronto Maple Leaf owner Harold Ballard in the 80's. This photo from 1985.
Gunner (first from the left, middle row) is shown here in the '93-94 PEI Senators team photo. He spent all three years with the AHL Senators in Charlottetown
Gunner in 2017