Posted On: Thursday, July 25, 2019
By STEVE HARRON
Greg Hickey was watching the 1981 Super Bowl with friends, including future NHLer Mike Krushelnyski, when he received a phone call that would change his life.
At the time he was making about $1,500 a week playing in the American Hockey League and what was being offered to him was a $175-a-week job as an assistant pro at Nanticoke Golf Club.
The offer came from head pro Bob Rothmel, who had employed Hickey some 8 or 9 years previously as a backshop assistant at Brantford Golf and Country Club when Rothmel was head pro there.
“I quickly thought about it and asked for $200 which was quickly accepted and my 2nd career in sport would begin that June with the stipulation that I would need to continue to play hockey (to have a year-round wage),” said Hickey, who is now the General Manager and PGA of Canada Head Professional at the Braestone Club (the former Orillia Golf and Country Club).
Hickey played for a few more seasons, one in Switzerland and one in Virginia, and worked at the golf course during the off-seasons. But the grind of the minor leagues finally got to him.
“After Virginia and just terrible bus trips I had had enough – I could not get on another bus again – I was done,” he said.
Around that time an opportunity to work as an assistant pro came up at Deerhurst Resort, which had an executive-style course in those days. The pro there was Paul Kennedy, who was one of Canada’s best professionals at the time.
“He was already a Canadian Assistant Champion and during my time with him he won the Canadian Club Professional Championship,” Hickey said.
“Paul was a friend to everyone and every top professional golfer across this land. George Knudson, Al Balding, Ken Venning, Harry Allard (builder and owner of Woodington Lake Golf Club). Quickly, many of his friends became my friends and my career was off and running.”
Hickey passed his Class A Golf Professional exam in 1986 and left Deerhurst in 1987 to became head pro at Nobleton Lakes Golf Club, just north of Toronto. He remained there for 25 years serving as Head Pro, Director of Golf and General Manager.
After a three-year break from the golf business to work as a supervisor for the Basilian Fathers of Canada at Henry Carr Farm near Beeton, Hickey was hired in 2015 to manage the Orillia Golf and Country Club. At the time the club was operated by Scotia Trust, which was managing the estate assets of previous owner Frank Whibley, who had died in 2011.
“The golf course was in very bad shape due the lack of resources. It was my job to determine whether it would be sold as a farm or a golf course. We were able to turn the business around in a short period of time to at least get it to the point some people would pay,” Hickey said.
The course was put up for sale along with additional lands owned by Whibley and that led to a visit by Jamie Massie, president, co-founder and co-owner of Georgian International - a Simcoe County-based automotive, aircraft and real estate business.
Massie liked what he saw at the picturesque property and decided to buy it. “I will never forget the day he (Jamie) saw the sunset and the potential and said he would buy it if we stuck around and helped,” said Hickey.
"Denise Osborne, who is as talented a golf operator as they come, had joined me from the beginning and was on board as well – the team was in place.”
The course was renamed the Braestone Club and Hickey began the job of overseeing an extensive improvement plan.
While happy to have spent the past 38-plus years in the golf business, Hickey still cherishes his memories from his hockey days.
The Brantford native played Junior B with Waterford Arctic Cats, who were coached by Walter Gretzky, and that team included future NHLers Doug Jarvis, who Hickey played all his minor hockey with, and Stan Johnathan.
Also on the team were Alan Moffat, who went on to a successful college and CFL career, and netminder Phil McColman, the current MP for Brant riding. From time to time the stick boy was a young kid who went on to great things (Wayne Gretzky).
“Every game I would be picked up by Manager Stan Posavad and Walter Gretzky – Stan always drove and had the nicest car ever!! I would sit in the middle between Stan and Walter and I was quite a character so we would laugh all the way to the arena. The banter was always a lot of fun,” Hickey said.
Three players from that team were chosen in the first 16 picks of the OHA (now OHL) draft and the Arctic Cat crest is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame. “Not because of us, of course, but because of the Gretzky history. It was an honour to be a small part of that! Those were the days,” Hickey said.
Hickey was drafted by the OHA’s Hamilton Red Wings and played there three seasons, putting up 61 points in his third season.
In the 1975 NHL draft, he was taken 48th overall by New York Rangers. The same year he was also taken 10th overall in the WHA (World Hockey Association) draft by the Minnesota Fighting Saints.
He began his pro hockey career in 1976 with Providence Reds in the American Hockey League and other stops along the way included AHL teams New Haven Nighthawks and Springfield Indians. He also played in the International Hockey League for Port Huron Flags and Fort Wayne Komets, the Southern Hockey League for Richmond Wildcats and Charlotte Checkers and the Atlantic Coast Hockey League for Virginia Raiders and Hampton Road Gulls.
One of his career highlights came late in the 1978 season when he was called up to play with the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders in a game broadcast across North America by NBC. He got to play on a line with his brother Pat, a star player with the Rangers at that point, and veteran Walter Tkaczuk.
Greg’s job was to check one of the greatest scorers of all time. “I was still hurt but (General Manager) John Ferguson wanted me to get some experience at the NHL level. My job was to cover Mike Bossy and I stuck with him through the 1st and 2nd period man-on-man, keeping him off the scoreboard,” he said.
By the third period, the Rangers were losing by a wide margin so Hickey talked to Tkaczuk about changing things up. “I said to Walter ‘this is crazy, I’m skating all around with Bossy and he is just toying with me and (Denis) Potvin is pinching in every time.’ So Walter says ‘just bring him back to the goal and be sure to leave him with the D (defence), which I did.’ (Defenceman) Carol Vadnais says ‘I got him’ and I go to the point to cover Potvin and he passes to an open Bossy who scores immediately.”
While the outcome wasn’t what he had hoped for, he’s thankful his one game in the NHL gave him an opportunity to play with his brother, who Hickey says “has been an incredible influence in my life.”
He also got to play with NHL great Phil Esposito and the next night was on the ice during warm-ups to see his childhood idol, Stan Mikita of the Chicago Blackhawks. “He (Mikita) had always been my favourite player. It was his last regular-season game he ever played and I was there on the ice, if only for warm-up. Now that was cool!!” (After the warm-up, Hickey was replaced in the line-up by Bud Stefanski).
Although it was difficult to get together because of their different schedules, Hickey loved spending time with his brother.
On one memorable (or forgettable) night when Greg was playing in the AHL with New Haven they met at Pat’s Manhattan apartment and were enjoying some beverages and music in advance of a scheduled double date.
“He (Pat) was dating Miss USA at the time and they had arranged a blind date for me to head out on the town. It most likely would have been Studio 54 since that was the place to go,” Greg said. “Well, it began to snow and Pat and I were really having a great time hanging since we did not get to do that in-season very often. It was a bad storm so we had a dilemma: to cancel the blind date or to go. The music was good and the beer even better – so Pat calls his girlfriend and cancels. Well, she is not impressed at all and in a flash my brother goes white. After he gets shit from his date he tells me he has good news and bad news.
“I say how good or bad can it be – we are having a great time in the apartment. He says that is the good news – what is the bad – well the blind date was her roommate. Oh well, big deal and he says ‘yes it is!’ So he says ‘well you know the blind date was her roommate and her roommate ended up being Miss Universe!!’”
Greg laughs about it now, calling it the funniest and saddest story from his hockey days.
His best memories from those days are actually the times spent with Pat and his dad after each hockey season ended.
“Sitting at the kitchen table with my father and Pat drinking tea and eating peanut butter toast just talking hockey. My father was also quite a hockey player at St. Michael’s College and played some pro hockey after the war. He had enlisted right out of high school instead of pursuing a hockey career. When he returned he signed a deal with the Boston Bruins to play for the AHL team (Boston Braves).
“He had hurt his knee parachuting and this caused him not to last as a pro. But without all his knowledge and guidance neither my brother or myself would have ever achieved what we have!! Those days were my best as a hockey player, brother and son!”
Today, his life revolves around golf where he is not only overseeing the development plan for Braestone but also devoting time to coaching the Georgian College Grizzlies men’s and women’s golf teams.
Although he says given the chance he’d do many things differently, he has no regrets about choosing a career in golf.
“Everyday in golf is another day that can be the best day ever!! There are many best days ahead. Every day at Braestone right now is so exciting with all the new projects on the go! The clubhouse is very close to beginning and that will be another BEST Day.”