Gene Carr had a song written about him by the Eagles, hobnobbed with Hollywood elite, and twice played for a Stanley Cup, but he is about to receive what he calls his biggest honour yet.
The former NHLer headlines a group of four that will be inducted into the Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday that includes Olympic field hockey player Susan Reid, the 1957 Women's Western Canadian Curling champion Margaret Fuller Rink and Les Varro, who will go into the builder's category for his decades of work with local boxers.
Carr will go into the hall alongside his dad Red Carr who was inducted a few years ago as a builder.
"To me (my dad) was Mr. Hockey of Nanaimo," said Carr, 60. "He did more for hockey in Nanaimo than I think anybody did. .. to be in the museum with my dad, makes it more special.
"He'd be very proud to see it and I know he is. It's a very special honour to be put in it."
Carr spent 10 years in the NHL playing for the St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers, L.A. Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Atlanta Flames, before finishing out one last year with the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League.
Born and raised in Nanaimo, he was known as one of the best skaters in the game and played on the same line as Kings superstar Marcel Dionne because he was one of the few that could keep up with him. He finished with 215 points in 465 games (79 goals, 136 assists), with his career being cut short by injuries at the end of it.
He is still battling those ailments after years of surgery and procedures on his back, especially the last six months. "If you took an X-ray of my lower back, on the inside it would look like the Golden Gate Bridge," he said.
He grew up dreaming of being Bobby Hull, the Chicago Blackhawks hall of famer, known for his booming shot, his great speed and his frock of golden hair. But it was a now famous picture of Hull working on his Saskatchewan farm, holding on to a 100-pound bail of hay with a pitchfork that really caught his eye and drew his attention.
"The muscles just bulging, something hit me about that picture, like 'Wow, look at this hockey player,'" said Carr.
He eventually got to wear Hull's famous No. 9 in his second year with the Rangers, but what was even bigger, was stepping on the same ice as Hull at the old Chicago Stadium for the first time. "I think in warm-ups I didn't touch the puck three times. All I could do was watch Bobby skate around," he said. "That was pretty special stuff the first time
around the league."
The highlight of his career was making it to the Stanley Cup Final with the New York Rangers, losing to the Bobby Orr led Boston Bruins in 1972 in six games.
After getting shipped to L.A. during the 1973-74 season, he never got close again.
But it was playing for the Kings where he found his home.
In Southern California he could relax in the sun, soak his many aches and pains pool side, and enjoy a lifestyle that was afforded no where else in the NHL.
He also loved the fan base that he believes does not get near enough credit.
"Best fans on the planet, because they're not critical - I don't think I've ever seen players booed like in a lot of rinks - and the fans are loud and one thing about L.A. they love a winner," said Carr, who still goes to Kings games and alumni functions.
Celebrities have always made up a large portion of the Kings fan base. Most famously, guys like John Candy and Michael J. Fox and Tom Hanks became regulars at the Great Western Forum after the arrival of Wayne Gretzky in 1987.
In Carr's day, they did not lack for star power in the stands either. It's where he met Eagles founding member Glenn Frey and became good friends. Frey is also responsible for introducing him to his longtime manager Irving Azoff.
But, it was about Carr that Frey wrote the song "New kid in town."
"Glenn used to call me 'Hockey Hollywood,'" said Carr. "I've never really said much about (the song), for the last 25 years, or mentioned to many people. From what I went through, it seemed normal."
He was also there as Frey finished writing "Tequila Sunrise" and helped provide the inspiration for it's title. After a marathon session of writing, Frey broke out a bottle of tequila around 4 a.m. while trying to figure out the ending and the title. "All I remember, the sun's starting to come up, we had maybe a couple too many tequilas, and he has a tequila in his hand and looks at it and goes 'Wow, what a tequila sunrise this is,'" said Carr.
For him, it was normal. It was the scene in L.A. then and now, he didn't think twice about hanging out with some of the biggest stars in the entertainment industry. "It was a fantasy land to someone on the outside looking in, but to me it was just normal, and my friends," said Carr. Injuries eventually did get the best of him, and he hung up the blades for good in 1979.
After a year of recuperating, Azoff got him in at Amblin productions, fronted by Steven Spielberg, as a teamster. He eventually worked his way up to being a transportation coordinator for Universal Studios - setting budgets and arranging transportation for productions - where he worked until he retired at age 53.
"I had two jobs my whole life, and I totally loved them both," he said. With his acceptance comes great regret that he will not be able to hop in his pickup truck and make the drive up from the L.A. suburbs, due to medical issues, as he was originally planning on. He still plans to make it up in a couple of months when he is well enough to travel, and promises to bring a few extra items for the display case.
"My biggest disappointment I've ever had is not being there this weekend to honour the people who worked hard for it," said Carr.
"I also am disappointed that the other three inductees, that I'm not there to shake their hand. "We all had different agendas, and our agenda was to looking to the bigger picture, to the future and where we were going."
Carr's induction is a little extra special for Nanaimo Museum general manager Debbie Trueman, who grew up watching Carr play for the Flin Flon Bombers of the Western Hockey League. He was on a star-studded roster with the likes of Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach all who turned pro after just a couple of years.
But Carr always jumped out at Trueman. "You noticed him, which was difficult, because he was playing at the sametime as Clarke and Leach and lots of big names, it was a really good team," she said.
"There was more than one star, and he was one of them." Reid, 42, was born and raised in Nanaimo and started playing field hockey in Grade 8, within two years she was making provincial. She helped the University of Victoria to three national championships and then played for the national team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Margaret Fuller skipped her rink of third Pat Good, second Sylvia Koster and lead Edna Quinney to the 1957 Women's Western Canadian Championships, the tournament later transitioned into being the national championship. They finished with a record of 7-1, losing only to runner-up Manitoba. Varro was one of the most respected boxing coaches the Island has seen, starting coaching in 1970 and worked with thousands of boxers over the next three decades, and has been recognized previously by the city, the B.C. Amateur Boxing Association, the Canadian Amateur Boxing Association and USA Amateur Boxing Inc.
Standing in for Carr on Saturday will be lifelong friend Jim Robertson, who he says is largely responsible for both his and his father's induction. "There's not many people who you will meet in your life time who are like that, who are givers with no strings attached and nothing in return, just damn good people," said Carr. JAldrich@nanaimodailynews.com 250-729-4243
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