Perry Pappas: The Toughest Guy In Here, Part I
On the morning of March 10th, 2007 Perry woke up for work feeling a bit off. A slight headache clouded his head as he prepared to go about his day. Of course, he had had a headache before, but this felt a bit different. He drove to work. By noon, it had worsened to a splitting headache. Perry decided to go back home for the day. After driving home, his vision started to blur so his wife Megan rushed him to the closest hospital. By five o’clock that same evening, the pain had become unbearable and he felt like his brain was going to explode inside his head. The excruciating pain is the last thing that Perry remembers.
THE FOUNDATION YEARS
The kids sat in the dressing room looking around at each other with nervous anticipation. There’s Ed Novacco, Darren Koole and Perry Pappas from grade two class at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School. On the other side is Dave Vellinga, Jamie Suitor and Jason Vandernaalt from Indian Creek and McNaughton Public School. It was the first big travel hockey tournament game and the kids were scared and anxious, hoping they would play well and win.
Just then Darren’s dad and coach, Cor Koole walked in the room and began to prepare the guys to go out on the ice. Coach Koole said a lot of things in that moment but the key words that he emphasized were “fun” and “discipline” and he said it loud and clear. The pregame speech had finished and a nervous silence sat in the air when a big, burly, friendly faced man stepped forward to the center of the room and strongly said with a smile;
“WHO’S THE TOUGHEST GUY IN HERE?”
Every single guy in the room burst out yelling “ME! ME! I AM! ME!” and the energy in the room spread amongst the group like a domino line of bravado and strength. The players all started yelling, screaming, laughing and seventeen boys became one team with one goal, to WIN.
The man behind the question was Perry Pappas’ dad, George Pappas, the team manager.
After 30 some years since that memory and over 20 since living down the street from each other, I reminisced with George and Perry on the question that would get the young team dialed in before our games;
“I just loved being a part of that team. It’s such great memories thinking of that time. I knew I wasn’t a technical coach or wasn’t a player myself, but I really wanted to motivate and try to get the best out of the guys in any way I could” George recalled when I spoke with him over the holidays.
“I totally remember that. It fired me up for sure. My Dad has been a dream father. My best friend, confidant, he was my go to guy my whole life so anytime he said anything I listened and sucked it up. It fired me up for sure.” Perry added.
Mr. Pappas would become such an integral part of the pregame preparation for the boys throughout minor hockey in Chatham. His question before every big game became the rallying cry for overcoming adversity, developing a mental toughness, and competing with each other within a tight team atmosphere. The ’73 born Chatham team won more than they lost in ten years together, and Mr. Pappas set the foundation for that success.
The 1973 born group was certainly a skilled team, but the skill was combined with toughness and a burning desire to compete that ran through every guy on the team. Perry was the tallest and biggest guy with Eddie and defenceman Dave Vellinga close behind. It would be hard to say who the toughest guy on that team was in those early years. The team had guys like Kevin Barnard, Shane McGivern, Paul Tewkesbury, Jamie Suitor, Ryan Reid, Jason Vandernaalt and Darren Koole. We had a big game goalie in Jeff Fancy, and maybe he was the pound for pound toughest for having to face Perry’s shot in practices every week.
“We had a really good minor hockey team that’s for sure and I really didn’t stand out on that team at all.” Pappas recalled.
There were two things that always stood out about Pappas as a player; his size and his incredibly hard shot. Pappas’ shot was by far the best on that team and he was one of the top goal scorers year after year. The team won many more games than they lost in tournaments and in league play throughout the first four or five years together.
In 1987, the major peewee team celebrated Chatham’s first provincial championship in nine years by winning the OMHA title. Pappas’ team won playoff series’ against Riverside, Stratford, Georgetown and then Pickering in the finals and finished the playoff run with a record of 12-2-1.
The OMHA zone title qualified the team for the All Ontario ‘AA’ tournament in Mississauga where they competed in a round robin against the other three Ontario regional champions. There was Nickel Center from the North, Markham and Toronto Aeros from the central GTA region. They went 2-0-1 in the round robin and qualified straight to the finals where they won in dramatic fashion. The peewees scored two goals in the final 1:16 of the game to come back and defeat the AA Toronto Aeros 5-4. The win captured the first All-Ontario minor hockey title in Chatham history.
Pappas was front and center the entire playoff run, and was on the ice in the last minute when the championship goal was scored by his cousin, Simon Protopapas.
“I think I was on the ice when Simon scored because I played with him and Paul Tewkesbury. That year was the highlight for sure. Any time you win at the end of the year, you remember it forever” he said.
The team stayed in tact the following season and made it all the way back through three series’ to the OMHA finals, where they lost to the same Pickering team in seven games.
Winning titles would become very familiar to Pappas in the years to come.
Part 2 of this 4-part series will be published next week.