Perry Pappas: The Toughest Guy In Here, Part 3
When talking to Perry about these two years of transitioning to the tough levels of junior C and B hockey, there is one distinct moment he can recall and point to that changed the game for him and put him directly on the road to his ultimate hockey dream.
“One scrap in particular I will never forget. It was in Sarnia mid-season and we had a bench clearing brawl. I fought this guy named Maurice Guy, and he was supposed to be one of Sarnia’s tough guys. I was pretty scared. We just happened to be beside each other when it started so that was why I fought him. It was a good back and forth at the start, a really good go and then I landed a couple of good shots and he went down, and he was basically just knocked out. It turned out to look like a pretty good beating. It was my best good fight thus far and after that I started thinking that I could handle myself pretty well. My confidence grew. From that point, I really wanted to be the toughest guy in here, so to speak.”
The fight did a lot more than just boost Pappas’ confidence. It got him noticed by Ontario Hockey League teams and he received a very important phone call in the week after the fight.
“Right after the game, the next week I got a call from agent Pat Morris from Newport Sports and he has been my agent ever since. After that fight I did kinda play that card a bit and I wanted to learn about that aspect of the game because I thought it would help me get drafted higher.
I also started really working extra hard on my skating because that was what I needed to work on most. I was ranked in the fourth or fifth round going in to the midget draft and then right before the draft, the Soo came to my house in Chatham and I got to meet Sherry Bassin. They kinda indicated that they would take me”
Sherry Bassin is a long time executive in major junior hockey. He has recruited a lot of aspiring young hockey players in his years in junior hockey and has been a coach, general manager and an owner in the Ontario Hockey League.
At the time, he was the General Manager for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. I was able to speak to Sherry Bassin for this story, and I asked him what caught his eye with Pappas;
“The fact that he stood up for his team and he was very loyal to his team. He was a leader. You could see that people all around Chatham respected him as a person. Really high character person. He came from a very loving family, successful family and I remember I think his uncle had a nice restaurant there as well.
The draft was held in Kitchener and Perry attended it with his fellow draft eligible Micmacs. Sault Ste Marie drafted Pappas in the third round of the 1990 OHL Midget Draft and he was one of an incredible seven players that were drafted from that 1989-90 championship team.
Perry prepared for his first OHL camp with a ramped up work out program and a renewed focus on his skating. He made the team out of camp but realized that it was the start of the work to come;
“At the time the first three or four picks usually make the team. I kinda knew that based on history that I had a good shot. I didn’t do anything major in that camp.
The worst thing about my attitude and the way I was at first was that I idolized the players too much. I was infatuated with being one of those guys. First regular season game I was like ‘Oh My God, I’m here.’ It was a great adventure for me. I was ready to leave Chatham and I wanted it so badly. I could start to taste it, so hockey consumed me.
In terms of skill, no I wasn’t right there in every or any aspect of my game yet. Compared to the top guys, even my shot was not that good when I first got there. I had a lot of improving to do and I just worked every day.”
“His work ethic and character were really second to none. He was positive no matter how much he played. In all my years of being involved, my memory of him in that regard is significant.”
THREE MEMORIAL CUP FINALS
It is here that Perry’s story becomes very unique. In his three seasons in the Soo between 1990 and 1993, the Greyhounds won two Ontario Hockey League championships and went to three consecutive Memorial Cup tournaments.
“The first one was in ’91 in Quebec City. I played one game out of three. We got smoked and lost all three games. That was probably our most star-studded and most talented team too with guys like Adam Foote and Denny Lambert, guys like that.
The second one in 92, it was in Seattle and we lost in the finals 5-4 with 14.6 seconds left. I will never forget that. I played pretty regularly in that one. played well but didn’t score. I was the assistant captain that year so I got a lot of ice time”
I remember watching that tournament on television and Perry was a very strong player. I was heart-broken for him when I watched Kamloops’ star Scott Niedermayer score so late.
Incredibly, the Soo returned to the Memorial Cup the following year by winning a series against Peterborough to determine the host city. Three Memorial Cup tournaments in three years says that you are a winner, and soon, Pappas would be a champion again.
“In ’93 we won a super series to host and so the Cup tournament was in the Soo. We lost to Peterborough that year in the OHL finals, but then we beat the Petes 4-2 in the final game to win the Memorial Cup. They were a huge rival. They had Chris Pronger and Dale MacTavish. It was incredible to win and then to do it in the Soo, that was just really special.
That third Memorial Cup was a big play on Pappas’ future. He scored two goals in the second game against WHL champion Swift Current, earning third star honors in the process.
“I got a lot of attention based on that game and was told that I was likely going to get drafted. There seemed to be some interest from a few NHL teams. I had heard all this from Pat Morris. It was very exciting, seems like you are one step closer to your goal and your dream. So it was a very exciting time.”
Sherry Bassin remembers;
“His leadership was everywhere on our Memorial Cup teams. He was right there in the middle of it every step of the way. He was a significant contributor to those teams because hard work and loyalty was in his DNA right from the beginning.”
I used to ask all the guys, do I like who I am when I am around you? I always liked who I was around Perry. He would bring the best out of you just by his example.”
From four seasons between 1989-1990 to 1992-93, including his time with the Micmacs, Pappas won four consecutive major ice hockey championships.
BOSTON BRUINS CAMP
Pappas didn’t get drafted but the Boston Bruins had already contacted him and invited him to training camp in the fall of 1993.
In Boston, he got to play with Cam Neely and Adam Oates. They were the biggest names.
“I asked Cam Neely for a stick and he said sure no problem. laughing There was no mini-camp. There wasn’t much testing, the testing was minor, not like today. The training camp was a week and a half and then you start playing exhibition games but I got released before any exhibition games.”
Perry attended Bruins camp with Ridgetown native Brian Secord and they both got released the same day.
“I didn’t set the world on fire in Boston. They sent me to Providence but if I would have been lucky enough to be offered a contract and had I signed it, my free education from the Soo would have been voided.”
George also remembers that time;
“I remember Perry was lucky because local friend Doug Johnston had gone to school with the Providence coach at the time and so he had spoken to the coach about Perry’s situation with his education. He took care of Perry. The coach was real straight with Perry.”
“The coach told me just go to school and work hard and you will be better and stronger if you want to try again then. I didn’t want to lose my education from the Soo. I decided to not go to Providence and I went straight to Western for the next three years.”
It was off to Western University and OUAA hockey for the next three seasons. Big surprise, Pappas won the OUAA title in his third year.
“It is much better than the attention it gets. It is not really a desired league for guys to go but it is a great developmental league and we had a great team there as well. We had a lot of good players and it was a good time.”
After winning the title and graduating from Western, Perry got a call to try out for Team Canada in a non-Olympic year but wasn’t so sure it was in the cards for him anymore.
“I was just kinda not really too sure I could make that team and so I didn’t feel like training as hard as I needed to. I was just kind of over hockey at the time.”
By that time in his life, Pappas had added to his support stable with a strong new member and that stable stepped in to give him a jolt;
“My wife Megan was my girlfriend at the time and she told me I was crazy not to go. So did my dad. They were both really instrumental in motivating me but mostly Megan. She made me realize that I would be sorry if I didn’t go. I worked my tail off to get into shape and went to give it my best shot.”
Speaking of shot , the Pappas howitzer got him another surprising opportunity. During the Western off-season Pappas was contacted by the Canadian National Inline Hockey team and asked if he wanted to play for them.
“It was my shot again that really got me the opportunity. They contacted me and I knew a few guys that played so I went out and joined the team.”
Pappas’ captained Team Canada in the 1995 World Championships.
Back on the ice in summer of 1996 on a tryout with Team Canada, Pappas got invited to go directly to Vancouver for Canucks camp, where he eventually played in his first NHL game. (pre-season)
Part 4 of this 4-part series will be published next weekend.