Perry Pappas: The Toughest Guy In Here, Part 4
It was off to Vancouver for his second NHL tryout and he fared much better on the west coast.
“Vancouver camp went well. Coach Renney called me in to chat and I thought I was going to be let go and he said to me, ‘Are you ready for a game tomorrow night.’ I said ‘Excuse me’ he says ‘You wanna play tomorrow night?’ I said ‘you don’t have to ask me twice.’”
At twenty-two years old, Perry would play his first game in the NHL in a neutral site, exhibition game against the San Jose Sharks.
“I’ll never forget the game against San Jose because that was my total dream. It was a neutral site game in Portland. We got to fly in the jet and that was a cool thing. You park right on the tarmac and then get on the jet.”
The Canucks at the time were guys like Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure, Alex Mogilny, Dave Babych and Martin Gelinas. We played against Owen Nolan, Tony Granato and Kelly Hrudey robbed me on my only shot in the NHL. He beat me with his pad.
It went well. We played well, we lost 3-1 but it was great. I got to play a regular shift. with Courtnall and Gelinas.”
Perry got to play on the same line with the same Russ Courtnall of the hound line that he had idolized in grade five and six. It was a dream come true.
WHEELING AND BATON ROUGE
The Canucks sent Perry to Syracuse and he played a few games there and then blew his knee out in a game while shifting around a checker. He suffered a complete tear of his ACL ligament.
He rehabbed it a bit in Syracuse and then they sent him to Wheeling where he battled through and finished a difficult six-month rehab. Once 100% cleared, he played a few games in Wheeling before getting traded.
“I got traded to Baton Rouge Louisiana where Pierre McGuire was coaching. He actually wanted me on the team and I thought it would be good hunting and fishing so I went for all the wrong reasons.” he laughed
Baton Rouge was in the St. Louis Blues organization.”
In Baton Rouge, Perry was united with a familiar face as George’s old friend and Perry’s old gym teacher Doug Johnston was around. Doug’s son BJ was a very talented forward for the King Fish. Perry and BJ remain close to this day
When the season was all said and done, Pappas had played 50 games and scored 20 goals in his first professional season in the East Coast Hockey League. He had also fully recovered from his first major injury.
At the start of the 1997 season in Baton Rouge, Perry played a few games and then blew out the same knee again on a very similar play to the first injury. Again a full ACL tear.
“I was done. I was going to retire but I was still pretty young, so I rehabbed it back with hockey still in my mind.”
Perry fully rehabbed his knee again for a second time and got it back to pretty much 100% in the summer of 1998. Then his phone rang.
“My buddy Rich Gallace called and asked if I wanted to go play in England.”
Interested, a story of fate and Perry’s wife Megan pretty much sealed the deal.
Megan called up her uncle, Dr. Mike Sharpe, and told him she might need a job in Europe and asked him to keep his eyes and ears open. A little while later, uncle Mike called back and told Megan that he had a job for her in a little town in England called Slough. In a strange coincidence, he had no idea that Perry’s new team was the Slough Jets.
“It was a crazy coincidence as the doctor’s office where Megan got the job was right across the street from the rink. What are the odds of that.” Perry laughed
Perry played one full season in the eight to ten team British National League. He led his team in scoring and became a league star right away. He won the British National League Player of The Year in 1998-99. Slough won the highly regarded regular season championship and then lost in the playoff finals.
“It was a dream time for Megan and I. A really great experience. Rich was there and I knew a few other players as well.”
Pappas made his mark off the ice and around the community as well, his leadership would pave the way for other players that came to Slough after him.
Toronto born and former pro player Matt Sirman met Perry’s younger brother Tony in University when the two played hockey together in Niagara Falls and he quickly became friends with Perry as well;
“I met Perry through Tony and he was instrumental in helping me extend my hockey career. I was kinda at an odds, not sure what I wanted to do or if I wanted to keep playing hockey or not. Perry mentioned the UK might be the place to be if I wanted to play another couple of years.
He gave me a lot of very good, helpful information, before I even went over there. I decided to go, and he made the connection for me.
It sounds funny, as soon as I got over there, it was like I was a celebrity or something because I knew Perry.” he laughed
It was clear that Pappas had made an impression;
“There weren’t many days that went by that someone didn’t ask me about Perry, or George for that matter, because he had visited Perry. Just the fact that I knew them put me in the good books right away.”
Sirman had a fantastic experience in England and he also passed it forward to a younger player in the future as well. Sirman is retired from hockey, and currently a businessman living in the Toronto region.
Pappas played half of the 1999-2000 season with Slough before the most unfortunate of hat tricks took place in the ice. Pappas tore his ACL for the third and final time.
“That was finally it. I was done.” Pappas said
Perry was finished professional hockey for good. He went back to Oakville, Canada with Megan and in a play that was better than any he had made on the ice, he asked Megan to be his wife. They got married across from Megan’s family cottage on Lake Rousseau, at a beautiful little stone church. Living a beautiful life back with family and working a new career in the finance world, Perry and Megan had their first son Tyson, in 2005.
THE BIGGEST FIGHT OF THEM ALL
March 10th, 2007
George rushed down highway 401 to get to the hospital in Mississauga. He had no idea what was wrong with Perry, but the family had been called and he frantically but coolly thought of the proper way to help his son.
“When I got there, he was just sitting there and his face was purple. He tried to get up and he got sick and basically collapsed.”
Perry fell into a coma that night.
Perry had a cancerous tumour on his brain, and the pressure it was creating was killing him. The hospital had diagnosed this but they had no optimism or answer for Perry and not very much leadership to offer either.
The circumstances, conversations and red tape details that followed while Perry lay there dying are a story not worthy of the Pappas family. George would not get into details and he is not the type to name names but let’s just say that the hospital had no plan or solution for Perry. Time was of the essence and there was very little urgency shown by the hospital staff.
The family desperately made a call to a surgeon friend in London.
George told his friend;
“My son is dying and I have to get him out of here. They have no plan for him here”
With no time to waste, push came to shove and some hospital red tape bs later, Perry was on a helicopter being rushed to London. He was not expected to survive the night.
Perry underwent surgery to have a shunt inserted into his brain to relieve the pressure that the tumour was causing. Medical technical terms aside, it is a small tube that they insert from your brain to drain the fluid through to your abdomen. The procedure is a major surgery in itself with no guarantee of survival.
Like a superman, Perry Pappas survived three separate shunt procedures. He remained in a coma and hooked up to life support for the following month. The doctors told the Pappas’ they already had a miracle on their hands, but they were unsure if Perry would wake up.
The family did what they do best, they came together, at Perry’s side. George, Lea, and Tony all took leaves from work and along with mom Shirley stayed there day and night. They rotated with the watch so that someone would be there when Perry woke up.
Everyday, George would squeeze Perry’s hand for a response, the family waited day after day until one day;
“I squeezed his hand and then there was a little squeeze back. I bent down and I said in his ear, ‘Perry, its dad, can you hear me? It’s dad Perry, can you hear me? All of a sudden he speaks and he says to me struggling, ‘Dad..you have bad breath.’”
A miracle. The man was back with his same ole’ sense of humour.
George turned around to Shirley and they high-fived each other in elation. Perry miraculously opened his eyes. He was alive and awake. Step one complete, but Perry was facing a hard fight with chemotherapy treatment.
Perry has no memory of the time after he lost consciousness in Mississauga, but at this point in the story, you can assume that his approach was not to be doubted.
It took him about a week and a half to actually sit up in bed and the long path of rehabilitating all of his faculties stood directly in front of him.
Perry’s sister Lea currently lives in Barrie with her husband and two children. She works as a human resources manager for a major media company. It is amazing to hear her stories of Perry during this time.
“I remember right away he said to me ‘I’m going to fight this, and I am going to win’. Right after he got sick, he recieved a card from one of his old OHL rivals. Not a teammate, but a rival he used to fight against I guess and it read, Hey Pap, there are no penalties for swinging at this one, get better. I always remembered that.”
Perry’s younger brother Tony was quite the hockey player in his own right and played for the North Bay Centennials and Sarnia Sting in the OHL from 1996 to 1999. He is now a teacher living in Barrie.
I knew that if anyone could beat it, it would be him and honest to God, not once did he cry around anyone. I don’t think I would have handled it as well as he did. He didn’t bark or snap at anyone. He didn’t get down, he stayed positive the whole time. It was an amazing thing to see.”
Tony was set to get married in 2007, right around when Perry got sick. In typical Pappas fashion, they rallied and made it so that Perry could be there as his best man.
“My wife was amazing at that time. We didn’t postpone the date but we had it on the terrace at Princess Margaret Hospital looking out above the skyscrapers on a beautiful day. The hospital was also amazing at hosting about 60 people up there. Perry stood beside me as my best man. I think the wedding was a goal to strive for so it was good.”
Lea has an incredible story that exemplifies Perry’s unique attitude and courage;
“It was quite the opposite of what you would think. He was the one propping our spirits up the whole time.
One day, he had just gotten finished a long session of chemo. He comes back to the room looking exhausted, and proceeds to get up out of bed to go and put a song on the player. I am looking at him shocked and surprised because I knew it was taking all the energy he had to do it. I have this curious look on my face as he puts on an ACDC song and starts playing air guitar around the room. I had to smile and after I did he stops and says, ‘I just needed to see you smile today’.”
“I was aware of his battle and I called him a few times, but I really do regret not being involved more during that time. I talked to him, and he was very positive and strong in his attitude. With Perry, you just knew he had the character to beat his illness.”
“One day he said to me, ‘You know I’m really glad this happened to me and not you or Tony, it would have killed me to see you guys go through this but I’m going to beat it, Don’t worry Lea’.”
Perry was in the hospital from March to August 2007 and after a long, six month battle he was well and strong enough to go home. With a lot of support, he continued to get himself back to full health.
FAMILY LIFE TODAY
Today, the tumour is gone and Perry has rehabilitated himself back to almost 100% health. There are some issues with short term memory and at times his vision, but you will never hear a complaint out of Perry’s mouth.
“Every day is a blessing. I just cherish everyday now. I am lucky to have Megan and the boys and things are really great now. I’m a lucky person. You watch the Leafs last night?”
Pappas now lives in Oakville, Ontario with his wife Megan and three sons Tyson (11), Ashton (7) and Blake (4). He has coached Tyson’s hockey team for four years before taking a break this season and he is just finishing off this year’s backyard rink. Megan is a Senior Director of Oncology and the rock that keeps Perry and the boys grounded.
“I always say good things happen to good people and Perry and his family are the very definition of good people.”
If the story could be any more inspiring, after he recovered, and even though he technically qualifies, Pappas rejected all thoughts and talk of collecting disability.
“The doctors mentioned that to him. They told him to consider it and think about it and he says to me, ‘No dad, I’m not doing that. I’m not disabled I’m perfectly fine.”
No one is going to argue with;
THE TOUGHEST GUY IN HERE
Perry currently works as a Senior Analyst at Aecon Construction.