Saturday, November 1, 2008

Wilf Paiement: Points, Pandemonium, and Popularity

Image courtesy of Joe Fletcher

“We didn’t win too many games,” says former Colorado Rockie forward Wilf Paiement. “So the memories weren’t that good,” he adds, laughing.

But Paiement, who will forever lead the woeful Rockies in points (254) and penalty minutes (336), does have a few fond reminiscences of his time in Denver.

A first round draft pick of the Kansas City Scouts before that team moved to Colorado, Wilf remembers how Krazy George could whip up the often meager crowd at McNichols Arena. “He was cool,” Paiement says. “He created atmosphere.”

Krazy George wasn’t the only rabble-rouser in the house.

Paiement recalls an incident with Don “Grapes” Cherry and his English bull terrier, Blue. Wilf and teammate Ron “Chief” Delorme used to arrive for practice about three hours early, so they’d more often than not have the locker room to themselves. Or so they thought. One morning, the two had all but undressed and were about to don their hockey gear when Blue ran, barking, into the room. Paiement says, “This dog was harmless. I had seen him before, who cares. But Delorme, he was afraid of dogs. I mean really afraid of dogs….”

The two grown men leapt, reaching for the nearest coat racks. Grapes heard the commotion and walked from his nearby office to the locker room. Wilf recalls his coach saying, “You two look really good on those coat racks.” Paiement laughs when he thinks of two 210-pound players dangling. “On the ice, we fought whoever, but now we’re afraid of this ten-pound dog?”

Once off the hooks, the players got dressed, practiced, and then returned to the locker room—no sign of the boisterous beast—to dress. In cowboy boots. Paiement says he took to the western way of life, at least looking the part.

He and his teammates often headed for the foothills, to Evergreen, CO, home of the Little Bear Saloon. The bar, which opened in the late 1970s, has a reputation for what the establishment terms “popular pandemonium.”

The tavern is still in business, but Paiement’s popular tenure in Denver was short-lived—like the Rockies organization itself. A fan favorite during his first three seasons with the Rockies, he had played only three months for Cherry (pictured above, with Paiement) before management traded Wilf, with Pat Hickey, to Toronto for Lanny McDonald and Joel Quenneville.

After stints with the Leafs, Nordiques, Rangers, Sabres, and Penguins, Paiement retired in 1988. Thirteen years later, he returned to the Mile High City. “I went to the All-star game in Denver,” he says. “I thought I was going to McNichols Arena.”

He was shocked to learn that Big Mac had, a year earlier, been reduced to rubble.

These days, Paiement, retired and living in the Greater Toronto Area, is still popular on the hockey charity scene. He plays in about fifteen games a year. In these non-checking contests against local companies and organizations, Wilf has skated with former Rockies such as Bobby Attwell and Jack Valiquette. No doubt they’ve swapped a story or two about their playing days in Denver.

The Rockies didn’t win many games, and Paiement won't accrue many points or PIMs; but may his popularity never wane.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Long Live the King of Krazy

An interview with “Krazy George” Henderson
(image courtesy of Krazy George)

“You’re driving me crazy!” the lady answering phones for the Colorado Rockies said, laughing, to “Krazy George” Henderson. “The phones haven’t stopped ringing!”

Krazy George—the drum-banging, raspy-voiced, rabble-rousing professional cheerleader who conducted his Wave experiments in Denver in the late 70s—had tested his talents for the local professional hockey team at McNichols Arena, and the results were in.

Fans who had enjoyed Henderson’s antics during a handful of tryout games called the club—something management had encouraged them to do as part of a radio campaign—with favorable responses. The Rockies hired Henderson for the rest of the season.

Krazy George then went to work…on the likes of tough guy Dave “The Hammer” Schultz.

Henderson remembers that his confrontation with Schultz started this way: “One game, I was doing cheers, and he was arguing and crying.”

So Henderson antagonized the former Broad Street Bully, who also played for the Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Buffalo Sabres, by repeating the refrain, “Crybaby Schultz!” Rockies’ fans joined the jeering George.

This taunting troubled the Hammer. “He smashed his stick on the ice and was screaming and cussing at me,” Henderson says, adding, ““I screamed back at him.”

According to Henderson, Schultz (who did not respond to e-mail to provide additional color commentary) countered, “If I ever see you again. I’m gonna kill you!”

A month later, Schultz was back in town. In the bowels of “Big Mac” before the game would start, Krazy George and the Hammer—neither with their game faces on, walked toward each other.

“Krazy George?” asked Schultz.

“Dave Schultz?” said the defenseless Henderson.

Schultz extended his hand toward Henderson, who followed suit. The two shook hands, and Schultz explained that his on-ice antics were often choreographed: Every time he went ballistic (wink, wink) against an antagonistic crowd, his employers had to pay him additional money.

“I’m gonna do that again tonight,” Schultz promised.

During the game, Henderson hurled insult after insult at his target. “I was having fun, going crazy,” Henderson says.

Schultz cussed and screamed up a storm as he charged toward the Plexiglas, closer to his drum-banging nemesis. The referees pulled Schultz from the barrier and then escorted him toward, presumably, the sin bin.

But before Schultz skated away, he winked at Henderson.

Henderson also impressed Canadien Serge “Le Sénateur” Savard, the Habs’ captain who would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986. After one game, Savard relayed his team’s sentiments to the Rockies’ ringleader.

Henderson and Savard were in the tunnel leading to the visitors’ dressing room. Krazy George remembers, “All at once—and I’m about a foot from the wall—he takes his stick and crosschecks me against the wall.”

Savard then said, “You have more noise here with 5,000 (fans) than we have in the Stanley Cup playoffs!”

Henderson, who still has that stick, considers Savard’s statement the greatest compliment a professional cheerleader could receive. To this day, former opponents tell him how fun he made those games at Big Mac.

“Ninety-five percent of the players I cheer against love me,” say Henderson.

Find a Rockies’ fan who didn’t love the guy. Besides stirring up support for the home team, Henderson also played goalie in a between-periods exhibition game. He would have preferred to stay in the stands.

“They scored ten goals on me in seven minutes,” George recalls. “Never again. But that’s ten goals against in a whole season. That’s the way I look at it.”

At Big Mac, Henderson’s high-energy hijinks used to whip Rockies’ fans into a frenzy. But away from the arena, Krazy George was also active. He visited many grade schools in Colorado, often dressing up in hockey attire to pump up his young fans. And, as seen in the photo above (courtesy of, he also drummed up support for local charities.

Big Mac was demolished in 1999, but the memories of Henderson’s four years in Rockie Hockey country will live on, as does the King of Krazy himself, who’s still for hire.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Defunct, But Not Dead

The Colorado Rockies, their logo—a three-peaked mountain filled with blue and white bars, centered with a red C filled with gold—on their white jerseys, were my home team. The image of long-haired skaters, many of whom played without a helmet in the late 70s and early 80s, are forever etched in my mind: Randy Pierce making sure he was the last player to leave the ice after the warm-up; Ron “Chief” Delorme shooting an imaginary arrow from his imaginary bow after scoring a goal; Barry “Bubba” Beck pummeling an opponent. The Rockies’ run in Denver’s McNichols Arena was way too short, regardless of their losing record. Yet the bond I have to that team and that six-season stretch has not abated. The connection, bridging my adolescence and adulthood, has endured since the Rockies left Colorado for New Jersey twenty-five years ago. Sure, the Avalanche (who left Quebec for Colorado) might have filled the void for many Colorado hockey fans, but sadness—mixed with the aforementioned affection—linger.

These sentiments set me to thinking about fans in other cities whose hockey clubs, whether they were in the professional or amateur ranks, or in Canada or the United States. What do these fans remember about their home teams?

My thoughts drifted. Harford Whalers…Minnesota North Stars…St. John Flames…Denver Grizzles. I wondered how many teams had folded or re-located.

The preliminary research overwhelmed me. It seemed that for every Boston Bruins (in the National Hockey League since 1924) or the Hershey Bears (in the American Hockey League since 1938), there was an Atlanta Flames (NHL, 1972–80) or Albuquerque Six-Guns (Central Hockey League, 1973–74).

For too many teams, nothing more than a brief mention of their passing can be found.

In other cases, though, fans have maintained sites dedicated to preserving memories of their teams. For example, wistful Winnipeggers have several sites dedicated to their beloved Jets. Fans in Los Angeles might remember the Aeros and Sharks of the World Hockey Association by reading The Rebel League, a fascinating book by Ed Willes. Fans in the American south will learn about defunct teams in John C. Stott’s, Hockey Night in Dixie.

These discoveries whet my appetite because too many other teams I could find next to nothing, only a brief mention of their history or passing. Regardless, I still have more questions than answers. What do fans remember about players and coaches? What do players and coaches remember about fans? What about the music playing in the locker room or in the arena? How did fans, players, and coaches react when they learned they were about fold or move? And the on-ice officials—what are their recollections? What about mascots? If they could talk, what stories might they tell?

When was the last time players or coaches visited the city (or in some cases, cities; a surprising number of players were employed by more than one team that would cease operations) they had played in? What do these players do for work and/or fun now?

I endeavor to find answers—with your help—and suspect that although the teams are defunct, the memories are anything but dead.

Please tell me what you think of the site, what teams you’d like to see listed here or included in the book, and whom you’d like me to interview. And by all means, share your stories with me via e-mail (jimfdwyer AT or post a comment.