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.

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