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A Night of Thanks

I was sharing a few laughs with Barrie Stafford last week at the gala for Craig Simpson’s Never Say Never Golf Tournament and the conversation ended the way it always does whenever I see the former Edmonton Oilers’ equipment manager. “If there’s anything you need, let me know,” Stafford said.

That pretty much sums up Stafford’s approach to life, whether you’re talking about the three decades he spent doling out equipment and sharpening skates with five Stanley Cup teams in Edmonton, a tenure that landed him in the HHOF in 2012, or the years he spent afterward keeping the Oilers’ Alumni organized. It’s always, without fail, what can I do for you?

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Since Stafford, 63, officially retired this spring, he’s got more time to put into helping various charitable causes around town, like he’s done the past two years helping line-up and organize the alumni for events like Hockey Helps the Homeless, which benefits The Mustard Seed and Jasper Place Wellness Centre. Stafford does all this while battling multiple myeloma, a form of cancer he was diagnosed with in 2011. No matter. Whatever you need, he’s got you covered.

Well, the tables get turned Wednesday when a couple hundred people, including Glen Sather, will show up at Polar Park Brewery for an event dubbed Toast of the Town. They’ll toast and roast Stafford and raise money — he’d never entertain all the fuss if that wasn’t the case — as a companion event to the 31st annual Glenn Anderson Day of Golf with the Cure Cancer Foundation for the Cross Cancer Institute.

This year, funds raised are going toward research for a cure for multiple myeloma. The event doubles as a deserved tip of the cap to one of the truly good people in the hockey world. It’s sold right out. The Cure Cancer Foundation is hoping to make the Toast of the Town event an annual lead-in to the Day of Golf. Guests Wednesday include co-host Grant Fuhr, Sather, Anderson, Simpson, Marty McSorley, Jason Strudwick, Ken Lowe and Sparky Kulchisky to name just eight.

“I’M VERY LUCKY”

For those not that familiar with Stafford, David Staples of the Edmonton Journal did a terrific series about him back in 2012. You can read that here. Stafford, who played with the Alberta Golden Bears and was a national champion as a player with them before joining the Oilers, made a career out of one of the NHL’s toughest gigs — working as a member of the support staff that keeps the team going. “All in a day’s work,” Stafford used to say, no matter how long his work day was. A seeker of the spotlight Stafford has never been.

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It goes without saying that Stafford is all-in with anything that helps raise funds for the Cross Cancer Institute as this night in his honour and the golf tournament, which has raised $15 million in the previous 30 years, will. That said, Stafford’s willingness to get involved, to do whatever it takes to help, goes well beyond this very personal cause.

“I’m the sacrificial lamb,” jokes Stafford. “I’m representing the Cure Cancer Foundation. Having multiple myeloma, I guess I’m the face of this first event. It is kind of weird because I’m a behind-the-scenes guy. I like it that way. I think it’s just in the nature of trainers generally, but I’ll take the roasting on this one. I’ve got a passion for the cause and a vested interest. We have a chance to make a difference. I can’t not do it.”

Stafford underwent a stem cell transplant in 2011 and still undergoes chemotherapy. While there have been significant improvements in treatment since he was diagnosed, there’s still work to do to come up with a cure. “I’m very lucky. I can live a life without pain, without some of the heartache and sorrow that comes with cancer,” he says.

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“I can enjoy my life and appreciate the more important things in life. I faced my mortality eyeball-to-eyeball. There was a times there, in 2011, I didn’t know if I was getting out of the hospital alive . . . that’s why I say I’m lucky. Now that I’m retired from the team, I’m able to help people.

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“The Cure Cancer Foundation is a new foundation that prides itself in keeping the administrative costs down so all the proceeds go the Cross Cancer Institute. I know we’re knocking on the door for a cure. I know what we’re doing, everybody, this whole committee, is actually saving lives. Remember, what you do today saves lives tomorrow.”

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

It really is remarkable how much important, charitable work is being done behind the scenes by Stafford and the Oilers’ alumni. I’ve seen it first-hand with HHTH and the work put in by Stafford and Ron and Linda Low to make it the success it has become.

Whether you’re talking about the big names from the glory days of those five Stanley Cups, those leading up to the first parade like Al Hamilton and Doug Hicks, or players from the post-Cup era like Strudwick, Ryan Smyth, Louie DeBrusk and Fernando Pisani, to name a few, Oilers of every generation are making a difference.

“There’s so many things so many of our guys do behind the scenes.” Stafford said. “I’m just one of them. I’d appreciate it if you make sure to say that.”

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Consider it done.

BATTER UP

The Cure Cancer Foundation is also involved in the World’s Longest Events – the hockey and baseball games that Dr. Brent Saik has organized and that have raised almost $5 million for the Cross Cancer Institute since 2003. The latest edition is coming up on Aug. 22-25. You can find out more about the game and how to get involved or donate here.

Previously by Robin Brownlee