Hockey and wine are rarely mentioned in the same breath, but last Thursday we saw them come together in a big way. Five hockey legends sat for two hours at the 39th and Cambie Liquor Store, meeting fans and signing posters as well as wine bottles. Yes, wine bottles.
Right to left in order of appearance sat Dennis Hull, Bobby Hull, Charlie Hodge, Marcel Dionne, and Mr Hockey himself, Gordie Howe. They signed posters as well as Peller Estates wine bottles, passing each down the table in assembly-line fashion. Apart from their Red Wings and Canadiens jerseys, the scene looked a bit like bingo night at a nursing home.
This wasn’t the only gig for the guys; the main event would come on Friday at the Vancouver Giants hockey game at Pacific Coliseum when Howe, a part owner of the Giants, would be feted on his 85th birthday.
Nor was this wine signing the fellas only appearance on this day; they had already appeared in a radio show, and after this gig they were off to an event at the River Rock Casino. Can you imagine your 85 year old parents keeping up that kind of activity?
When I arrived, the lines were out the door, and I waited 45 minutes for my hockey fanatic husband Bill to join me. The hovering suits from the Giants and Peller Estates informed me that the line may be cut off early, which added to my anxiety. Howe was my husband’s childhood idol and although he seemed the least accessible of the bunch, Bill couldn’t miss him.
The guys were not signing anything but bottles and posters, so my bringing Bill’s copy of Howe’s 1962 book, Let’s Play Hockey, was a useless endeavor. Photos, I was told, weren’t allowed in the autograph line, to avoid slowing down the works. That detail was lost on a Liquor Store employee who yelled “No pictures” at me as I snapped photos from the sparkling wine department.
When Bill arrived he was among the last of the fans. As he approached Howe, heavily guarded by a handler at the end of the table, he asked Marcel Dionne if he’d be able to shake Howe’s hand.
“I think his hand’s already shaking,” Dionne dryly replied.
Regretfully, Bill was not able to converse with Howe, who appeared reserved to the point of unengaged, probably due to his advancing dementia. At least that’s what we thought until the players were finished.
As the players walked toward the service door, Howe picked up a boxy cardboard display and put it over the head of a store employee, showing he still had his sense of humor.
We went home with two autographed posters as well as a bottle of Cabernet/Merlot signed by five hockey legends, which we will never open.
What a way to sell wine!