Ben Fitzgerald will never forget the day he joined Corner Brook minor hockey back in 1981, or the man whose kind gesture made it all possible: Cliff Greene, a longtime member of the area’s hockey community who died on May 25.
Fitzgerald was 11 years old then and spent a lot of time hanging around the rink. He loved the sport and knew liked to watch his friends play but that actually joining hockey himself was beyond his family’s means.
“I didn’t have access to it,” he told CBC News in a recent interview. “The only way it was going to happen was through an extension of kindness by somebody.”
That kindness came from Greene.
Greene worked with the Corner Brook Minor Hockey Association for more than 40 years and helped hundreds of players fall in love with the sport.
“I believe it was Cliff’s first year on the job and he happened to take notice of this scrawny, poor kid who was always hanging around the rink every day but never playing minor hockey,” said Fitzgerald in a Facebook post following Greene’s death.
One day Greene and well-known Corner Brook Royals senior hockey player, Gilbert Longpre, came up to the youth with a duffel bag. Long before was retiring, and Greene had persuaded him to donate his gear.
Finally, Fitzgerald could get on the ice. The gear was slightly too big but to Fitzgerald it was “glowing golden” with opportunity, he wrote in his Facebook post.
Hockey has been a part of Fitzgerald’s life ever since. Now 51 years old, he continued to play minor hockey and moved on to the senior level. He’s also made a career as a coach and has worked with everyone from kids skating for the first time to retired NHLers. Fitzgerald also runs his own private hockey training camps.
Describing Greene as a humble and quiet man who helped without ever being asked, Fitzgerald hopes he can give back a fraction of what Greene gave to him.
“I’ve been everywhere I could possibly dream of all because of the sport of hockey and a kind act,” he said in a text to CBC News.
Fitzgerald is not the only one who feels this way.
In an organization in which the executive can change every couple of years, Greene was the stalwart. Current president Darren Harivieux said the ripple effect of Greene’s kindness toward so many people over his four decades with the group will last a very long time.
Greene worked with Corner Brook Minor Hockey right up until three weeks before his death. He was 67 years old.