By Jeff Blay
After suffering a heart attack in 2008, former NHL defenseman Jay Wells is back on the ice with Hockey for the Heart, skating to raise awareness for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
More than 10 years after retiring from the NHL, Wells was coaching with the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose.
While running drills in a practice, he began feeling sharp pains in his chest, but proceeded to coach two games over the weekend. Still in pain Monday morning, Wells visited his doctor before leaving with the team for a road game in Rockford, Ill.
“I was sitting in my hotel room the day after the game in Rockford and I got a call back from my doctor in Winnipeg,” he said. “He informed me I had a heart attack and I should get to the hospital; that was when the shock hit me that this was more than just an ache or pain.”
The heart attack was a major eye-opener for the usually healthy athlete.
“As a professional athlete, you think you’re invincible,” he said. “Although it was a minor heart attack, it was still a heart attack and it took me a long time to get over that emotionally.”
To add to the revelation, when Wells and his family moved back to Canada from the United States in 2001, he was required to renew his life insurance policy.
“I had to go through a bunch of medical tests to see whether I qualified as a regular customer or preferred customer, which would make life insurance rates cheaper,” Wells explained. “They came back and told me I exceeded expectations and was the first super-preferred customer in their company’s history, which meant I was still in great shape.”
Because the tests showed his health was more than exceptional, the heart attack came as a bombshell to the now 52-year-old retiree, prompting him to get involved in fundraising.
“The biggest reason I’m so in love with Heart and Stroke is the people who’ve had heart attacks helped me through mine,” he said. “My goal is to do the same for others. The story has to be told that there is life after a heart attack, you just have to take some precautions and medicine and you can do anything.”
Wells connected with Hockey for the Heart coordinator Rob Weir, who began the event in 1995 after seeing his father suffer a massive heart attack on the ice.
“I saw my dad collapse during a shinny game in 1993 and a year or so later I got the first tournament together,” Weir said. “Then we got the Heart and Stroke Foundation involved along with the NHL alumni and now we’ve raised over $1.5 million.
Wells’ leadership qualities root back to his playing career, which began with the Los Angeles Kings shortly after he was drafted 16th overall in 1979.
Known for his physical play, ability to stick up for teammates and stay-at-home qualities, it’s been suggested his nickname was ‘The Hammer’ although Wells insists there’s more to the story.
“I can honestly say I was never called ‘The Hammer’ to my face,” he said. “The true hammer was Dave Schultz, but after I retired, Wayne Gretzky was telling a story about how they used to call me ‘The Hammer’ in Edmonton because I would try to hammer anyone in sight.”
While playing in Los Angeles, Wells competed in the ‘Miracle on Manchester’ game, a nickname given to a playoff game between the Kings and Edmonton Oilers on Apr. 10, 1982. The Kings completed the largest comeback in NHL playoff history, trailing 5-0 and rallying to win the game 6-5 in overtime.
Prior to 1985-86, Wells wasn’t known as an offensive producer, but that season he proved to be instrumental in rekindling the struggling Kings power play. At the time, it consisted of the infamous Triple Crown Line of Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer.
“Pat Quinn was our coach and I remember one game I was fuming that the Triple Crown Line wasn’t producing on the power play, so I stormed into the coach’s office and suggested they put me out,” Wells explained. “They literally burst out laughing, but I was serious and asked them to let me pick four other guys and we would outplay the Triple Crown line.
“Sure enough, the next game against Hartford, Pat put us out on the first power play and I scored. That season, 10 of my 11 goals came on the power play with about 25 power play assists.”
Following his nine-year tenure with the Kings, Wells was traded four times. His most memorable post-Kings season came in 1994 when he won the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers.
“It was a real thrill to be involved with such an unbelievable team in New York,” said Wells, who continues to hunt for a coaching position at the major junior level. “We never lost focus on our goal of making it to the Stanley Cup and winning that final game. And that’s exactly what we did; it was quite the ride.”
For more information how to get involved with Hockey for the Heart, visit www.hockeyfortheheart.com.