WINNIPEG – The hockey world, his friends and family paid tribute to Don Baizley Wednesday in the only real church the highly respected agent recognized, an NHL arena.
Centre ice at the MTS Centre, the scoreboard above flashing images and tributes, was the place where players like Anders Hedberg said goodbye.
“He was one of a kind,” said Hedberg, one of the first Europeans Baizley lured to North America, first to the World Hockey Association and later to the NHL.
“The kind of person we would like to be and our sons to become.”
Hedberg said Baizley wasn’t really an agent, a sentiment many of his clients echoed as they entered the arena.
They said he was a friend, a mentor and a counsellor.
“I don’t think I would use the name agent, more like a friend or a second dad,” said Winnipeg Jets defenceman Tobias Enstrom, who was 17 or 18 when he first met Baizley.
“He came to see my mom, my dad and my family. . . Ever since, he’s always been around.”
“He was a huge part of my life,” said former Calgary Flames star Theoren Fleury.
“I met Don when I was 18 years old and we’ve maintained a friendship and a relationship for a long time.”
He said Baizley gave him great advice.
“He always made you think about every decision you were about to make. He always gave two sides to the story and, although I didn’t always take his advice, I look back on it and the things that he said always came true.”
Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment which owns the arena and the Winnipeg Jets, said he was happy to provide the facility for the memorial.
“I don’t know if I can put into words what Don meant to the game,” he said.
“I don’t know if there’s any one individual I’ve met in my life who’s had a more meaningful, more profound impact on the modern game of professional hockey.”
He was a well-respected lawyer as well and at one time headed the Law Society of Manitoba, although he often made jokes about his own abilities.
He had a reputation as someone who didn’t care about flashy clothes or cars and his friends and clients all said he preached about one thing only—values.
“You love people and use things, don’t ever get that backwards,” Hedberg said Baizley told him.
The crowd included many hockey media personalities as well and CBC broadcaster Scott Oake was the master of ceremonies for the unusual memorial—at times it seemed part celebrity roast—which was punctuated regularly by applause.
Baizley died about two weeks ago at the age of 71, after a long fight with cancer.
His stature was so high in the hockey world that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman opened the 2013 NHL draft this year with a tribute to Baizley, who had died just days before.
Teemu Selanne, like Enstrom, said Baizley was a second father.
“That’s why it feels so sad because he was a Canadian dad for me. . . It was more than just a working relationship.”
He said when he closes his eyes he can still see Baizley’s smile and remember how positive he was.
“What’s the greatest thing about Don is you don’t find one person who can say something bad about him. That’s what he’s all about.”