Tales of perfectly folded laundry and jokes of what happened when someone stepped on the crest in the Knight’s locker room were interwoven with accounts of a clear respect for the Ontario Hockey League, during a celebration of life for Don “Branks” Brankley.
More than 500 people were at Budweiser Gardens Tuesday night, as alumni and prominent figures in the hockey community reflected on the former London Knights trainer’s 38-year career, weeks after his death at 69-years-old.
“He got to see us all coming in at a pretty vulnerable age,” said Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, who began his hockey career with the London Knights as a 16-year-old in 1985.
All these years later, Shanahan still remembers the lessons Branks taught him; that realization struck him in the form of an odd sensation he had recently, placing shoes on a change room bench.
“I thought, ‘I’m not allowed to do that, and I don’t know why’. So I reached, and I grabbed them, and I took them off the bench and put them on the floor, and I realized that was from Branks 32 years ago. Branks told me you never put shoes on the bench.”
The sombre and reflective evening was punctuated by laughter, as alumni recalled the man’s quirks and tendencies. Former Knights captain Danny Syvret drew chuckles from the crowd, as he reflected on Branks’ “assume.”
“An ‘assume’ was an open-handed slap on the back of the head to whoever misbehaved or disrespected within the team,” he explained.
“The harder the slap, the more you knew how out of line you were. Although there were some exceptions. As you may have expected… Brandon Prust and Rob Schremp seemed to always be on the receiving end of the strong-handed slap, while other players like Corey Perry only seemed to get a soft baby pat on the back of the head, that wouldn’t even rearrange his hair.”
Such punishment was doled out if anyone dared walk on the Knight’s crest in their locker room, and it wasn’t just common knowledge for the team.
“Everybody knew that you didn’t walk on the Knight’s crest,” said London’s ‘Godfather of Sports,’ Pete James. “There were several times when there were All-Star games or come-togethers, and kids from other teams would come in here and they wouldn’t walk on the crest either.”
While names in the hockey world painted a picture of Brankley’s long career with the London Knights, his sister, Sharon Brazeau, offered insight into his years after retirement, and that he’d even given up coffee in the end.
“Well folks,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
“The waterboy has left the building. But he’s gone to do laundry elsewhere.”