“It took 40 years, but they invited us back to Russia,” Pat Stapleton once told Global News as he regaled some of the stories of the 1972 Summit Series.
“We had lunch at Vladimir Putin’s house,” Stapleton said in the same friendly way he said everything. The same way he would have mentioned that he had eaten lunch with a friend of his on any day of the week.
But that was Pat Stapleton. As down-to-earth and as kind-hearted as anyone you could ever meet.
And yet, his life was filled with moments like that. Cherished moments. Ultimate moments.
He passed away at the age of 79 on Wednesday, April 8.
READ MORE: 72 Summit Series team touring across Canada
Stapleton’s life story reads like a movie script with six or seven sequels.
He won the Memorial Cup, he played ten seasons in the National Hockey League and five more in the WHA and he was a part of Team Canada in both the 1972 Summit Series and the 1974 Summit Series.
Stapleton was also the owner of the puck that Paul Henderson put past Vladislav Tretiak with 34 seconds remaining in the third period of the deciding eighth game.
For years Stapleton kept the fact that he had the puck a secret, but as time passed he started to admit it when he was asked in interviews.
If you go back to the video of the celebration on the ice in the Soviet Union on Sept. 28, 1972, you can actually see Stapleton picking up the puck. He could have admitted right away that he had it, but instead he had a lot of fun with the story for years.
Stapleton went quickly from playing to coaching.
He was listed as a player-coach for the 1974 Summit Series and for the end of his playing career with the Chicago Cougars and the Indianapolis Racers.
Stapleton took over as head coach of the Racers when a young 17-year-old named Wayne Gretzky joined the team in 1978-79. Stapleton was Gretzky’s first professional coach. Just more lore in his incredible life.
Stapleton was inducted into the Canada Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 as a member of Team Canada. He was also inducted into the inaugural class of the World Hockey Association Hall of Fame in 2010.
It’s easy to find the famed moments in Pat Stapleton’s life because there were so many.
All kinds of other moments came in and around Strathroy and Southwestern Ontario in arenas and places where he was known as a coach and a mentor and a community leader. Those moments were not as well documented but they were so much of what made Stapleton a person whose strength, wisdom and personality will now live on in everyone whose life he touched.