By P.J. Kennedy

Since the initial event in 2009, “Off the Leash Luncheon” has brought outstanding  hockey speakers to Saskatoon to raise money for the University of Saskatchewan Men’s Hockey Team. This year is no exception, as Hall of Fame defenceman Chris Pronger will headline the programme at Prairieland Park, on Thursday, 1 November.

Perhaps best known as a “minute-muncher” defensive mainstay and offensive juggernaut  with Hartford, St. Louis, Edmonton, Anaheim, and Philadelphia in the National Hockey League,  Pronger also represented Canada at the World Junior Championships (1992-93), World Championships (1996-97), World Cup (2004-05) , and the Olympics (1997-97, 2001-02, 2005-06, 2009-10). He was part of gold-medal teams at Worlds (1997) and the Olympics (2002 and 2010) and also won the Stanley Cup in 2007 with Anaheim, making him a member of the exclusive Triple Gold Club.

Born in Dryden, Ontario in 1974, the 6’6’ blueliner played high school hockey in his home town before moving to Stratford to play one year of Junior “B” with the Cullitons. He then suited up two years with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, where he accumulated 32 goals, 107 assists for 139 points in 124 regular season games. He was selected to the OHL’s first All-Star team, captured the League’s  Max Kaminsky Trophy as best defenceman, and was named Best Canadian Hockey League Defenceman and Best Plus/Minus player in all of Canadian junior hockey in 1992-93.

Selected second overall by Hartford in the 1993 NHL draft, Pronger went on to fashion an eighteen season career that featured being named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1993-94, two NHL Plus-Minus Awards (1997-98 and 1999-2000), four All-Star selections (1997-98, 1999-2000, 2003-04, 2006-07), and in 1999-2000 he became the only defenceman other than Bobby Orr to win the  Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player and the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league’s best defenceman in the same year.

His NHL lifetime numbers were outstanding. In 1167 regular season contests he tallied 157 goals, 541 assists for 698 points.  His toughness was shown by the 1590 penalty minutes he accumulated. His all-around game was perhaps best exemplified by his lifetime Plus/Minus numbers which stood at +183 at the time of his forced retirement because of injury.

Before injuries affected his play, he was dominant. In the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons, for example, he played  on average over thirty minutes per game. In reviewing the impact Pronger had on the ice, fellow Hall of Famer Al MacInnis has said: “He would control the pace of the game any time he was on the ice. He would play against the other team’s top line night in, and night out. He played the power play, penalty killing, everything. When he was in his prime, there wasn’t a weakness in his game that you could exploit.”  

Current Leaf’s coach Mike Babcock has referred to the former All-Star defender as: “…a huge presence with a great stick. He could play the game mean and nasty and had an absolute bomb on the power play.’ “I think he’s a model for not cleaning the puck off. He’d get it on his forehand and could move it up the ice as good as anybody.”

The Hall of Fame player and former captain of three different NHL teams (Blues, Ducks, Flyers) was forced out of the game mid-season 2011-12 with post-concussion syndrome.  However he has used his knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm for hockey, initially as a part-time scout with Philadelphia, and then as part of the NHL’s Player Safety Department. In 2017, Chris Pronger took a position as senior advisor to the president of hockey operations with the Florida Panthers.

Attendees at this year’s “Off the Leash Luncheon” will have the opportunity to share with Chris Pronger some of his hockey experiences.  Adding to the event will be Saskatchewan funnyman Kelly Taylor who will serve as master of ceremonies with his special brand of humour.

Everyone is welcome to this special tenth anniversary “Off the Leash Luncheon” for what has become the major fundraiser for the Huskie Men’s Hockey Team.  Doors open at Prairieland Park on Thursday, 1 November 2018 at 11:00 and the programme begins at 11:30. Individual tickets are $125. and “Friends of the Dogs” sponsorship packages which include a full table are $1250. Tickets and sponsorships may be purchased through PICATIC at: http://www.picatic.com/offtheleashluncheon2018. For more information, call Matt at 306-222-7475.