The Enigma of Gunner Garrett




Every Saginaw Gears game had one person who was always in attendance. To most fans he was either an easily overlooked fixture or just "Gunner" the trainer. To those who were on the inner circles of hockey in the tri cities he was Gunner, the guy who held more hockey savvy in his hip pocket than most of us could ever hope to have.

When I say "hockey savvy" I do not mean juggling of lines or scouting talent. I mean knowing more tricks of the trade than most of us can imagine. A good example being the day that I took a hard shot square in the skate blade. It hit so hard I thought that my foot was gonna come off. In the process it bent my skate blade just enough to make the skate useless. My dad took a look at it and said, "Let's go see Gunner." Shortly we were in the Gears locker room and the domain of Gunner Garrett. Dad told him what had happened. Gunner held the skate up in front of him and took a laser-like glance down the blade. Without a word he went to his sharpening bench, took too pucks and sandwiched the blade between the flat sides of the pucks. Then he picked up a big ballpeen hammer and "BANG!" whacked the top puck. Then he gave the blade another one-eyed glance and handed it to me. "There ya' go son," Gunner croaked, "good as new." And it was- I skated on that blade for another three years.

Gunner became known as a hockey jack-of-all-trades. His eye for an illegal stick will never be matched. Whenever he told Don Perry that the opposing team had a player in with an illegal stick, Perry could count on him being correct. Often that led to a powerplay situation being evened up. Gunner also always kept the Gears sticks at the ready. If a player broke a stick, Gunner normally had a new stick for that player at the ready before the pieces of the old stick came to rest. In another case, a Civic Center employee, (the commissary manager) had bumped his head at home and took several stitches. He happened to mention, within earshot of Gunner, that he had to take some time off to go to the doctor and have the stitches taken out. Gunner just told him "Come on down to the room- I'll take those f#%kin' stitches out." Instead of wasting an afternoon going to the doctor, the employee spent five minutes in the Gears locker room with Gunner.

A keen savvy for the sport also was reflected in the way that Gunner worked with my dad in the conditioning of the ice. He knew what the opposing team had been doing and if they were at the end of a long road series, he would conspire with dad to have the ice "slow" for the first period, then fast in the later periods. That way the opposing team would wear-down their "legs" early on and the fresh Gears would have an advantage in the later periods.

Although Gunner always wanted you to think that the Gears dressing room was the world and he was God, he was not immune from some of the pranks. A good example being the story, told to me many years ago. One afternoon, long after a morning practice, several players came in from Larry's lounge. They went into the dressing room and found Gunner taking a shower- unaware that anyone else was there. They rushed into the shower, grabbed the soapy, slippery, naked trainer, took him out and "slid his ass out across the ice." Then they closed the rink door and locked him out there. In those days the rink doors did not allow you to open them from out on the ice. Gunner stood there pounding on the glass and shouting colorful words as the players just waved and walked out the back door of the arena laughing their asses off. There was no one else in the building except a couple of the guys from the labor crew. Gunner finally climbed out by the benches and returned to his domain- swearing and grumbling all the way.

He had started his career in professional hockey back in 1961 as a back-up goal tender and trainer for the Johnstown Jets of the EHL. But he spent most of his career in the stitches leagues doing the same job for the New Haven Blades. There he and Don Perry worked together. In 1972, Perry hired him to be the trainer for the Gears. Gunner did, however, play a number of games as the back-up goalie for the Gears. Goaltending- clearly to most fans- did not appear to be Gunner's greatest talent. Behind the bench and in the room was where Gunner has always been a true wizard.

Gunner remained with the Gears until about the time when Don Perry left. Unlike players, no real "official" records are kept as to the comings and goings of trainers. So it was that we all lost track of Gunner after he left Saginaw. I did, however, have a chance encounter with him about a decade after he left Saginaw. I had tuned in an NHL game and standing behind the Toronto bench, looking like he always did, was none other than Gunner Garrett. Gunner spent nearly two decades in the NHL as a trainer working for Toronto and Ottawa.

As of this writing (March 18, 2011) Gunner is still in hockey and just as grumpy as ever. He is currently working as the trainer for the CHL's Amarillo Bulls. He's been in Texas since 1999 and his talent has not been overlooked. In a 2009 piece written by Dave Henry for the Amarillo Globe-News ( http://amarillo.com/stories/010909/loc_12245300.shtml )"The CHL has the Gunner Garrett Equipment Manager of the Year Award, given annually to the top equipment manager in the league. There's also a huge banner hanging in the tunnel outside the Gorillas' locker room honoring Garrett's nearly 10 years with the Austin Ice Bats."

A true staple of the soul of old-time hockey, Gunner just seems to keep going and going. From the EHL, to the IHL, to the NHL and then to the CHL Gunner has conducted his wizardry. He is not one of a million, rather he is one in a million. He is all about hockey, and hockey is all about him- even the grumpy part. I recall being at Wendler Arena one morning when Gear's player Jimmy Johnston was just coming back off of an injury. Gunner had him out on the ice skating lightening bolts all alone. Gunner stood in the door to the ice with a whistle and kept pushing and pushing Johnston on- one drill after another. My mom happened to be there and as we walked past Gunner, she said something like "Why don't ya' give the poor guy a break?" Gunner, talking out of the side of his mouth like he always does, simply replied, "Honey, I get paid to be a cock."

7 comments:

Tom Miller said...

I was a stickboy for the Port Huron Flags in the mid-70's and was responsible for helping the opposing teams when necessary. Gunner got me the first time I helped the Gears when he told me to "go get a stick stretcher and a bucket of steam" from the Flags locker room. If I stood around too long in the locker room his best line was, "son, your hands are doing me no good in my pockets"!!! Tom Miller ex-Port Huron Rink Rat

Anonymous said...

My Father did laundry, and I was one of 2 stickboys for Gunner when he was with the "St. Catharines Saints" (farm team of the Maple Leafs). Gunner drank a lot of coffee, he knew everybody, and always had a roll of $1 bills with 1 $50 bill wrapped around them. He would ask somebody to go get a dozen donuts, and show the $50 bill...Usually people did not want him to have to break it, so they would pay - LOL. I am very grateful for that experience (of being a stickboy), and will never forget it!!!!

Anonymous said...

Does any one know if Gunner is still alive & where is he now?

Wes Oleszewski said...

As of the last time I check, Gunner was still alive and grumpy.

Anonymous said...

Where is Gunner today? Does anyone know?

Anonymous said...

Gunner is my dad he is alive and very well living in austin texas. This weekend he is in saginaw as thr '76 gears are being inducted to the sports hall of fame

John Deleone said...

Gunner was a good friend of my dads when Gunner was with the New Haven Blades. Gunner even flew from Canada to CT to attend my dads funeral when he passed away in 1989. Please tell Gunner that Joe Dills oldest son John said hello..
Gunner is one of those guys that once you meet him , you will never forget him.