THE TOUGHEST GUY IN HERE

A 519 Feature Story By: Dwight Wakabayashi

On the morning of March 10th, 2007 Perry woke up for work feeling a bit off. A slight headache clouded his head as he prepared to go about his day. Of course, he had had a headache before, but this felt a bit different. He drove to work. By noon, it had worsened to a splitting headache. Perry decided to go back home for the day. After driving home, his vision started to blur so his wife Megan rushed him to the closest hospital. By five o’clock that same evening, the pain had become unbearable and he felt like his brain was going to explode inside his head. The excruciating pain is the last thing that Perry remembers.

The Foundation Years

1982

The kids sat in the dressing room looking around at each other with nervous anticipation. There’s Ed Novacco, Darren Koole and Perry Pappas from grade two class at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School. On the other side is Dave Vellinga, Jamie Suitor and Jason Vandernaalt from Indian Creek and McNaughton Public School. It was the first big travel hockey tournament game and the kids were scared and anxious, hoping they would play well and win.

Just then Darren’s dad and team coach, Cor Koole (RIP) walked in the room and began to prepare the guys to go out on the ice. Coach Koole (RIP) said a lot of things in that moment but the key words that he emphasized were “fun” and “discipline” and he said it loud and clear. The pregame speech had finished and a nervous silence sat in the air when a big, burly, friendly faced man stepped forward to the center of the room and strongly said with a smile;

 

“Who’s The Toughest Guy in Here?”

Every single guy in the room burst out yelling “ME! ME! I AM! ME!” and the energy in the room spread amongst the group like a domino line of bravado and strength. The players all started yelling, screaming, laughing and seventeen boys became one team with one goal, to WIN.

The man behind the question was Perry Pappas’ dad, George Pappas, the team manager.

After 30 some years since that memory and over 20 since living down the street from each other, I reminisced with George and Perry on the question that would get the young team dialed in before our games;

“I just loved being a part of that team. It’s such great memories thinking of that time. I knew I wasn’t a technical coach or wasn’t a player myself, but I really wanted to motivate and try to get the best out of the guys in any way I could” George recalled when I spoke with him over the holidays.

“I totally remember that. It fired me up for sure. My Dad has been a dream father. My best friend, confidant, he was my go to guy my whole life so anytime he said anything I listened and sucked it up. It fired me up for sure.” Perry added.

Mr. Pappas would become such an integral part of the pregame preparation for the boys throughout minor hockey in Chatham. His question before every big game became the rallying cry for overcoming adversity, developing a mental toughness, and competing with each other within a tight team atmosphere. The ’73 born Chatham team won more than they lost in ten years together, and Mr. Pappas set the foundation for that success.

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Perry Pappas – far right

 

The group was certainly a skilled team, but the skill was combined with toughness and a burning desire to compete that ran through every guy on the team. Perry was the tallest and biggest guy with Eddie and defenceman Dave Vellinga close behind. It would be hard to say who the toughest guy on that team was in those early years. The team had guys like Kevin Barnard, Shane McGivern, Paul Tewkesbury, Jamie Suitor, Ryan Reid, Jason Vandernaalt and Darren Koole. They also had a big game goalie in Jeff Fancy, and maybe he was the pound for pound toughest for having to face Perry’s shot in practices every week.

“We had a really good minor hockey team that’s for sure and I really didn’t stand out on that team at all.” Pappas recalled.

There were two things that always stood out about Pappas as a player; his size and his incredibly hard shot. Pappas’ shot was by far the best on that team and he was one of the top goal scorers year after year.

In 1987, the major peewee team celebrated Chatham’s first provincial championship in nine years by winning the OMHA title. Pappas’ team won playoff series’ against Riverside, Stratford, Georgetown and then Pickering in the finals and finished the playoff run with a record of 12-2-1.

The OMHA zone title qualified the team for the All Ontario ‘AA’ tournament in Mississauga where they competed in a round robin against the other three Ontario regional champions. There was Nickel Center from the North, Markham and Toronto Aeros from the central GTA region. They went 2-0-1 in the round robin and qualified straight to the finals where they won  in dramatic fashion. The peewees scored two goals in the final 1:16 of the game to come back and defeat the AA Toronto Aeros 5-4. The win captured the first All-Ontario minor hockey title in Chatham history.

Pappas was front and center the entire playoff run, and was on the ice in the last minute when the championship goal was scored by his cousin, Simon Protopapas.

“I think I was on the ice when Simon scored because I played with him and Paul Tewkesbury. That year was the highlight for sure. Any time you win at the end of the year, you remember it forever” he said

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Perry Pappas center: George Pappas far right.

The team stayed in tact the following season and made it all the way back through three series’ to the OMHA finals, where they lost to the same Pickering team in seven games.

Winning titles would become very familiar to Pappas in the years to come.

The Athlete

Perry and I met when we were like four or five years old. I remember we met on the first day of school and we quickly bonded on all things Toronto Maple Leafs. In the early years, we grew up idolizing Sittler and Vaive and we constantly talked about the Hound Line of Courtnall, Clark and Leeman. The Leafs were going to win the Cup every year we would say.

It was only after a year or two at school that we started travel hockey together and became tight as tight can be. We also lived about a five-minute walk from each other, his house on Pamela Crescent and mine on Cumberland and then Northland Drive. The first thing that stood out about Perry was what an incredible athlete he was.  He was very tall and lanky with huge hands and feet, but he carried and controlled his frame athletically from an early age. Nothing demonstrated this more than the track and field day competition at school. In those years it was the pursuit of “The Medal” that established who the best athlete was in each grade at school. All the results for each event were added together to make an overall champion who took home “The Medal.”

No one could touch Perry. Not only did he win the medal every single year from grade one to grade eight, he won first place in almost every event, in every year. It was pretty much a slam dunk that he would take the title every summer.

“I really remember that well because I was actually pretty proud that I won the medal every year. I also remember one event in grade eight that I came in second. You remember Rob Adie? He beat me in the 100 meter in grade eight and I’ll never forget it because I basically dove over the finish line.” Perry laughed.

I reached out to Rob Adie wondering if he would remember that race as the one time that he could say that he beat the man, Perry Pappas. It was a long time ago, but surely he would be eager to recall and boast about beating Perry in one event. On the contrary;

“Perry was such a nice guy that I honestly thought he threw the race just to throw me a bone. Just the way it happened because he basically tripped and dove at the line and through that race, it just seemed he was letting me keep up because he probably felt bad. I’ve thought that until this very day” Rob laughed.

He didn’t let you win Rob, you beat him fair and square.

In grade eight, Pappas was also instrumental in leading his school, Our Lady of Fatima, to their first city and county championships in basketball and volleyball.

The second thing that stood out about Perry was his family. The Pappas family is the type of family that sets a concrete foundation for a community. They are the type of people who know what support is and they all help each other every step of the way in life. Parents George and Shirley led the way for Perry, his younger sister Lea and younger brother Tony and they all excelled in every aspect of life in and around the Chatham community.

The Pappas family was also surrounded by an extended family of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins that were a huge part of the Chatham community in the 1980’s.

“I don’t make any bones about what my mom and dad did for me growing up. In many ways, Chatham was a dream childhood, and my mom and dad were the best support system a kid could ever have. I always felt lucky to have that support.” Perry said

Every kid that was fortunate enough to call Perry a friend growing up benefitted in some way from being around the Pappas family.

 JR C KINGS

In the fall of 1988, Perry was ready to leave minor hockey behind and start playing with better, older and bigger players. At fourteen years old, he signed to play junior hockey with the Dresden Junior Kings.

“Dresden was a really fun year. We had a young and good team. I had a pretty good year as a 14 or 15 year-old  but I didn’t hear from any OHL teams when I was with them. We did play an exhibition game that year against the Peterborough Petes for some reason, and that was pretty cool. They had Tie Domi and Mike Ricci that I idolized. Don Brooker from Dresden was a scout with the Petes so that was why they played us. They beat us 19-1 and they weren’t even trying and I remember thinking, this is awesome out here with these guys.”

Little did Perry know that in the very near future he would get many more cracks at beating the Petes.

The next season, at fifteen years old, Perry made the jump to Jr B. and the Chatham Micmacs.

THE MICMACS

“I knew I had a good shot to make the Micmacs because Wayne Cowell was my coach in Dresden and he got the assistant job with the Micmacs that summer and invited me to camp. I kinda had a slight inside track because he already knew what I could do.”

Wayne Cowell is a well known, hard nosed and old school coach who is still involved in junior hockey today as the general manager of the Jr. C Blenheim Blades. He has been involved in hockey in Chatham-Kent in various capacities over the last thirty plus years.

He first coached Perry in bantam when he was fourteen years old;

“I liked Perry Pappas as a kid and a player from the minute I met him. There was just an aura or attraction about him you know, big, solid, tough, and that shot. He was also a fierce competitor. He always put the team first. Obviously great parents.

I tell you, still being involved today, I would love to have 21 Perry Pappas’ on our team.” he said.

Cowell does remember there was a key flaw in Pappas’ game;

“His balance wasn’t the best. He would always fall down when he would shoot the puck. I told his dad George it was because he was shooting off the wrong foot.” he laughed.

Cowell worked with Perry on that during his bantam season and Pappas’ shot and game improved immensely before he hit the junior ranks.

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Pappas: bottom right

Including Pappas, seven players with 1973 birthdays moved up from the Junior C Kings to the Junior B Micmacs the following season. It was a very young team for that Jr. B league , and the roster was filled with local star players. The team was so young in fact, the coaching staff was met with some harsh criticism;

“We were rebuilding the team at the time, we wanted young ambitious guys and there were a lot of them. There were people who were upset that we kept so many young guys. We had a star like Brian Wiseman, and some people predicted that we didn’t have enough around him to maximize his game. It was actually referred to as a ‘glorified junior C team'” Cowell said

The Micmacs struggled out of the gate and up until Christmas. The critics were grinning ear to ear but once the calendar rolled to 1990, the team gelled, improved and shot up the standings. They also rode the back of their superstar captain, Brian Wiseman, who set Memorial Arena on fire as he broke Eddie Olcyk’s single season Jr .B scoring record of 142 points. Wiseman finished with 147.

In a surprise that few around expected, the Micmacs marched through the playoffs and ended Chatham’s seventeen year junior hockey title drought by defeating the two-time defending champions, the Sarnia Bees in the finals.

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Perry helps long time friend and teammate Eddie Novacco sip from the championship trophy

Pappas remembers that season well;

“Just being around Brian that year was like a dream and we had guys like Darryl Bossence, Wade Harrogate, Dan Crow, Dave Maine and Todd Warriner was an underage player that year. I was improving throughout the year. I didn’t do anything major offensively that season but I was a solid player and could tell I was developing. I got into a couple of good scraps which I think put me on the radar with a couple of OHL teams.”

The Fight

When talking to Perry about these two years of transitioning to the tough levels of junior C and B hockey, there is one distinct moment he can recall and point to that changed the game for him and put him directly on the road to his ultimate hockey dream.

“One scrap in particular I will never forget. It was in Sarnia mid-season and we had a bench clearing brawl. I fought this guy named Maurice Guy, and he was supposed to be one of Sarnia’s tough guys. I was pretty scared. We just happened to be beside each other when it started so that was why I fought him. It was a good back and forth at the start, a really good go and then I landed a couple of good shots and he went down, and he was basically just knocked out. It turned out to look like a pretty good beating. It was my best good fight thus far and after that I started thinking that I could handle myself pretty well. My confidence grew. From that point, I really wanted to be the toughest guy in here, so to speak.”

The fight did a lot more than just boost Pappas’ confidence. It got him noticed by Ontario Hockey League teams and he received a very important phone call in the week after the fight.

“Right after the game, the next week I got a call from agent Pat Morris from Newport Sports and he has been my agent ever since. After that fight I did kinda play that card a bit and I wanted to learn about that aspect of the game because I thought it would help me get drafted higher.

I also started really working extra hard on my skating because that was what I needed to work on most. I was ranked in the fourth or fifth round going in to the midget draft and then right before the draft, the Soo came to my house in Chatham and I got to meet Sherry Bassin. They kinda indicated that they would take me”

Sherry Bassin is a long time executive in major junior hockey. He has recruited a lot of aspiring young hockey players in his years in junior hockey and has been a coach, general manager and an owner in the Ontario Hockey League.

At the time, he was the General Manager for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. I was able to speak to Sherry Bassin for this story, and I asked him what caught his eye with Pappas;

“The fact that he stood up for his team and he was very loyal to his team. He was a leader. You could see that people all around Chatham respected him as a person. Really high character person. He came from a very loving family, successful family and I remember I think his uncle had a nice restaurant there as well.”

Left to Right: Todd Warriner, Perry Pappas, Eddie Novacco, Ryan Kelly, Aaron Dark Dan Gardiner. kneeling: Dan Tanevski
Drafted in the 1990 Midget Draft: Left to Right: Todd Warriner, Perry Pappas, Eddie Novacco, Ryan Kelly, Aaron Dark, Dan Gardiner kneeling: Dan Tanevski

The draft was held in Kitchener and Perry attended it with his fellow draft eligible Micmacs. Sault Ste Marie drafted Pappas in the third round of the 1990 OHL Midget Draft and he was one of an incredible seven players that were drafted from that 1989-90 championship team.

The Soo

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Pappas shaking hands with coach Ted Nolan

Perry prepared for his first OHL camp with a ramped up work out program and a renewed focus on his skating. He made the team out of camp but realized that it was the start of the work to come;

“At the time the first three or four picks usually make the team. I kinda knew that based on history that I had a good shot. I didn’t do anything major in that camp.

The worst thing about my attitude and the way I was at first was that I idolized the players too much. I was infatuated with being one of those guys. First regular season game I was like ‘Oh My God, I’m here.’ It was a great adventure for me. I was ready to leave Chatham and I wanted it so badly. I could start to taste it, so hockey consumed me.

In terms of skill, no I wasn’t right there in every or any aspect of my game yet. Compared to the top guys, even my shot was not that good when I first got there. I had a lot of improving to do and I just worked every day.”

Sherry Bassin;

“His work ethic and character were really second to none. He was positive no matter how much he played. In all my years of being involved, my memory of him in that regard is significant.”

Three Memorial Cup Finals

It is here that Perry’s story becomes very unique. In his three seasons in the Soo between 1990 and 1993, the Greyhounds won two Ontario Hockey League championships and went to three consecutive Memorial Cup tournaments.

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Pappas remembers;

“The first one was in ’91 in Quebec City. I played one game out of three. We got smoked and lost all three games. That was probably our most star-studded and most talented team too with guys like Adam Foote and Denny Lambert, guys like that.

The second one in 92, it was in Seattle and we lost in the finals 5-4 with 14.6 seconds left. I will never forget that. I played pretty regularly in that one. played well but didn’t score. I was the assistant captain that year so I got a lot of ice time”

I remember watching that tournament on television and Perry was a very strong player. I was heart-broken for him when I watched Kamloops’ star Scott Niedermayer score so late.

Incredibly, the Soo returned to the Memorial Cup the following year by winning a series against Peterborough to determine the host city. Three Memorial Cup tournaments in three years says that you are a winner, and soon, Pappas would be a champion again.

“In ’93 we won a super series to host and so the Cup tournament was in the Soo. We lost to Peterborough that year in the OHL finals, but then we beat the Petes 4-2 in the final game to win the Memorial Cup. They were a huge rival. They had Chris Pronger and Dale MacTavish. It was incredible to win and then to do it in the Soo, that was just really special.”

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Pappas: back row second from left

That third Memorial Cup was a big play on Pappas’ future. He scored two goals in the second game against WHL champion Swift Current, earning third star honors in the process.

“I got a lot of attention based on that game and was told that I was likely going to get drafted. There seemed to be some interest from a few NHL teams. I had heard all this from Pat Morris. It was very exciting, seems like you are one step closer to your goal and your dream. So it was a very exciting time.”

Sherry Bassin remembers;

“His leadership was everywhere on our Memorial Cup teams. He was right there in the middle of it every step of the way. He was a significant contributor to those teams because hard work and loyalty was in his DNA right from the beginning.”

I used to ask all the guys, do I like who I am when I am around you? I always liked who I was around Perry. He would bring the best out of you just by his example.”

From four seasons between 1989-1990 to 1992-93, including his time with the Micmacs, Pappas won four consecutive major ice hockey championships.

Boston Bruins Camp

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Pappas didn’t get drafted but the Boston Bruins had already contacted him and invited him to training camp in the fall of 1993.

In Boston, he got to play with Cam Neely and Adam Oates. They were the biggest names.

“I asked Cam Neely for a stick and he said sure no problem. laughing There was no mini-camp. There wasn’t much testing, the testing was minor, not like today. The training camp was a week and a half and then you start playing exhibition games but I got released before any exhibition games.”

Perry attended Bruins camp with Ridgetown native Brian Secord and they both got released the same day.

“I didn’t set the world on fire in Boston. They sent me to Providence but if I would have been lucky enough to be offered a contract and had I signed it, my free education from the Soo would have been voided.”

George also remembers that time;

“I remember Perry was lucky because local friend Doug Johnston had gone to school with the Providence coach at the time and so he had spoken to the coach about Perry’s situation with his education. He took care of Perry. The coach was real straight with Perry.”

Perry;

“The coach told me just go to school and work hard and you will be better and stronger if you want to try again then. I didn’t want to lose my education from the Soo. I decided to not go to Providence and I went straight to Western for the next three years.”

Western University

It was off to Western University and OUAA hockey for the next three seasons. Big surprise, Pappas won the OUAA title in his third year.

“It is much better than the attention it gets. It is not really a desired league for guys to go but it is a great developmental league and we had a great team there as well. We had a lot of good players and it was a good time.”

After winning the title and graduating from Western, Perry got a call to try out for Team Canada in a non-Olympic year but wasn’t so sure it was in the cards for him anymore.

“I was just kinda not really too sure I could make that team and so I didn’t feel like training as hard as I needed to. I was just kind of over hockey at the time.”

By that time in his life, Pappas had added to his support stable  with a strong new member and that stable stepped in to give him a jolt;

“My wife Megan was my girlfriend at the time and she told me I was crazy not to go. So did my dad. They were both really instrumental in motivating me but mostly Megan. She made me realize that I would be sorry if I didn’t go. I worked my tail off to get into shape and went to give it my best shot.”

Speaking of shot , the Pappas howitzer got him another surprising opportunity. During the Western off-season Pappas was contacted by the Canadian National Inline Hockey team and asked if he wanted to play for them.

“It was my shot again that really got me the opportunity. They contacted me and I knew a few guys that played so I went out and joined the team.”

Pappas’ captained Team Canada in the 1995 World Championships.

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1995 Canadian National Inline Hockey team: Pappas- middle row center. (captain)

Back on the ice in summer of 1996 on a tryout with Team Canada, Pappas got invited to go directly to Vancouver for Canucks camp, where he eventually played in his first NHL game. (pre-season)

The Dream

It was off to Vancouver for his second NHL tryout and he fared much better on the west coast.

“Vancouver camp went well. Coach Renney called me in to chat and I thought I was going to be let go and he said to me, ‘Are you ready for a game tomorrow night.’ I said ‘Excuse me’ he says ‘You wanna play tomorrow night?’ I said ‘you don’t have to ask me twice.'”

At twenty-two years old, Perry would play his first game in the NHL in a neutral site, exhibition game against the San Jose Sharks.

“I’ll never forget the game against San Jose because that was my total dream. It was a neutral site game in Portland. We got to fly in the jet and that was a cool thing. You park right on the tarmac and then get on the jet.”

The Canucks at the time were guys like Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure, Alex Mogilny, Dave Babych and Martin Gelinas. We played against Owen Nolan, Tony Granato and Kelly Hrudey robbed me on my only shot in the NHL. He beat me with his pad.

It went well. We played well, we lost 3-1 but it was great. I got to play a regular shift. with Courtnall and Gelinas.”

Perry got to play on the same line with the same Russ Courtnall of the hound line that he had idolized in grade five and six. It was a dream come true.

Wheeling and Baton Rouge

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ECHL: Wheeling Nailers 1996

The Canucks sent Perry to Syracuse and he played a few games there and then blew his knee out in a game while shifting around a checker. He suffered a complete tear of his ACL ligament.

He rehabbed it a bit in Syracuse and then they sent him to Wheeling where he battled through and finished a difficult six-month rehab. Once 100% cleared, he played a few games in Wheeling before getting traded.

 “I got traded to Baton Rouge Louisiana where Pierre McGuire was coaching. He actually wanted me on the team and I thought it would be good hunting and fishing so I went for all the wrong reasons.” he laughed

Baton Rouge was in the St. Louis Blues organization.”

In Baton Rouge, Perry was united with a familiar face as George’s old friend and Perry’s old gym teacher Doug Johnston was around. Doug’s son BJ was a very talented forward for the King Fish. Perry and BJ remain close to this day

When the season was all said and done, Pappas had played 50 games and scored 20 goals in his first professional season in the East Coast Hockey League. He had also fully recovered from his first major injury.

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ECHL: Baton Rouge King Fish – 1996

At the start of the 1997 season in Baton Rouge, Perry played a few games and then blew out the same knee again on a very similar play to the first injury. Again a full ACL tear.

“I was done. I was going to retire but I was still pretty young, so I rehabbed it back with hockey still in my mind.”

Slough Jets

Perry fully rehabbed  his knee again for a second time and got it back to pretty much 100% in the summer of 1998. Then his phone rang.

“My buddy Rich Gallace called and asked if I wanted to go play in England.”

Interested, a story of fate and Perry’s wife Megan pretty much sealed the deal.

Megan called up her uncle, Dr. Mike Sharpe, and told him she might need a job in Europe and asked him to keep his eyes and ears open. A little while later, uncle Mike called back and told Megan that he had a job for her in a little town in England called Slough. In a strange coincidence, he had no idea that Perry’s new team was the Slough Jets.

“It was a crazy coincidence as the doctor’s office where Megan got the job was right across the street from the rink. What are the odds of that.” Perry laughed

Perry played one full season in the eight to ten team British National League. He led his team in scoring and became a league star right away. He won the British National League Player of The Year in 1998-99. Slough won the highly regarded regular season championship and then lost in the playoff finals.

http://icehockey.wikia.com/wiki/Player_of_the_Year_Trophy_(IHJUK)

“It was a dream time for Megan and I. A really great experience. Rich was there and I knew a few other players as well.”

Pappas made his mark off the ice and around the community as well, his leadership would pave the way for other players that came to Slough after him.

Matt Sirman, a former junior player from Streetsville met Perry’s younger brother Tony in University when the two played hockey together in Niagara Falls and he quickly became friends with Perry as well;

“I met Perry through Tony and he was instrumental in helping me extend my hockey career. I was kinda at an odds, not sure what I wanted to do or if I wanted to keep playing hockey or not. Perry mentioned the UK might be the place to be if I wanted to play another couple of years.

He gave me a lot of very good, helpful information, before I even went over there. I decided to go, and he made the connection for me.

It sounds funny, as soon as I got over there, it was like I was a celebrity or something because I knew Perry.” he laughed

It was clear that Pappas had made an impression;

“There weren’t many days that went by that someone didn’t ask me about Perry, or George for that matter, because he had visited Perry. Just the fact that I knew them put me in the good books right away.”

Like Pappas before him, Sirman lit the lamp for Slough with 70 points in 39 games and had a fantastic experience in England. He also passed it forward to a younger player in the future as well. Sirman is retired from hockey, and currently a businessman living in the Toronto region.

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Pappas played half of the 1999-2000 season with Slough before the most unfortunate of hat tricks took place on the ice. Pappas tore his ACL for the third and final time.

“That was finally it. I was done.” Pappas said

Perry was finished professional hockey for good. He went back to Oakville, Canada with Megan and in a play that was better than any he had made on the ice, he asked Megan to be his wife. They got married across from Megan’s family cottage on Lake Rousseau, at a beautiful little stone church. Living a beautiful life back with family and working a new career in the finance world, Perry and Megan had their first son Tyson, in 2005.

The Biggest Fight Of Them All

March 10th, 2007

George rushed down highway 401 to get to the hospital in Mississauga. He had no idea what was wrong with Perry, but the family had been called and he frantically but coolly thought of the proper way to help his son.

“When I got there, he was just sitting there and his face was purple. He tried to get up and he got sick and basically collapsed.”

Perry fell into a coma that night.

Perry had a cancerous tumour on his brain, and the pressure it was creating was killing him. The hospital had diagnosed this but they had no optimism or answer for Perry and not very much leadership to offer either.

The circumstances, conversations and red tape details that followed while Perry lay there dying are a story not worthy of the Pappas family. George would not get into details and he is not the type to name names but let’s just say that the hospital had no plan or solution for Perry. Time was of the essence and there was very little urgency shown  by the hospital staff.

The family desperately made a call to a surgeon friend in London.

George told his friend;

“My son is dying and I have to get him out of here. They have no plan for him here”

With no time to waste, push came to shove and some hospital red tape bs later, Perry was on a helicopter being rushed to London. He was not expected to survive the night.

Perry underwent surgery to have a shunt inserted into his brain to relieve the pressure that the tumour was causing. Medical technical terms aside, it is a small tube that they insert from your brain to drain the fluid through to your abdomen. The procedure is a major surgery in itself with no guarantee of survival.

Like a superman, Perry Pappas survived three separate shunt procedures. He remained in a coma and hooked up to life support for the following month. The doctors told the Pappas’ they already had a miracle on their hands, but they were unsure if Perry would wake up.

The family did what they do best, they came together, at Perry’s side. George, Lea, and Tony all took leaves from work and along with mom Shirley stayed there day and night. They rotated with the watch so that someone would be there when Perry woke up.

Everyday, George would squeeze Perry’s hand for a response, the family waited day after day until one day;

“I squeezed his hand and then there was a little squeeze back. I bent down and I said in his ear, ‘Perry, its dad, can you hear me? It’s dad Perry, can you hear me? All of a sudden he speaks and he says to me struggling, ‘Dad..you have bad breath.'”

A miracle. The man was back with his same ole’ sense of humour.

George turned around to Shirley and they high-fived each other in elation. Perry miraculously opened his eyes. He was alive and awake. Step one complete, but Perry was facing a hard fight with chemotherapy treatment.

Perry has no memory of the time after he lost consciousness in Mississauga, but at this point in the story, you can assume that his approach was not to be doubted.

It took him about a week and a half to actually sit up in bed and the long path of rehabilitating all of his faculties stood directly in front of him.

Perry’s sister Lea currently lives in Barrie with her husband and two children. She works as a human resources manager for a major media company. It is amazing to hear her stories of Perry during this time.

“I remember right away he said to me ‘I’m going to fight this, and I am going to win’. Right after he got sick, he recieved a card from one of his old OHL rivals. Not a teammate, but a rival he used to fight against I guess and it read, Hey Pap, there are no penalties for swinging at this one, get better. I always remembered that.”

Perry’s younger brother Tony was quite the hockey player in his own right and played for the North Bay Centennials and Sarnia Sting in the OHL from 1996 to 1999. He is now a teacher living in Barrie.

I knew that if anyone could beat it, it would be him and honest to God, not once did he cry around anyone. I don’t think I would have handled it as well as he did. He didn’t bark or snap at anyone. He didn’t get down, he stayed positive the whole time. It was an amazing thing to see.”

Tony was set to get married in 2007, right around when Perry got sick. In typical Pappas fashion, they rallied and made it so that Perry could be there as his best man.

 “My wife was amazing at that time. We didn’t postpone the date but we had it on the terrace at Princess Margaret Hospital looking out above the skyscrapers on a beautiful day. The hospital was also amazing at hosting about 60 people up there. Perry stood beside me as my best man. I think the wedding was a goal to strive for so it was good.”

Lea has an incredible story that exemplifies Perry’s unique attitude and courage;

“It was quite the opposite of what you would think. He was the one propping our spirits up the whole time.

One day, he had just gotten finished a long session of chemo. He comes back to the room looking exhausted, and proceeds to get up out of bed to go and put a song on the player. I am looking at him shocked and surprised because I knew it was taking all the energy he had to do it. I have this curious look on my face as he puts on an ACDC song and starts playing air guitar around the room. I had to smile and after I did he stops and says, ‘I just needed to see you smile today’.”

Sherry Bassin:

“I was aware of his battle and I called him a few times, but I really do regret not being involved more during that time. I talked to him, and he was very positive and strong in his attitude. With Perry, you just knew he had the character to beat his illness.”

 Lea;

“One day he said to me, ‘You know I’m really glad this happened to me and not you or Tony, it would have killed me to see you guys go through this but I’m going to beat it, Don’t worry Lea’.”

Perry was in the hospital from March to August 2007 and after a long, six month battle he was well and strong enough to go home. With a lot of support, he continued to get himself back to full health.

Family Life Today

Today, the tumour is gone and Perry has rehabilitated himself back to almost 100% health. There are some issues with short term memory and at times his vision, but you will never hear a complaint out of Perry’s mouth.

“Every day is a blessing. I just cherish everyday now. I am lucky to have Megan and the boys and things are really great now. I’m a lucky person. You watch the Leafs last night?”

The Pappas Family 2017: Tyson, Megan w Blake, Perry Front: Ashton
The Pappas Family 2017: Tyson, Ashton, Megan w) Blake and Perry

Pappas now lives in Oakville, Ontario with his wife Megan and three sons Tyson (11), Ashton (7) and Blake (4). He coached Tyson’s hockey team for four years before taking a break this season and he is just finishing off this year’s backyard rink. Megan is a Senior Director of Oncology and the rock that keeps Perry and the boys grounded.

Sherry Bassin:

“I always say good things happen to good people and Perry and his family are the very definition of good people.”

If the story could be any more inspiring, after he recovered, and even though he technically qualifies, Pappas rejected all thoughts and talk of collecting disability.

George;

“The doctors mentioned that to him. They told him to consider it and think about it and he says to me, ‘No dad, I’m not doing that. I’m not disabled I’m perfectly fine.”

No one is going to argue with;

THE TOUGHEST GUY IN HERE

Perry currently works as a Senior Analyst at Aecon Construction.

Last year, Perry Pappas was nominated for induction into the Chatham-Kent Sports Hall Of Fame. He didn’t get in on the first nomination but will be up for induction again this year. No one deserves to be in the CKHOF more than this man.

*All quotes are first hand and photos, clippings and links courtesy of the Pappas family.

25 thoughts on “THE TOUGHEST GUY IN HERE

  1. Perry was a huge part of my hockey life growing up in Chatham. I remember summer days at the Mooretown Arena. My dad (Dennis) would book an hour or two of open ice there for my brother and I every couple weeks in the off season. Perry would come out with us on the ice. He would work with us on conditioning, puck skills and most above all, character building.

    Those summers, with his help I think I broke dozens of sticks blasting one-timers in Mooretown Rink 2 (the one with the cement wall on the north side for boards) and perfected picking corners from all parts of the ice. I distinctly remember a few talks with Perry about goal scoring and shooting.

    One particular time, my brother JP and I had been busy trying to beat each other at one on one challenges under Perry’s critique. Perry got out a 100′ piece of yellow rope and tied both ends to the goal posts. He stood us at all different points of the ice around the net, from the side boards at the goal line, up to the hash, across the top of the circles, through the slot and continuing around the entire surface. Perry was in his half gear. His stance wide and deep, yet he was still so tall. A ball cap pulled down tightly, a distinct look of focus and purpose with a whistle dangled from his neck. When he would cross cut his skates would bark like the ice hated how hard he pressed into it. He proceeded point out that we needed to see what the puck is seeing. Just because our eyes didn’t see an opening, didn’t mean the puck couldn’t see an opening. Offering a different perspective of view, this little bit of information changed my way of hockey thinking in big way.

    I could go on and on on, about moments like these. Perry teaching us how to do the “lacrosse puck pick up spin and shoot”, dry land training at the Pappas house in Chatham, and smallmouth bass fishing out our place in Mitchells Bay. It was always exciting when Perry, George and Tony showed up at Bass Haven for the opener of Bass season in late June. I can truly say I owe big part of the person I am today, from having Perry as a role model growing up.

    I was inspired at such a young age by Perry. I remember one year when I was around 11 years old. I was hit late in the season, a cheap shot, low bridge and tore my MCL. I remember being sorry for myself, going to the Fowler Clinic in London, and Woodall physio in Chatham, thinking hockey was over for me. Something Perry did changed my thoughts. Perry would wear his half gear (pants and shin pads) when he came out on the ice with my Brother and I… I think to save his shins from slashes and shots rung around the side boards. I still to this day remember watching Perry putting on his knee brace. How rigid it looked, the metal side pieces and the big side joint. He would do up all the straps, and then tape it up. Then he would pull his shin pad over it, and tape it on also. I thought how in the world it all fit under there and that his kneed pain would be far worse than mine. But it did fit and it wasn’t gonna stop him or slow him down. I knew if he could do it. I could to.

    He definitely is the toughest guy in the room.

    Thank you Perry.

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  2. Great inspirational story – a friend who’s not very computer literate wants to share it with two of her sons and asked me to e-mail a link to this story that she can share. Thanks!

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  3. George and I were work colleagues at the time. I was also very lucky to be considered part of the family as I always introduced George to other people as my big brother. As long as I live, I will never forget the telephone call that I got from George on March 10, 2007. On the telephone, I was hearing the voice of a frantic man, a tremendously loving father, and most of all the strong voice of a “toughest guy” whose resolve was to relentlessly pursue everything humanly possible to save his son’s life. During those dark days that followed, all George’s colleagues rallied around him and offered to do whatever that George and his family needed. George, on his one man mission, sought out and spoke to all the imminent medical experts across North America and left no stone unturned. In my opinion, Perry’s miraculous recovery was attributable to the blessings from above, the devotion of a determined father, the support of a loving family and the skills of the hospital staff. They don’t make them like the Pappas anymore…and certainly not like my dear brother, George. As a cancer survivor myself, I rejoice with Perry and immensely appreciate the daily blessing. With much love and admiration – Daniel

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  4. Dwight, this story almost does Perry justice, thank you so much for reviving some excellent memories. Living directly between the two of you on Cumberland I have many more stories about Perry. I never missed a Kings or MicMacs game and Perry always brought me into the dressing room to get a game stick or puck if the team was in good spirits. He taught me how to fish and hunt safely and of course how to play jokes on people in a most respectful manner. He is truly an inspiration to us all every day and often when I think I’m having a bad day I know it could be much worse and that even those worse days can be survived and learned from. When he recovered fully he really seemed more like Conan than my older cousin.

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  5. Excellent read! I played with Perry in Dresden and pretty much lost contact with him when I went to University. I ran into George a few years back and we had a great chat in Chatham. I was shocked to hear of his illness, but Perry being the person he is prevailed! All the best to everyone!

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  6. WOW! What a great read about a Great Guy and Family. I was fortunate to travel with the Soo Greyhounds as the Molson Sales Rep in Sault Ste Marie to the MC in Quebec, Seattle and of course, The Sault in 1993 when Perry and the Boys won the MC. We had a 15 Year Reunion and it was then, when we were contacting the team that I found out about Perry’s situation. It was awesome to see him and renew our days past. The article says it all about Perry, dedicated to his team, tough, strong and nothing seemed to knock him down. It was great to see him overcome this setback in life and I will always cherish the times when he was a HOUND. Not only that, but George and I and few other Hound Dad’s enjoyed some great days & nights during Perry’s Hound career. Thanks for the Excellent read about a True Fighter for Life
    Remember Perry, ONCE A HOUND, ALWAYS A HOUND!!

    😀 Whitie

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  7. Very well written Dwight. Piqued my interest the whole way – and I never realised how close Perry made it to the show. Was Glad when I heard that both Perry and Barney had won their battles – Two of the toughest guys I ever played against.

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  8. An amazing story. I’m proud to have grown up with the Pappas family and of course Dwight. Winners in all circles, each and every one of them.

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  9. Congratulations Perry .I remember you well but kinda lost touch after we moved to Cambridge So happy to hear you fought the good fight and won. you also have a wonderful family.
    Dwight this was a great story very heartwarming and inspiring

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    1. Excellent story Dwight. The Pappas are a great family. Brought back many fond memories. However, my memories of you go back to your minor baseball days when your dad and I coached you. Keep up the good work!

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