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Golden Acres Hockey School: The Giffin’s, Post Camp Games and Gretzky Grief

Golden Acres Hockey School 2.0 is set to go next week and I can’t help but encourage kids from all ages and areas of Ontario to get a spot as soon as they can. The 2.0 version of the hockey day camp was resurrected by Director and former NHL player Todd Warriner last year and offers an elite opportunity for kids to improve themselves in all facets of the game.

I was fortunate enough to attend the original version of the camp when I was a kid and it most certainly made me and many of my friends and teammates better all around hockey players. I attended the camp as a student for a few years in a row before I joined the staff as a junior instructor in 1988. I have many good memories of my time at Golden Acres from both perspectives and I would like to share some of the lasting memories and highlights with you and encourage all to get out and make some memories of your own.

The Giffin Gods

When I joined the camp as a ten-year old student the man running the show was Lyle Giffin. He was the camp director and he was the main face of the camp. His booming voice could be heard throughout the arena during the ice sessions and his no-nonsense approach was extremely helpful to a young player looking for the discipline it takes to work and improve your game. I was scared of Lyle, and it kept me on my best behaviour throughout the week-long camp.

The camp was full of a crew of on-ice instructors from a Blenheim Minor Hockey team that was a few years older than we were and an incredibly good group of players. The group was led by Lyle’s son Lee, who was a young OHL star for the Oshawa Generals and his teammate John Stevens. It also included many of his old Blenheim Minor Hockey teammates such as Randy Drewery, Richard Robert and Shawn Lavoy. The Giffin’s were like Gods to me when I attended camp as a student and I was amazed at how well run and well-rounded each day went.

Two fellow students who were very memorable were the Ferraro brothers from Long Island, New York. They were exceptional players at a very young age, and along with Warriner were the best players in camp from what I remember. They both went on to have solid pro careers.

The Instructor Scrimmages

When I was fifteen,  my older brother Dave and I were hired on as junior instructors in the summer of 1988 and this is where I first really met and became friends with 2.0 Director Todd Warriner. I also spent a heck of a lot of time with Chatham native Jason Daudlin and Mike McLaughlin, a defenseman my age from Blenheim who I hit it off with right away. Of course, we worked hard on and off the ice to teach the kids but I always looked forward to the end of the day when all the instructors and junior instructors were split into teams for the end-of-day instructor scrimmage.

Lee Giffin and his buddy Derek King were both cutting their teeth in the NHL and both line-ups were riddled with guys all headed for junior and pro camps. Notables such as Ivan Warriner, Butch Kaebel and his younger brother Carson were there, and future Stanley Cup winner Blake Sloan was also speeding around the Blenheim Arena ice. They were fun and intense scrimmages, and one night some of the boys got invited back to the Giffin’s for dinner after. I remember sitting at the dinner table with my jaw dropped listening to Lee talk about his new teammate in Pittsburgh, Mario Lemieux.

Where Were You When…

One of my biggest memories of being a junior instructor in the summer of ’88 has turned out to be a case of the game “Where Were You When?”

The date was August 9th, 1988 and I will never forget I was in the gymnasium of either Blenheim District High School or the elementary school across from Blenheim Arena doing an off-ice fitness session with our group when someone came in the gym and yelled that Wayne Gretzky had just been traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. I honestly dismissed it and continued training as if it was just another bad joke that the many instructors had been playing on each other all week. Obviously, it wasn’t a joke and the memory lasts to this day.


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