What would you do or say, if you came face-to-face with a famous person? A REALLY famous person?
Hope Minor Hockey’s only player — so far — to make it to the NHL, Jeff Hoggan, was a rookie in the American Hockey League, when he first met one of hockey’s most historic figures.
It was the late Gordie Howe, visiting Hoggan’s Houston Aeros in the 2002 playoffs.
So, how did this newbie from Hope address “Mr. Hockey”?
The rookie’s regret might have hit the floor before the words arrived at Howe’s ears — but in Hoggan’s case, he got a second chance to make things right. It took a while, though.
Near the end of a 15-year professional career that included 107 NHL games, Hoggan was playing for the Detroit Red Wings’ farm club, the Grand Rapids Griffins. As an acknowledgement of his four years as captain of the team (which won the Calder Cup in 2013), Hoggan got to play a preseason game with the Red Wings in the old Joe Louis Arena.
By luck, Howe was visiting his former team on that day.
“The other guys were playing two-touch soccer, to get warmed up — but I was doing some yoga when he came in,” recalled Hoggan (pronounced “HOE-gan”) via phone from Omaha, Tuesday.
“I shook his hand and said, ‘Hey, Mr. Howe, it’s a pleasure to meet you.’ And he said, ‘We never used to stretch like that, when I was playing.’ ”
Howe died on June 10, 2016 but he and Hoggan crossed paths for a third time this October, when Hoggan was inducted into the Omaha Hockey Hall of Fame.
Howe had been the first-ever inductee, in 1960. He played his first professional hockey as a 17 year-old for the Omaha Knights, scoring 22 goals in the 1945-46 campaign. The next season, Howe moved up to the Red Wings and tallied 975 goals by the time he retired at the age of 52.
The hall of fame includes Andre “Moose” Dupont, Terry Sawchuk and others, who also played for the Knights before advancing to the NHL.
Fast forward to this year: Hoggan and former teammate Greg Zanon were co-inductees at the Oct. 11 luncheon. Unlike the Knights players, it was scholarships at the University of Nebraska, Omaha (UNO), that attracted them from the BC Junior Hockey League to the American Midwest.
Hoggan played junior for the Powell River Paper Kings, while Zanon was on the Victoria Salsa. Hoggan got to UNO a year before Zanon, so they were college teammates for three years before jumping to the pros.
“It was a 15 year journey,” said Hoggan of his time in professional hockey. “What a ride.”
Hoggan touched on his career — and his meetings with Mr. Hockey — in a speech he gave at the inductee’s luncheon. His mom, Ann, travelled from Hope for the weekend celebrations. Festivities included the season opener for the UNO Mavericks, where Hoggan and Zanon got to drop the ceremonial puck.
“Jeff read that speech to me more than once,” said Ann, a retired schoolteacher. “I got him to shorten it — and he got a standing ovation at the end. I’m glad I was there for it.”
The lure of a professional contract with Houston had pulled Hoggan away from his university studies half way through his fourth year, so there was some unfinished course work to attend to.
Hoggan had met his wife, Chevonne at UNO and they moved back to Omaha with their three sons when the hockey career was over, “Trying to get some normalcy in our lives,” said Hoggan.
“Going back to school was challenging,” he added, but now with a bachelor’s degree in finance and real estate, he’s ready to get on with the next phase of his life. Currently, he’s working in corporate sales for 88 Tactical Group, in Omaha.
Hockey is still on his mind, though, as all three boys are playing the game. The two older boys are on a travelling squirts team (atom equivalent) and Hoggan was planning to head out on a long road trip to Denver, arriving in time for Wednesday night’s NHL tilt between the Avalanche and the Oilers.
He recalled road trips with his dad, Gerry, at the wheel of their station wagon, in the 1980s and 90s.
“I’ve got some guys I know on the Oilers, Riley Sheahan and Josh Archibald and I plan to hit them up for tickets — and hopefully meet Connor McDavid and get some photos of him with the boys.”
When you’re in Denver, it’s good to have connections in high places.