The first time I saw Al, he was the stick boy for the Victoria Cougars of the WHL. I was a fan that used to hang close to the players bench and Al was just a young teenager right in the mix; always helping with something and smiling ear to ear as he did it. I always envied him for getting to be so close to the action.
When I started my BCHL career with the then Cowichan Valley Warriors, Al would be our equipment manager and for most of us our mentor and life coach. He was a pro at what he did and he enjoyed every moment of it.
Al worked hard and worked smart and really cared. He wanted to win as bad as the next guy and would do anything in his power to help the process. We were so lucky to have him at that time.
That first year, I was the youngest player on the team, and Al went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable. He knew the ropes and made sure I never got too low and as well never got too high.
I remember one night, there was a blizzard after the game in Nanaimo, and we ended up being a couple hours slow getting back that night. I was a little banged up from the game and he knew better to let me drive back down to Victoria. Al was staying with a billet at the time and he told me I was coming home with him. It was really late and I wasn’t about to argue. When we got to his billet home he pointed to a room and said, “you’re sleeping in there”- I didn’t hesitate and was fast asleep in seconds. In the morning when I woke, I realized the room he had pointed to was his own bedroom and he slept in a chair that evening. That was the kind of person he was, always putting the players first. No one had worked harder or longer than Al that day, but he was willing to look after me first.
After our three years together in Jr. hockey Al and I loss track a little over the years, and it wasn’t until I was given the opportunity to teach and coach his twin boys, Matty and Tyler in hockey Academy year later, that we were able to catch up again. It was such an honour to be able to give a little back to a guy that had given so much.
When we caught up again, it was obvious to me he was still the smiling “Alley Cat” and this time a family man too- through and through. It was immediately obvious to me that he helped raise a wonderful family and was a great husband to Lisa, and, of course, he was still helping kids in the community and making an impact on those that needed it.
When we got to work together again with the Grizzlies I was so happy to have such a professional like him on board. He was a huge catalyst for the morale of our team and I watched him support the young players with the same care and patience as he did 20 plus years ago with me. I know that there are many others out there like me that were impacted in a positive way by this generous man.
I could not have been happier for Al when Hockeyville came to the Q Centre and he got to ply his trade in the NHL for a game. It was a well deserved opportunity for a man that gave so much to so many.
I am proud to have his banner hanging in the Q Centre. It is a testament to a man that had put so much into the game. A man that led when the doors were closed and no one could see, a man that cared for others and helped so many -and never put himself first.
I will look up to his banner for inspiration in times of struggle, to remember the important things in life and the things that really matter, to remember that they are kids and they make mistakes, to remember the game is meant to be fun. Most importantly I will look up to remember a man that was a great mentor and leader to me and so many others as well.
Thank you, Al
The Grizzlies will pay special tribute to long time trainer and equipment manager for both the Victoria Salsa and the Grizzlies, Al Gillies, at the Grizzlies game this Sunday afternoon at the Q Centre Arena. Al lost his battle to cancer one year ago on Feb. 12 but he is not forgotten by the many people who he helped and worked with over the years.
Al was a very generous man and a friend to many in the local hockey community. He is missed by the Grizzlies volunteers and staff who had the honour of working with him over the years.