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Tribute To A Bar Buddy, Barry Wilkins



New Hockey Primetime: The many questions of an unrestricted free agent. ….Seriously, I go over like a thousand of them, it’s a long column.

New Puck Daddy: TJ Oshie signs a mere one year deal, so I discuss how players need to be disciplined (with the partying) to be successful. I mean, one year for this kid? They must be wary about something.


When I first moved to Phoenix, I knew one human in the state, an old buddy from high school who just happened to move here too.

Unfortunately for me, he has a wife and two young kids and two businesses, so….we weren’t about to be hanging out a ton any time soon.

It’s no secret that Bri and I like to stop in to our favourite pub for a couple drinks here and there, so after we found our apartment, I made it a personal mission to find the closest, cheapest place, and establish a ”home.” At the end of my work day, sitting in silence and typing, the quest was a nice excuse to go have a pint and a little conversation. Twitter can only take a man so far.

I misfired at first, thinking I had found my home at Majerles (Dan Majerles’ bar, obviously). It’s a classy place with an awesome happy hour – $2 domestic pints, no tax – but it’s kind of got a corporatey feel to it. It’s one of three in the chain, the TVs have sports on but the sound is never on the action (music, boo), and it’s just a little….well….too nice. I mean, a granite bar? Do I look like I use a monocle?

We have a great little organic food store near our place that we discovered after a few months in our place that’s about a one song drive away. Tucked behind that, was Nate’s Third Base – “your last stop before home.”

Nate’s is owned by Nate, a 27 year old with a wife and three kids who bartends at his own place. It’s a “Boston bar” (irish pub, really) with a lot of TVs (with the sound on one), the NHL package, a projector screen for big games, an amazing happy hour, and it’s on a man-made lake. It’s even wheelchair accesible for my brother, whom they love. It was perfect (wood bar!), and it’s now my local haunt.

I was starting to make a few more friends thanks to playing on a rec hockey and softball teams, but still not that many. You don’t meet a lot of people working from home (let alone when you’re pushing 30), so Bri and I remained bar visitors.

The people from Nate’s make up the majority of people I know in town to this day. From the bartenders to patrons, that’s where my local friends have come from.

One of those guys was part of a crew of 60 year old gents who come in on Wednesdays and Fridays and stay for the entirety of happy “hour” (3-7pm), Barry Wilkins. Being that he was once a Boston Bruin, Pittsburgh Penguin and scored the first goal in Canucks history, we naturally hit it off well.

Barry pre-mustache. His cookie duster became the stuff of legends.

Barry was the life of the bar – the more he drank, the more he bought me drinks, so it was always a laugh to walk in and see he was well under way. And, the more he liked you, the more he called you a dork, big dummy, or piece of shit, which is something you become accustomed to in the hockey community.

About nine months ago he met my Dad, and they shared some laughs about hockey in the 70s, repeatedly making fun of themselves.

A month later, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. This morning I attended his service.

It all happened so fast I’m not even really sure what to say about it.

He started missing the odd Wednesday and Friday, and when he came, he was quieter. More listening, less talking. When he got really weak, he stopped coming entirely. He was a proud man, and told his friends he didn’t want them to see him like that. They were pretty shook.

Probably everyone at his service today knew him better than I did, but at a time when it was just nice to have someone to BS with, let alone about hockey, he helped me adjust to my new life here. I’ll miss the big bear paw handshake when I walk in or out of Nate’s on a Wednesday or Friday. I’m just glad I moved here in time to meet him.

Barry Wilkins was 64. I’m guess that’s roughly the number of beers that will be consumed in his honor by his friends at Nate’s today.

First goal in Canucks history is a damn cool stat.


9 Responses to “Tribute To A Bar Buddy, Barry Wilkins”
  1. Ralphie says:

    He and the boys were always my favorites to serve and observe, no offense to you and Bri! He was a guys you could just listen to and enjoy the stories! I loved when he flung me shit cause I knew he liked me. Going to miss that pain in the ass! Miller Lites and a rocks glass full of limes!

  2. Justin says:

    Pour one (or 5) out for your friend, and be glad you got to spend time with him.

  3. Joe G. says:

    Based on personal experience, way too many of the good people go way to early. It’s a cliche, but absolutely true, be thankful for the time you do have with the good ones.

    On to a far less important topic, there is a rumor floating through Chicago blogs and message boards, and inflamed by a hack sports radio guy who knows nothing about hockey, that Patrick Kane is in rehab somewhere. Of course nothing substantiated, it doesn’t really pass the smell test right now, but it does illustrate once you’re tagged as one of those guys (similar to Oshie), you seem to be fair game to some of this.

  4. vx inTN says:

    I remember Barry from those early Canuck days. Always sad to hear something like this. I’ll down one in his honor. RIP.

  5. JL says:

    Thanks for sharing JT, Damned if that didn’t get me choked-up. RIP Barry, and I will host a drink in your honor.

  6. Father Jay says:

    Every day is a gift! So simple to remember yet so true.

  7. KForbes says:

    Well said

    Thanks for sharing

  8. Tom Curran says:

    I was there in Van for the first goal and got to meet Barry a few times when I was growing up in minor hockey.
    Will remember him as being larger than life!
    Give em hell up there Barry

  9. Dad says:

    Justin…as you know I don’t reply a lot because…ah…a little biased here and love how you write but just read your Barry blog and it got me very choked up. I had never met him until Nates and am soooo sad we won’t see him there again. It was so much fun to get some crap from another former player and like you, I didn’t know him well but felt like I knew him forever. wherever his family is and if ever they ever see this, he was an awesome guy and we are the better for knowing him.

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