The thinker

Gord Lane reflects on hockey, life off the ice

By Marc Katz

Long after the lights flickered off at Hara Arena following a Dayton Gems practice, and well after many of the players had already stripped their gear, showered away the day’s sweat, and were on their way to a mid-day beer at a nearby pub, the grinding swish of steel skates against ice could still be heard on the short ice surface.

Someone was out there still working, after his teammates had gone, his coach off to planning other practices and games for that week.

It was always Gordie Lane, a guy who knew his limitations and worked hard to correct them. He played with the Gems for parts of three seasons beginning in 1973–74, and might have been the last guy on the Gems from that era you would guess to make the National Hockey League.

Not only that, his stuttering, carefree nature led you to believe he wouldn’t make much of himself after his playing days, either.

And here we are, more than 40 years later, talking to Gord Lane, a contributor to four straight New York Islanders Stanley Cup championships and an accountant who now owns his own construction business and lives in Columbia, Maryland.

As the current NHL season winds down, Lane hardly notices, working his business, looking in on his two daughters and three grandchildren, and only occasionally participating in hockey gatherings.

Typically, he takes no credit for working hard, pointing out others worked just as hard as he did.

“Besides, I had to wait for [trainer Keith] Parker to get the room cleaned up,” Lane says, explaining why he stayed on the ice so long.

He was brought in from Fort Wayne, where then Dayton coach Tom McVie noticed him as a 6-foot-1, 185-pound tough guy who would protect his players, but also as a raw talent.

“I told him if I ever got the Washington [coaching] job, I’d bring him with me,” McVie says, and did.

“Ah, Tommy just manufactures stories to build up his notoriety,” Lane says. “I never thought any of that [going to the NHL, winning four Stanley Cups] while I was in Dayton. I was just out there playing.

“Did I think I would make the National Hockey League? Probably not. It’s like Donald Trump. He probably shouldn’t be President of the United States, but he is.

“That was like me. I probably shouldn’t have been a National Hockey League player, but I was.”

He played for the Gems team that won the International Hockey League Turner Cup championship in 1976, by which time McVie was already gone to Washington. At the end of the season, Lane was there, too.

He was up and down with the Caps until he was traded to the New York Islanders during the 1979–80 season.

The Islanders won the Stanley Cup that season and three more before Lane was injured. He couldn’t play in the 1984 series, and New York lost to Edmonton, led by a youngster by the name of Wayne Gretzky.

Lane always had plenty of penalty minutes by his name, but also became a good player. Additionally, he knew he was going to be a young guy when he retired and would need something to do.

He says he played with people who could never make the transition out of hockey. However, he went to college to study accounting and architecture.

“I came to the conclusion it’s mostly to do with identity,” he says, continuing that, as an athlete, “You verify yourself as somebody who’s better, I guess. Or you think you’re better than everybody else. A lot of guys were not, or are not, able to accept the fact you have to do something else.

“I came to the conclusion I had to divorce myself from the game. I don’t go to hockey games anymore. I haven’t seen a Caps game in five years. I don’t watch it. I watch the Orioles.

“I’d have to believe it’s the same in other sports. Until you’re able to accept the fact you’re not a National Hockey League player, an NFL player, a baseball player, you can’t make that transition.”

Lane’s last season with the Islanders was 1984–85. He was 32 and worked a little as a player-coach in the American Hockey League, deciding he wasn’t going to be a coach.

By that time, he had his degrees in things he considered stable, and when the economy went bad in the late 1980s, he thought, “I could always work.”

He started his own general contracting company about 20 years ago, but doesn’t bring up his former life unless asked.

“As a kid [in Canada], I was one of the better hockey players,” Lane says. “I could fight. I just never developed. I just worked at it, I guess. I think the talent was always there. My skill set was my ability to understand the game. I played with guys who could skate and shoot, but couldn’t think.”

He doesn’t fight anymore. He’s strictly a thinker.

“I don’t do much anymore,” Lane says. “I drive around and talk to people. That’s what I do.”

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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