After 50 years of sharpening skates, bandaging wounds and otherwise caring for teen hockey players and their equipment, Wayne Hubbard says it’s time to hang up his tape scissors.
He’s been working dressing rooms and benches at one B.C. rink or another since the 1969-70 season of the Kelowna Packers.
Now a Newton-area resident of Surrey, Hubbard has been head trainer with the Delta Ice Hawks of the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL) over the past four years. The team didn’t make the playoffs this season, meaning it’s game over for Hubbard’s career in hockey.
Back in September, Hubbard told Ice Hawks owner Eduard Epshtein that the 2019-20 season would be his last as a trainer.
“I’ll be going from 100 miles an hour to zero right away,” Hubbard said. “That’s going to be the hard part for me. I mean, if I was a lot healthier I would have probably stayed another year, but I got diagnosed with leukemia in December. So my doctors are on my case about continuing. I figured there’s no better time to end it.”
This week, Hubbard began cleaning out the Ice Hawks’ dressing room and offices at Ladner Leisure Centre.
At age 73, he says he’ll miss the day-to-day happenings at the rink – most of them, anyhow.
Over the years, he has worked for a half-dozen teams in Junior A and B hockey, including stops in Burnaby, Coquitlam, Langley, Surrey, Ridge Meadows and Delta, for a grand total of around 6,000 games and practices.
You see, he’s done some calculating.
“I figure I’ve done around 30,000 loads of laundry, all those jerseys and socks,” he said with a laugh. “Cam (Groves, equipment manager) does the home games and I do all the road games, and it’s five loads every game. I do those at home, which is just easier.”
Junior hockey’s "Wayner the trainer" exits after 50 years in the game. "I figure I’ve done around 30,000 loads of laundry," Surrey resident Wayne Hubbard says with a laugh. @deltaicehawks @Pacific_Junior @GoBCHL @bchockeyhub @SurreyEagles @kyleturris https://t.co/qyUtEKAfu8 pic.twitter.com/F5P7YvrfjJ
— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) February 13, 2020
He’s been a trainer pretty much fulltime since retiring from Fraser Health’s payroll department at age 57, in the mid-2000s.
“In Junior A, those are some 15-, 16-hour days, with not many days off,” Hubbard said. “So for a time there I was working a fulltime job and doing this. I think back and wonder how I managed it all.”
Along the way, he became known as “Wayner the trainer,” a nickname earned in the 1970s to avoid confusion with a head coach at the time.
Never married, Hubbard made hockey his life.
“I have all the kids I need here every year, but at least they can go home to their parents every night and I don’t have to deal with them, because they can be a handful sometimes,” he said with a smile. “Every year you get a different bunch with a different attitude, different mix, everything. Most of the players are good kids.”
As a kid in Kelowna, Hubbard never played hockey but became a fan of the local junior team at the old Memorial Arena there. A player got hurt one night and, with some first-aid training to his credit, Hubbard jumped into action.
“I guess I kind of actually fell into this, because I was interested in the medical part,” he said. “Back in those days it was no helmets, or horrible helmets, and the goalies wore flat masks, the Jacques Plante kind, and everybody was getting cut, it was bad. It just progressed from there.”
He’s been the trainer for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stickhandlers and puckstoppers. When he gets recognized at a rink or elsewhere, sometimes he fails to recognize the person greeting him.
“I’m honest now and just tell them, sorry,” Hubbard said with a shrug. “And some of them have changed so much, they’re tough to recognize anyways. It’s pretty funny sometimes.”
One former player he would recognize in public is Joe Sakic, the Colorado Avalanche great who once played minor hockey in Burnaby, on a mid-’80s midget team that involved Hubbard.
“He lived right across the street from the rink, him and his brother, and that year we won the Westerns and went to nationals in Moncton,” Hubbard recalled. “He was just a quiet, classy kid just oozing talent. Like, as a 16-year-old, this kid was so talented, it was scary. And he was pretty resilient too, and of course guys used to key on him, go after him, because he’d kill you in a game if you didn’t check him and get in his face. But the thing that almost got him in junior was that bus crash with Swift Current, the Broncos. He came within an inch of losing his life in that.”
Other future NHLers Hubbard worked with include Milan Lucic, the Stanley Cup winner and former Coquitlam Express forward, and also Kyle Turris, the Nashville Predators centre who played for the BCHL’s Burnaby Express in the mid-2000s.
“When he was around 16 years old, I told Kyle’s mom, ‘Your kid will make the NHL, I’m telling you right now,’” Hubbard said. “He just had that presence. I’m no scout or anything, but I know talent when I see it, just from being around so long. And I get to know the players on the bench and in the dressing room, too. I can see who the good ones are.”
Players today, he noted, are “more independent” and less formal with coaches.
“That’s one thing I notice,” Hubbard said. “Their relationships with coaches and the way they interact with coaches, back 25, 30 years ago, that interaction would never happen. Now, the players are just so forward and outgoing, and if we could just get them to stay off their cellphones, that’d be great – between periods, all that.”
“But they’re great, and I really get to know them and what they bring, because I’m in the dressing room and on the bench, too,” he continued. “I’m the neutral guy and they kind of talk to me a lot, stuff they wouldn’t talk to coaches about. I’ve heard and dealt with a lot that I could never repeat, all kinds of stuff. You’re kind of like a father, because they treat you that way. It’s pretty cool.”