Thrashers coach finds sanctuary on the water

My wife says fishing on TV is like watching paint dry. But I love the water. It doesn’t matter if I catch anything. I just love it. It’s not a sport for me. It really is a passion.

When I don’t catch anything, it’s almost a relief. I’d much rather have someone new experience the fun of bringing in a 12- to 15-pound striper. I’m in a high-stress job as a coach, and I just like being out there. It takes my thoughts away.

Everything looks different from the water. I’ve coached in Chicago and Toronto, and people don’t know how beautiful those cities are unless they see the skyline from a boat. And so few go out. My wife and I like to enjoy some wine and cheese, and if we catch a fish, that’s just an interruption.

My parents have had a cottage on a lake in northern Ontario, even before I was born. I’ve been driving boats since age 4.

Conservatively, I’ve owned 23 or 24 boats. I did a TV show in Toronto and had six boats docked at one time. I designed and built my own boat back then. I’d like to have that many boats again if I could, but the NHL doesn’t give me a lot of time. So now I just own one at a time.

After the Thrashers became affiliated in 2001 with my team in Chicago, I would come to the training camp in Atlanta. The brother of the team’s trainer said I’d be shocked at how beautiful Lake Lanier was. He was right. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to coach in Atlanta?

The beauty of Lake Lanier is that it’s 15 minutes from my door. I call the marina and in 30 minutes I can be out on the water. During hockey season I’ll get out there once every two or three weeks, for about 90 minutes.

Sometimes I go with [assistant coaches] Nelly [Todd Nelson] or [Randy] Cunneyworth. So many of our players, though, had not been out in a boat until our team pig roast at Lake Lanier Islands. I brought my boat, and Nelly brought his boat and we took everyone out, eight at a time.

It was a beautiful day, 80 degrees. None of them got seasick. You get that on Lake Michigan because there’s more swells there. On Lake Lanier there’s more chop.

I get a kick out of being on the water here in the winter.

Recently, my kids were down. It was a little chilly, but in Canada this time of year, you couldn’t be out there without a [weatherproof] Ski-Doo suit on.

I like ice fishing in Michigan, too. The salmon are closer in to the shore when it’s that cold. You almost freeze, but it’s so much freakin’ fun. Salmon up there are like stripers here.

I have met so many great people through fishing. Me, my brother and a guide last year took a big boat around Lake Lanier. We went 25 miles down the lake to fish for crappie. We got a call. A huge thunderstorm was coming. We couldn’t see it, but we came in fast, to a cottage where the guide knew the owners.

Soon there was hail and lightning. The trees were falling and we were on the porch hanging out. The couple who owned the cottage were in their early 40s and had adopted a baby. They said, come on in because trees might fall on you. We were there for 2-1/2 hours. I sent them a thank-you letter and some Thrashers stuff.

Oh, I love the boat I have now even though it’s an old piece of junk! I helped find a boat for a kid on my old team in Chicago, and he made $2,000 selling it two to three years later. So I found this other boat, and he wouldn’t look at it. I said, fine, I’ll look at it.

It’s full of leaves. I offered $500. My wife said, “Can I speak to you?” I told her the trailer was worth $500, even if the boat motor didn’t work.

Well, the engine cranked and didn’t miss a beat since.

It’s a 20-foot 1987 Wellcraft with an outboard 150-horsepower motor. My sister-in-law made new cushions for it. I washed and waxed it. I repainted and put new decals on the engine. I put maybe $750, $1,000 into it. I’ve had it on Lake Michigan in 2-to-3 foot swells and fished for salmon with it, and it’s done fine.

You couldn’t ask for more fun or better money spent. Unbelievable!

As told to Michelle Hiskey for the AJC

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