HodgePodge: Mike in the memories, sharpen that skate


HodgePodge: Mike in the memories, sharpen that skate

HodgePodge by Charlie Hodge

Here’s another short yarn from the past.

Seems perfectly natural for a columnist who’s supposed to be dead (and cheats the scorekeepers daily) to be a little obsessive about writing memoirs – but consider it my job to some degree. As mentioned in previous columns I am slowly sorting through mounds of boxes of old newspapers, columns, and pictures I’ve written or taken during the past 51 years of journalism. (Hard to believe it’s been that long).

The first thing my hand pulled out of the latest ‘box of many thoughts’ was an article I penned in 1974 for the Daily Courier. Titled Mike Achtzener Was Mr. Hockey it lamented Mikes’s death a few days before at age 75.

“For a man who’d always worked behind the scenes – away from the headlines, it may be appropriate that the statement would go by unnoticed by many. But for those who had the pleasure of knowing Mike the news hit hard and brought back fond memories of the diminutive gentleman who was a household word around the Kelowna and District Memorial Arena. They called him ‘Mikee’, ‘uncle Mike’ or just ‘Mr. hockey’ and always in respectful kind of way,” I wrote in that lengthy article.

Born in Austria-Hungry in 1899 Mike moved to Regina at the age of 9, where he worked 28 years at western cycle. He moved to Kelowna in 1947 and went into business at the Kelowna Cycle shop with Earnie Mason. In 1962 Michael bought out Mason then sold the business in 1966 planning to retire.

Mike was not one for standing still though and never happy unless busy doing one of two favorite hobbies: fixing locks or sharpening skates. He seemed to possess a unique skill in understanding each skater’s need. The soft-spoken gentlemen started sharpening blades with the Ragina Vets and the Aces and other senior prairie hockey clubs in the early 1920s. In Kelowna he immediately worked his gift with the Packards and Penticton Vees until their last seasons then helped the Buckaroos hockey club.

“I never saw a man who lived for hockey and the kids the way Mike did,” Gerry Dougherty recalled. “When it came to the equipment whether it was skates, gloves, sweaters, or anything – every piece had to fit just right and work to the satisfaction of the players before he would sit down for a rest.”

His loving wife Barbara described Mike saying he quite often failed to come home for supper because “something had to be done at the arena.”

“We had to put the boys before everything,” she said with a genuine smile.

He loved others so well.

One of my favourite tales of Mike was his caring for kids who had nothing. One evening Mike came home obviously upset and when Barbera asked why Mike explained a friend had told him about, “a community of Indian boys live up north too poor to buy skates, so they play hockey in their shoes.” The next day Mike bought all the second-hand frozen skates he could find and some new ones and mailed two crates to the community – taking a tab. When Barb confronted him he smiled saying how happy they would be then admonished himself for not sharpening them.

His generosity and caring for kids never subsided.

There was irony in him being tagged Mr. Hockey by local skaters. Michael was in contact with all kinds of people over the years including household names and stars but a certain skater stood out like no one else. “When I was in Saskatoon this tall, young, smiling boy came to me and said, ‘would you please do me a favor Mr. Achtzener and sharpen my skates, please’. He was one of then nicest kids I’ve ever helped. His name was Gordie Howe,” Mike told me.

That old article went on and on quoting people with praise for the old gentleman, one of whom suggested Mike probably sharpened more skates than anyone else in Canada.

Former Kelowna Buckeroo owner Wayne North said few fans knew Mike, “because he worked behind the scenes. But he was an unsung hero of our club and rare privilege to meet. He was the kind of man you never forget.”

Buckaroo coach Don Culley said in 1974, “It is impossible to think of the amount of people that Mike helped through hockey. I think he did more for hockey then most people I’ve ever met.”

Mike was hospitalized during the final game of the Buckaroo-Red Deer final game. When it ended, veteran centre Murry Hanson went to Mike’s room and gave him the puck (which he scored). Mike said he was never more moved in his life. Hanson said the gesture was, “Nothing compared to what Mike did for me and for many others.”

Former Buckaroo Harvey Stolz trainer and close friend to Mike said, “I could speak kindly for days about Mike and not say enough. The man lived for hockey and the boys, the Bucks, Schmockey, peewees, figure skating, he was always there to help. He was one of the finest men who ever opened the doors to any arena anywhere and we loved him.”

Certainly, Mike belonged to the game, gave his heart to it and other people, while asking nothing in return.

Ironically Mike’s name came up several times in the past two months during conversations with Dave Cousins, Harvey Stolz, and Pat McMahon. Finding the old article yesterday made it clear that I was supposed to recall Mike to Kelowna hockey fans.

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Charlie Hodge is a best-selling author, writer, a current Kelowna City Councillor, and a Director on the Regional District of the Central Okanagan Board. He spent more than 25 years as a full-time newspaper journalist and has a diverse background in public relations, promotions, personal coaching, and strategic planning. A former managing editor, assistant editor, sports editor, entertainment editor, journalist, and photographer, Hodge also co-hosted a variety of radio talk shows and still writes a regular weekly newspaper column titled Hodge Podge, which he has crafted now for 41 years. His biography on Howie Meeker, titled Golly Gee It’s Me is a Canadian bestseller and his second book, Stop It There, Back It Up – 50 Years of the NHL garnered lots of attention from media and hockey fans alike. Charlie is currently working on a third hockey book, as well as a contracted historical/fiction novel. His creative promotional skills and strategic planning have been utilized for many years in the Canadian music industry, provincial, national, and international environmental fields, and municipal, provincial, and federal politics. Charlie is a skilled facilitator, a dynamic motivational speaker, and effective personal coach. His hobbies include gardening, canoeing, playing pool, and writing music. Charlie shares his Okanagan home with wife Teresa and five spoiled cats.


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