Nearly 300 people piled into the MNP building in Portage la Prairie last Friday for the Terriers Sportsman's Dinner, one of which was NHL Hall of Fame defenceman Paul Coffey.
As attendees waited patiently for the Weston, Ontario, native, the excitement among them continued to build in anticipation of Coffey's stop in the City of Possibilities.
After dinner and dessert, Coffey made his way to the stage, donning an Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup ring. He spoke for roughly 45 minutes, covering everything from his experiences in the hockey world to his personal life and family.
"I love coming to small towns, especially in Manitoba," Coffey told PortageOnline following the dinner. "I've heard nothing but great things about Portage la Prairie, and it came as advertised."
When asked if the people of Manitoba live up to their 'friendly' reputation, the four-time Stanley Cup champion gave a tongue-in-cheek answer.
"It says it on the license plate, so..." chuckled Coffey. "No, I've always loved the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta. All three of them just have special people."
Coffey, renowned for his graceful skating style and impressive scoring abilities in the NHL, says he firmly believes his skills were honed through playing the game in its most natural setting - on the outdoor ice.
"There are no rules. It's like a jungle out there; you get the puck, you move it, and if you don't move it, somebody takes your feet out from underneath you. You learn how to be a team player; you learn how to work on your skills, and you learn how to fit in," he continued. "Everything helps develop you, whether it be road hockey or the outdoor rink. You get a place like Portage la Prairie, you probably have an outdoor rink 11 months a year."
Winning Stanley and Canada Cups alongside two of the greatest players to ever grace the sport, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, Coffey has the unique tale of experiencing the two legends firsthand. He breaks down the difference between the Great One and Super Mario.
"With Wayne, I would throw him the long pass, hustle after him, watch him draw the whole rink to him and then give somebody an open net goal. With Mario, you threw him a long pass, and all you do is speed up and get a front-row seat because he would just deke everybody else and score."
Coffey says he welcomed the idea of coming to Portage with open arms, knowing his visit would support the Portage Terriers and Central Plains Cancer Services. Ultimately, the event brought in over $20,000 for both organizations.
"I can't wait to come back. Like seriously, I love places like this. The people are just so genuine, and again, they raise money for the right things, which is the kids on both fronts."
Just 48 hours after his stop in Portage la Prairie, Coffey's hockey journey added another chapter. On Sunday, the 62-year-old was hired as the newest Edmonton Oilers Assistant Coach, returning to the franchise that drafted him 6th overall in the 1980 NHL Draft.
In response to Canada's Online News Act and Meta (Facebook and Instagram) removing access to local news from their platforms, PortageOnline encourages you to get your news directly from your trusted source by bookmarking this page and downloading the PortageOnline app.