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I Was Gretzky’s Hungover Linemate

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 11, 2024 3:02 am

I Was Gretzky’s Hungover Linemate

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 11, 2024 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Sean Pronger always dreamed of being and playing with Wayne Gretzky. Find out what happens when his dream meets his hangover.

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Start having the most fun ever at This is our American Stories and we tell all kinds of stories here on the show. This next story is the story of Sean Pronger and he was a journeyman NHL player who got his start on the hockey beat at a very young age close to home.

Here's Sean with his story. To talk about the Gretzky chapter, we're gonna have to go back to where it all began. Dryden, Ontario, Canada. I grew up in Dryden, a great town, loved living there, but if you don't like hockey and you don't like ice fishing, you probably aren't gonna enjoy your time in Dryden because it is remote. It's four hours from the nearest city, four hours from Winnipeg, four hours from Thunder Bay, and it's winter there for about eight to nine months. We're talking real winter when it's 30 to 40 below is the norm.

There's not a lot to do if you don't enjoy those two activities. Fortunately for me, my brother loved playing and all of our buddies loved playing, so we would play on our driveway, we would play on the street in front of our house, and we had an outdoor rink a block away, and so we played hockey non-stop. I think the real games were down in our basement at 161 St. Charles Street. Like every town in Canada or every city, Hockey Night in Canada was a big deal and everything kind of just stopped. All plans were made before or after Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights and our house, the Pronger house, was no different. We would, my mom and dad would come down there, my brother and I would settle in and watch the game and every intermission or commercial break was time to play one-on-one right in front of my parents with our floor hockey sticks. And I was always a forward, Chris was always a defenseman, and I'd look back down and just laugh because my parents just watched, basically their two sons just beat the out of each other while her and my dad would just kind of sit back and relax and enjoy the entertainment.

And so we would, like I said, I was always forward, so then I would dump it into the living room corner and he would go back to get it and I would ram his head into the drywall and then we'd brawl and just repeat that over and over for, I don't know, eight or nine years. And so every game, every Hockey Night in Canada, we would do that. And I was always Gretzky and he was always boss, even though Bossy wasn't a defenseman. Chris's favourite player was Mike Bossy growing up and mine was Wayne Gretzky. And with Dryden being where it is, we were four hours from Winnipeg a couple times a year, the Pronger family would load up the family truckster and head up to Winnipeg to watch the Jets play the Oilers in the good old Smythe division.

Obviously loved watching 99 play and how he could see everything and see the game was just a real thrill. But one time we went up there and we, the hotel, I'm not sure if my dad knew this or just got lucky, but the hotel that he booked us in was the same hotel the Oilers were staying in. And I'll never forget, we're in the lobby and we're just kind of hanging out down there and we kind of look up and there's Kevin Lowe and Wayne Gretzky. And my brother, just like their old buddies, as we're walking past, he's like, hey Kev, to Kevin Lowe. I find that hilarious now that Kevin Lowe would then go on to sign my brother to a massive contract and then he would ask to be traded a year later.

Their history started early. So then, so we're in the hotel and we're kind of just like trying to figure out a way to go see more players and I'm trying to figure out a way to see Gretzky. Gretzky's in the dining room or the restaurant and my brother and I were kind of peering around the corner, like checking him out.

I think he's having breakfast with Glen Seder. So I'm watching him thinking, well, I don't want to bother him when he's eating. I just, this seems weird. And about that time a guy came up behind me and he had a jersey. He said, hey kid, can you go get this autograph for my son?

And I thought, well, this is kind of weird, but you know, I never, you know, I've kind of taught like, you know, if you don't say no to adults. So I walk over, interrupt his breakfast and said, Mr. Gretzky, would you mind signing this? I could tell he was reluctant just because he's in a restaurant and, you know, years later I'd figure out why he didn't want everybody else to think they needed to come up and get an autograph. But anyway, he signed it. He was a gentleman. He was great. I gave it to the guy and it dawned on me years later that that guy probably wasn't getting it signed for his son.

He was probably hawking it at a memorabilia shop, but lesson learned. So anyway, my, you know, passion for oiler hockey and my, the fact that Wayne Gretzky was my idol started at a very young age. And then if you fast forward years later, I'm now, you know, in my own career in the NHL. Actually, the way the year started, I was playing for the Penguins.

At the end, I got traded at the end of 98. But the play is set up in the slot where Pronger gets himself in a great position. From the Anaheim Ducks, or mighty Ducks back then. Sean Pronger's a good kid.

And it finished the season with Pittsburgh Penguins rather unceremoniously. And then before a game against the Washington Capitals, Kevin Constantine calls me in. And so I get there, he's like, Sean, we're trading you to New York.

And for some reason, I thought it was the Islanders. He's like, I'm like, okay. And he's like, yeah, so you're going to the Rangers. And I'm like, the Rangers?

And he looked, I remember looking at me like, why are you look so happy? And I just thought like the Rangers, this is like Gretzky's on this team. Adam Graves, Kevin Stevens, Brian Leach, John McClain, Mike Richter, Jeff Bukaboom, Ulf Samuelson, all these guys I grew up watching, right? I mean, obviously my idol. And then all these other guys that I grew up watching, I'm like, this is going to be awesome.

This is a rebirth for me. So I get traded, you know, get traded. It was a block, it was actually a blockbuster trade. It was Alexei Kovalev, Harry York, and $15 million. So the way I kind of matched up the trade was Alexei Kovalev for Peter Nedved, Harry York for Chris Tamer, and $15 million for Sean Pronger. It's just the way I kind of broke the trade down internally.

And so it was, yeah, it was a big trade. So we meet the team in Buffalo and I don't know what I was expecting, but I get to the rink and Craig McTavish is the assistant coach. And he's like, hey Prongs, welcome to New York.

You're not playing tonight. And I'm like, here we go again. So anyway, I've scratched my first game for the Rangers, which was a sign of things to come. But what was really, I was thrilled to go to New York.

My childhood best friend from Dryden, Ontario, Chris Hancock, had been living there for a few years. And so it was like, all right, we got to keep, make sure, you know, you get two small town boys from Canada in the big city, things can get out of hand. So we had to draw some boundaries and make sure, okay, you got a job, you got a career you got to worry about. I got a career I got to worry about. Let's make sure we pick our spots.

So we tried to keep our distance and I wasn't playing. So I'd maybe get in a lineup for, you know, a couple shifts here and there, and then I'd be a healthy scratch for three games, get back in for a couple shifts, healthy scratch for a few games. And so I talked to the, our strength and conditioning coach, I said, I want you to drop a program that's going to keep me ready to play.

As soon as I get my opportunity, I want to be ready to go and I'm gonna take it. And then it never came. And so it was just getting to the point where something's got to give. And I was just kind of like, okay, I'm going to take out a give.

And I was just kind of getting so frustrated. I think it was a game in Washington, actually, where I finally think I got my opportunity to do something. It was, I think we're in the second period. I'm in the lineup, which is great. And we're killing a five on three and he left and Muckler, who's a coach, left me out there. And I'm like, okay, this is my chance. And I don't know why I thought that was my chance to go show them what I can do offensively, because we're killing a penalty five on three.

I don't know what I thought, but whatever, I was going to make my mark. And anyway, so I got the puck and I'm ready. They kind of, they fanned on the puck and they gave it to me and I'm kind of going at full speed. And there's two guys to beat and the right place is dump it in and then change and hey, you've done your job. But I think, you know what, I can beat these guys. So what I was going to do is like split the D, go in and score and then, you know, right off into sunset, not the case.

So I go to split the D, poke check. I keep going, they pass it up, ding, ding, ding, three on two, actually four on two, pucks in the back of our net. I'm on the bench, never to come off the bench.

And now I'm sitting out for probably the next three or four or five games. And when we come back more with this Journeyman Hockey Players story here on Our American Story. You don't say no to him. World of Secrets from the BBC World Service is back with a brand new season investigating allegations surrounding the preacher TB Joshua. The culture of secrecy needs to be broken.

Search for World of Secrets wherever you get your BBC podcasts. I'm Victoria Cash thanks for calling the Luckyland hotline. If you feel like you do the same thing every day press 1. If you're ready to have some serious fun for the chance to redeem some serious prizes press 2. We heard you loud and clear so go to right now and play over a hundred social casino style games for free.

Get lucky today at And we're back with our American stories and the story of Sean Pranger. In his own words let's return to the rest of this great sports story. So now I'm skating in practice getting crushed and I go in to talk to Muckler actually first of all I asked Craig McTavish I'm like Mac T what should I do you know like I want to play I want to know what I need to do to stay in the line to get in the lineup and stay in the lineup it's like pranks go talk to him so I'm like all right all right I'll talk to him so I go in there and John Muckler I mean I grew up watching this guy as part of the Euler dynasty pretty intimidating dude he's got that massive head of silvery white hair he's got his feet up on the thing I mean if he had a Scott I wouldn't be at a place I got a scotch and a cigar the way he was sitting there I'm like hey coach Muck's you had a second he's like yeah come on it like hey coach I just really know I love love New York love playing for the Rangers I want to play more what do I need to do to stay in the lineup or get in the lineup and stay in the lineup and he goes off on a rant for about 15 minutes about how good the Edmonton Oilers were in the 80s at playing a give-and-go game and how players today in the you know mid to late 90s could not play that style of game it was very frustrating to him so he went off for about 15 minutes on that and I remember walking out and Mac T was walking by I was coming out he's like so how'd it go I'm like honestly I have no idea how it went but he's a big fan of the way you guys played in the 80s and so I kind of went back to my locker I'm just like something's gotta give so I called my buddy Herbie Hancock and so alright we're going out and we just so we go to whatever local pub which there is what you know seven on every block and so we pick one go there and you know we're having a great time in New York's awesome having a great time you're a couple different spots we hit and I remember walking into a bar it was I think 130 I was very concerned when when the after-hours bars were what time they open or what time when's that go down so I wasn't ready to call it a night there's 130 which is you know obviously last calls getting close or so I thought and I remember walking over to the bartender and I'm like excuse me ma'am what time what time did the after-hours bars open around here and she goes you mean after we closed at 4 30 and I'm like no no this would be good so of course we stay there for 30 shut that bar down luckily it was only about a 20-minute walk back to my place and then you know what got there like five and how do you get up at seven to drive to practice and which is not a big deal because that particular the day before I was actually practicing as the eighth defenseman and so I wasn't too worried about how I felt when I got to practice so I get up obviously not feeling the best but I'm like all right just deal with it and so get the practice get grabbed my usual breakfast of champions coffee with a double chocolate chip muffin and I'm sitting there with the kind of chocolate smeared all over my face just taking it all in and in the locker room and I'm like looking around and something's kind of a little off like it's kind of like when your your wife girlfriend mother would rearrange the furniture and I'm looking around I'm like we got a new player what is what is going on here and so it was just the color schemes out of whackin and so I'm looking I'm like you know and all the named bars are the same name tags and I look over and like in my stall which is normally the yellow jersey because I'm either on the fifth line or I'm on the fourth set of defenseman it was a red jersey like that doesn't make sense because the red jersey is Gretzky's lines Jersey and I'm like well obviously this is a mistake so I grab the jersey and I go to I go to Mike Fogle in who's the equipment guy and I like folks give me the wrong color jersey and I kind of throw the jersey at him and he grabs it he throws it back he goes no I didn't and I'm like what oh yeah you did dude I'm yellow I mean we all know that I think all the fans know that and he's like yeah not today bud Kevin Stevens has the flu so you're practicing with gravy and Gretzky and I just like are you kidding me and he's laughing at me because he could see you the glazed over look in my eyes so now my heart is in my throat and I'm like this is not good this is like I grew up idolizing Wayne Gretzky and now I have the opportunity to practice with him and I'm it couldn't be more hungover I'm probably still drunk and now I'm thinking what have I done to my like this is like a career defining moment right right when you're about to break through maybe you do something stupid go get drunk with your buddy and now you're playing now you're practicing with the greatest well with the greatest player that's ever played so this is all going through my head as I'm trying to figure out how do I manage this whole situation as far as like okay I need to get your head wrapped around this get your body ready you just got to get through this one practice so I go into the shower crank it on freezing cold sitting there for like 10 minutes and figure out like should I tell Gretzky I'm hungover first of all does he even know who I am second of all do I tell him I'm over or do I just play it off like okay I'm just that's how I always am something you know what he's a dude he's gonna stand just man up and just tell him what's going on so I walk over to him like hey Wayne I'm practicing with you today's like yeah I saw that I'm like yeah I just want to let you know I had a buddy in town things may have gone on a little bit later than I would have liked and you know just a slightly hungover so if you don't mind would could you just keep the puck away from me and maybe you know just throw it over to graves and I'll just kind of bang in rebounds and I'll do all the grunt work and you know well you know I'll survive this practice and hopefully not get cut he's like prongs don't worry about it I've been there myself and I'm like yes he knows my name all right he's on board the greatest player in the games on board and all of a sudden things started to lighten up for me I just felt like okay we're gonna get through this Gretz is on board I'm gonna get out there we're gonna he's gonna stop the puck around I'll probably bang in a couple rebounds maybe leave a good taste in the coach's mouth and be like you know what the pronger kid look pretty good today and so now I'm thinking this is gonna be my chance so we get out for practice and I'm skipping around the warm-up like I'm a 15 year all-star I'm like just like the arrogance that I had as a fifth liner proxy with Gretzky was not it's just embarrassing but I'm just going with it and so I'm just enjoying every moment I'm just like thinking what if like what if there's a small chance you know I've never read an article that Gretzky once said that you've put if you put a bunch of hockey players out on a pond they're eventually gonna find the players that they pair up with naturally just the way they each see the way they pass the way they see each other's blades and notice find each other like him and you already created and I kept thinking about that article and I was like what if I mean I gave it about a 1% chance that could happen but like what if what if we're out here because the Rangers at that time we were kind of struggling and so it wouldn't be out of like it would be completely plausible that if there was a ounce of chemistry that they might give us at least a game and so I thought okay what if what if Gretzky and I had this natural undeniable chemistry and we get to play the next game and let's say we win maybe do something good we get the next game and the next game and so this is all go through my head and warm up of a practice and so I'm like all right here we go and so first we're finally muckler blows a whistle all right we're gonna warm up we're doing the three on twos like straight down like kind of three-quarter ice three on twos I kept forgetting like I'm the first line so I better get together and get ready to go so I'm like all right let's do it do this and so I'm expecting Gretzky hey we had a deal he's gonna backhand this saucer pass over to gravy he'll either shoot it or shoot it probably as Adam Graves can and so I'm not really even looking anyway I either core my eye to see this like fluttering puck come flying over to me like oh shit pass it to me already and it was like a wounded duck and it hits the back I'm playing on my off wing because I'm left-handed shot playing the right right side it goes off my backhand and literally over the glass and the whistle goes he's like alright go again so we do it again he does the same thing I don't think this one did not go over out of play but whatever I fumbled it around anyway that was just the sign of things to come and every single pass Gretzky made was to me every one of them and I barely survived that practice and I skated over to him after I'm like rats I'm so sorry I didn't yeah I don't know what to tell you he's like prongs don't worry about it I've been there myself and he gave me a wink and I'm like that he was playing me the whole time and I think that was actually better than if he wasn't because it made me feel like I was part of the team like he like he I was close enough in the group that he could be like that or he just didn't give about me this did it anyway but it was yeah that's the Gretzky story and I still I still think we would had some great chemistry but I guess the world will never know and some great storytelling by Sean Pronger and thanks as always to Greg Hengler for getting us this great story and sometimes big stories in life well they're just brushes with greatness and how greatness handles things I mean that Gretzky handled Pronger this way teased him meant hey you're one of the guys it happens come on let's get through this great storytelling and Sean Pronger stories are chronicled in his memoir journeyman the many triumphs and even more numerous defeats of a guy who's seen just about everything in the game of hockey by the way Pronger now lives with his wife and two children in Orange County California by the way send your stories in like this we've all at some time or another maybe came up or brushed up against some people like this in our lives and very counterintuitive to hear star treat somebody who comes in drunk to practice like this in a gentle way you know in a fun way so send your stories as always to our American stories calm Sean Pronger story I was Gretzky's hungover line me here on our American stories I'm Katja Adler host of the global story over the last 25 years I've covered conflicts in the Middle East political and economic crises in Europe drug cartels in Mexico now I'm covering the stories behind the news all over the world in conversation with those who break it join me Monday to Friday to find out what's happening why and what it all means follow the global story from the BBC wherever you 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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-11 04:47:38 / 2024-06-11 04:57:58 / 10

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