Original Story: November 7, 2023.
Back in 2008, I found myself immersed in the world of synthetic ice rinks. As a dealer for a U.S. manufacturer, I was responsible for selling these innovative rinks in Ontario, Canada. Little did I know that my journey would take an unexpected turn and lead me to an exciting opportunity.
Keep your stick on the ice.
It all started when I got the green light from my wife, Sharon, to install a synthetic ice rink in the basement for the kids. After some research, I found a product in the U.S., purchased a bulk supply and started selling it. In early 2009, I traveled to Niagara Falls, NY to witness the installation of the Snow Park full-sized synthetic ice rink using the same product that I was representing. As I marvelled at the rink's construction, the owner of the product dropped a bombshell: they were in talks with someone who would have exclusive rights to sell these rinks in Canada. My heart sank, fearing that my role as a dealer would soon come to an end. But fate had other plans.
In August 2009, I received a call that would change everything. On the other end of the line was none other than Georges Laraque and his business manager. They informed me that my services were no longer required. However, I wasn't ready to give up just yet.
I knew I had to act fast, so I mustered up the courage to negotiate with Georges and his business manager. After some back-and-forth, I managed to secure my role as a representative in Ontario. It was a relief to know that I still had a place in the synthetic ice rink industry.
One thing that worked in my favour was having a demo rink in Newmarket, ON. This allowed potential customers to see and experience the quality of the synthetic ice firsthand. It became a valuable tool in my sales pitch and helped me build trust with potential buyers.
As I continued my journey as a synthetic ice rink dealer, I had the pleasure of crossing paths with Georges Laraque once again. At the time, he was in his second season with the Montreal Canadiens. To my surprise, he generously reserved tickets for my family when the Habs were in town to play the Leafs on December 26, 2009. Having a family of five doesn't give you many seating options when rivals are playing. The very top row of the Air Canada Centre (now Scotiabank Arena) is an interesting perspective on the game. Georges put us on the guest list to see him after the game. Surrounded by the players and coaches, many local family members of the players brought their presents knowing that the team was just passing through over the holidays and had to continue with their road schedule.
We did a couple of shows together to promote the product including the April 2010 Hockey Expo in Mississauga, ON. When I learned that we would be hanging around each other for a few days, I thought that we would be eating steak and potatoes for dinner. This is what the pro enforcers eat, right? Wrong. Georges was the first vegan I met. Over the days, I was able to learn more about Georges. If you thought he was tough in the corners, you should see him in business. Georges was involved in several business ventures and continues to explore new opportunities.
Georges' transition from being a pro player to an entrepreneur is truly remarkable. It's amazing to see how he has taken the same determination and drive he had on the ice and applied it to his business ventures. Georges' success in business is a testament to his work ethic and ability to adapt. Just like in hockey, he doesn't back down from a challenge. He tackles it head-on and finds a way to come out on top.
There were plenty of autograph seekers at the show. It was clear that Georges had made a name for himself both on and off the ice. Not only did the show generate a buzz, but it also resulted in a few sales leads. It was impressive to see how Georges was able to leverage his reputation and connections to create opportunities for his business ventures.
While Georges may have been known for his toughness on the ice, getting to know him off the ice revealed a different side of him. He is not only a successful entrepreneur but also a compassionate individual. Georges' dedication to a vegan lifestyle is a testament to his commitment to making a positive impact on the world. It's inspiring to see how he uses his platform to promote a healthier and more sustainable way of living.
Spending time with Georges was an eye-opening experience. His determination, work ethic, and ability to adapt have been key to his success. Georges' story serves as a reminder that there is more to athletes than meets the eye.
As a parent, we always want what's best for our children. We want to see them succeed, grow, and reach their full potential. So when my son Luke had the opportunity to play AAA hockey, it was a big decision for our family. But what made it even more challenging was the fact that he was set on staying in AA with a new coach who had a good record of wins and championships.
It was a tough choice. On one hand, we had a coach who was dedicated, experienced, and had a proven track record of success. On the other hand, we had the allure of playing at the highest level, with the chance to face tougher competition and develop his skills even further.
When the AAA coach, Galajda, approached us after an exhibition game and literally followed us home to sign a contract, it was clear that he saw potential in Luke. But we were hesitant. We knew that staying in AA would provide a comfortable and familiar environment for him.
So, I decided to seek advice from someone I trusted - my friend Georges. Georges had been involved in hockey for years and had seen countless young players make decisions about their hockey careers. I phoned him and asked for his opinion.
Georges didn't hesitate with his response. He simply said, "Play at the highest level that you can." His words resonated with me. I realized that sometimes, in order to truly grow and reach our potential, we need to step out of our comfort zones and embrace new challenges.
With Georges' advice in mind, we made the decision to go with the AAA team which turned out to be a package deal. I was offered a position as Assistant Coach. Looking back, I can confidently say that it was the best decision we could have made for Luke. Playing at the AAA level provided Luke with opportunities he wouldn't have had otherwise. He faced tougher competition, which pushed him to work harder and improve his skills. He had the chance to play with and against some of the best players in his age group, which helped him develop a deeper understanding of the game.
But perhaps the most valuable aspect of playing at the highest level was the friendships he formed. Luke met teammates who shared his passion for the sport and pushed him to be his best. These friendships extended beyond the rink, creating a support system that he could rely on both on and off the ice.
So if you find yourself faced with a similar decision, I encourage you to consider playing at the highest level. It may be intimidating, and there will be challenges along the way. But the growth, development, and opportunities that come with it are truly invaluable.
Looking back, I am grateful for the twists and turns that led me to become a synthetic ice rink dealer in Ontario. It was a challenging yet rewarding experience that allowed me to connect with passionate customers and be a part of a growing industry. If you ever find yourself faced with unexpected changes in your career, remember that sometimes, the best opportunities come from the most unexpected places.
Sorry Georges, I didn’t have any of your hockey cards in my collection. I had to pay neighbour “O” $20 for his and send it out for grading. I’ve now turned it into an NFT to preserve the memories of our time together.
- Dean Sprung
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