Seattle Totems legend Guyle Fielder faced a 1,130-mile drive over three nights to make it here from Arizona for the Tuesday-afternoon unveiling of a special tribute locker stall in his honor.
But in many ways, the journey back to where Fielder’s most famous hockey exploits occurred in a record-setting career took far longer. Now 88, the notoriously nervous flier, who hasn’t gotten on a plane since retiring from the minor professional Portland Buckaroos in 1973, last played for the Totems five decades ago this spring.
And until the NHL Seattle group honored him Tuesday at its new suites and ticket sales preview center, professional hockey’s fourth all-time leading point-getter – with 2,037 combined goals and assists — had rarely been back here for anything to do with the sport.
“I never anticipated this anywhere in my dreams,’’ said Fielder, who spent the bulk of his 22 seasons in the minor pro Western Hockey League ranks with mostly the Totems. “I will remember this fondly. They’re going all out to appreciate my career back in the good old days and I’m just blown away by this.’’
Dozens of invited attendees from the professional and amateur hockey community turned out for Tuesday’s event at the Seattle Center-based preview hall. They saw a ribbon cut on the permanent locker-stall display inside the preview center – complete with Fielder’s authentic Totems jersey, one of his old sticks, gloves and other memorabilia – and then an annual award dedicated in his name to be given annually within the city’s future NHL team for sportsmanship and leadership.
On hand to see it was Jim Powers, 82, who teamed with the Idaho-born, Saskatchewan-raised Fielder for all three of the WHL championships won by the Totems in 1959, 1967 and 1968. The pair reconnected by chance in Arizona two years ago and keep in touch by phone regularly, though Tuesday was the first time since they met 60 years ago that Mill Creek resident Powers has come close to seeing Fielder cry.
“I know how much this means to him,’’ Powers said.
Fielder had twice choked back tears while speaking during the dedication ceremony, talking about the long road to bring the NHL to this city and telling fans here through a cracking voice: “You deserve it, believe me.’’
He said afterward he’d never expected the event to have that many people in attendance, or the magnitude of it, with catered food and beverages and NHL playoff games being shown on giant television screens.
Fielder insists he’s never been bitter about the diminished attention paid locally to the Totems’ achievements since they folded in 1975. He’s more “disappointed’’ than anything that reunions for former players haven’t taken place here as they sometimes have for the Buckaroos in Portland.
But he didn’t hesitate when told a few weeks back the NHL Seattle group wanted to time the locker-room display unveiling with the opening of its preview center for suite sales. He and his girlfriend of five years, Betty Johnson, 70, are avid road trippers and knew this was one journey a long time in coming.
They’d met at the 10-table pool hall inside their retirement community in Mesa, Ariz. Fielder, who’d been married twice previously, was a renowned pool player off the ice during his hockey days and Johnson was just getting into the game.
“A bunch of people told me ‘You should talk to that guy, he used to be a hockey player,’ ’’ Johnson said. “And I’m like ‘A hockey player, who cares?’ I didn’t know the first thing about hockey. I only wanted a few tips on playing pool.’’
Fielder gave her those and lately has been catching her up on a lot of things hockey as well. They had three days to discuss it in the car after leaving Mesa last Thursday and overnighting in Tonopah, Nev., Eureka, Calif. and then Lincoln City, Ore., before arriving here on Monday afternoon.
“I know this day meant so much to him,’’ Johnson said. “Just seeing all these people here and how well the ceremony went was very special.’’
During the ceremony, Fielder’s playing style – especially how lethal a playmaker he was behind the other team’s net — was likened to that of the legendary Wayne Gretzky. It was also mentioned that Hall of Fame netminder Glenn Hall, when asked years after his retirement who Gretzky most reminded him of, quickly mentioned Fielder’s name.
Fielder on Tuesday noted he and Hall had grown up as kids playing together in Saskatchewan’s youth-hockey ranks and both were property of the Detroit Red Wings in the mid-1950s. But where Hall went on to a Stanley Cup-winning career, most notably with the Chicago Black Hawks, Fielder played only nine NHL games.
His only hockey-related Seattle stopover since leaving the game had been early last year to plug a new book about his time with the Totems. But now, Fielder’s exploits are being revived and preserved for a new generation of hockey fans largely because of the pending local arrival of an NHL that never fully accepted him as a player.
“It’s better late than never,’’ he said with a smile. “And it’s something I will never forget.’’