Hockey world honors Baizley at memorial
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — The hockey world said goodbye to agent Don Baizley in the most fitting of places: an NHL arena.
Baizley, who died recently at age 71, was remembered Wednesday by friends and family at MTS Center — the home of the Winnipeg Jets.
The scoreboard flashed images and tributes to the well-respected agent.
“He was one of a kind,” said Anders Hedberg, one of the first European players Baizley lured to North America — first to the World Hockey Association and then the NHL. “The kind of person we would like to be and our sons to become.”
Hedberg said Baizley wasn’t really an agent, a sentiment many of his clients echoed as they entered the arena. They used words friend, mentor and counselor.
“I don’t think I would use the name agent, more like a friend or a second dad,” said Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom, who was a teenager when he first met Baizley. “He came to see my mom, my dad and my family.
“Ever since, he’s always been around.”
Baizley had even more of an impact on former NHL forward Theo Fleury.
“He was a huge part of my life,” Fleury said. “I met Don when I was 18 years old and we’ve maintained a friendship and a relationship for a long time.”
Especially when Baizley provided him with much-needed guidance.
“He always made you think about every decision you were about to make,” Fleury said. “He always gave two sides to the story and, although I didn’t always take his advice, I look back on it, and the things that he said always came true.”
Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment which owns the arena and the Winnipeg Jets, said he was happy to provide the facility for the memorial.
“I don’t know if I can put into words what Don meant to the game,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s any one individual I’ve met in my life who’s had a more meaningful, more profound impact on the modern game of professional hockey.”
Baizley was a well-respected lawyer, as well, and at one time headed the Law Society of Manitoba. He often joked about his own abilities.
He had a reputation as someone who didn’t care about flashy clothes or cars, and his friends and clients all said he preached only about one thing — values.
“You love people and use things, don’t ever get that backward,” Hedberg said Baizley told him.
The crowd included many hockey media personalities, as well, and CBC broadcaster Scott Oake hosted the unusual memorial that at times seemed part celebrity roast and was punctuated regularly by applause.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman opened last week’s NHL draft with a tribute to Baizley, who had died just days earlier. Teemu Selanne, like Enstrom, said Baizley was like a second father.
“That’s why it feels so sad because he was a Canadian dad for me,” the Finnish Flash said. “It was more than just a working relationship.”
Selanne said when he closes his eyes he can still see Baizley’s smile and remember how positive he was.
“The greatest thing about Don is you don’t find one person who can say something bad about him,” he said. “That’s what he’s all about.”