LITTLE HARBOUR – As a nation, Canadians show a lot of pride in their hockey teams, but for Vernon and Jeanine Parker of Little Harbour they have another sense of pride.
Vernon’s cousin Marc-Edouard Vlasic suited up for his first game at the Olympics yesterday as a member of the Canadian men’s hockey team. Although Vlasic did make some headlines when he was invited to the Olympic orientation camp in August and throughout the regular season with the San Jose Sharks, Vernon said they had a good feeling that he would have a great chance throughout the whole process.
“I wasn’t all that surprised (when it was officially announced on TV), just from all the comments I was hearing – the first thing I did was call you and leave you a message,” said Vernon as he looked at Jeanine. “Again, the analysts were always talking about what makes a team and you don’t go just with people that can score goals. One of the things his dad told him early on when he was playing junior was ‘you aren’t the biggest defenceman, so you want to be the smartest.’ That’s something the commentators have picked up on too.”
Jeanine wasn’t surprised either, but felt a sense of relief.
“I was relieved because stupid things can happen and even though you think everything is in place, some guys thought they were on their way and didn’t make the team,” said Jeanine. “I wasn’t so much surprised as I was relieved.”
Vlasic, now 26 years old, grew up in Montreal, but spent every summer since he was born at his family’s cottage in Melmerby. Even before Vlasic was born his parents were coming to Pictou County for their summers.
Jeanine said they remember the days his parents Ed and MJ were holding Marc-Edouard on their lap as if they were yesterday. She said they loved their summers down on the beach and that every summer Marc-Edouard, and eventually his three brothers, would take a “hat photo” on the beach to show how much they had changed their appearances each year.
Over the years they eventually started doing more things like golfing, playing tennis, having crib tournaments, but spending time on the beach was the favourite part of their summer vacations in Pictou County.
“They really appreciate Melmerby (Beach),” said Vernon. “His parents made sure that every year most of his vacation time was spent at Melmerby because the boys were growing up in Montreal. Even with everything Montreal has they really appreciated the opportunity to come down and spend their summers at the beach. They were a highlight of the year for the family right from the beginning.”
Both Vernon and Jeanine have a number of memories of Marc-Edouard and his brother over the years and their intense crib matches, horsing around like brothers do, and how they would eat anything they put in front of them and then some as they were “growing boys.” One of the most exciting memories for them though was the summer of 2005 when he was selected 35th overall in the NHL entry draft. After playing three years with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL he expected his named to be called, but according to Vernon the family didn’t expect it to be until the third round.
The night of the draft everyone was at Vernon and Jeanine’s house because they didn’t have cable at the cottage.
“Marc-Edouard was drafted the same year Sid Crosby was drafted, so of course all the hullaballoo was around Crosby at the draft,” said Jeanine. “They came over here to watch the first round and then he wasn’t drafted in the first round so they headed back. Between the time that he left here and got back to the cottage (approximately five minute drive) his agent had called and he had been drafted.”
As soon as they heard on the TV, Vernon said he called the family.
“We phoned them because we had heard it – it was still on – but it was just the first round of players that were actually there,” he said. “By the time we called his agent had already called him on his cellphone. We thought we were going to break the news. We were like ‘we know where Marc-Edouard is going’ and they said ‘yeah, his agent just called.’
“It was pretty cool because where their cottage is they know a lot of people there too and kind of have a summer family, so everyone around was pretty happy about it.”
It was an exciting moment for Marc-Edouard and his family, something that they were excited to be a part of. Vernon admits he never thought they would have an NHL player in the family, although Ed had told them a few years before when Marc-Edouard was playing his final year of midget that he would be playing alongside players in the NHL someday.
Over the years they had the opportunity to watch him play when the Remparts would play the Mooseheads in Halifax, but they also took in a few games when they lived in Edmonton for a few years. They were always impressed with the smart hockey player he was and his ability to handle himself on the ice – of course there were some funny family moments after games when they got to see him.
“When they used to come for supper we used to always have brownies and they always remembered that, so when we went to watch him play Halifax when he played with the Remparts, we would take him brownies,” said Jeanine. “He’d be passing the brownies around on the bus when they were heading back after the game, which was always pretty funny.”
Now that they have had the opportunity to watch him play a game for Canada at the Olympics, Vernon said it is just another chance for them to appreciate the “little boy” they watched grow up each summer when they visited Pictou County.
“For me it’s a case of appreciating he is that good. He was drafted the same year as Crosby, so Crosby got all the attention, but it was good for Marc-Edouard because he was able to come in under the radar, get with a team and prosper,” said Vernon. “I really appreciate now what they felt and what they saw in him. They were able to develop that in him without a lot of press and all that stuff, but obviously he has turned into one of the premier players.
“I think it surprised me in a way (when he was selected for the Olympics), although going back to what Ed said about him believing he would play in the NHL some day it shows the drive he had to be the best.”
On Twitter: @NGNewsChris