“An experience I’ll never forget” – a Fifer’s taste of life in the NHL

Paul Lawson, centre, is congratulated by his team mates after scoring his first 'NHL' goal
Paul Lawson, centre, is congratulated by his team mates after scoring his first 'NHL' goal

Last month, Paul Lawson, an ice hockey fanatic from Glenrothes, travelled to America to take part in the Carolina Hurricanes charity alumni match alongside former stars of the NHL. Here he recounts his ‘bucket-list’ experience ...

The five days I spent in Raleigh, North Carolina, were nothing short of awesome from the moment I arrived at RDU Airport.

All of my NC friends, the Carpenters, Dlouhys & the Powells, couldn’t do enough for me, letting me stay at their beautiful home and driving me around here, there and everywhere without question, and refusing to let me put my hand in my pocket.

I’d heard of Southern Hospitality, but they all went beyond that, for which I’m truly grateful.

I got to watch the current Carolina Hurricanes practice twice, I got to speak to the head coach Bill Peters, Hurricanes players Riley Nash, Chris Terry and Andrej Nestrasil, and hang out with some of the nicest people I’m ever likely to meet.

I saw the Carolina Hurricanes narrowly lose in a shootout to the NY Rangers. Everyone was so friendly, and all the ex-players were down to earth, great guys with no airs and graces. They couldn’t do enough for us fans.

I got to spend time living the dream, realising a bucket list experience that I’ll never, ever forget.

Never in my life did I think I’d set foot on the ice at the PNC Arena, let alone share it with ex-NHLers.

During our Saturday practice, Rod Brind’amour was giving us some drills to warm up the goalies. I sent my first pass off to Niclas Wallin, then looked up to take a pass back – from Ron Francis! That was surreal!

The Alumni Game Day was one of the best days of my life. As it was such a special occasion for me, I wore my kilt, much to everyone’s delight! I was the first guy there at the Arena, and when I walked into the Carolina Hurricanes locker room and saw my #90 jersey hanging up, with my nameplate above my stall, I was in a state of shock.

I just spent a lot of the time talking with all the Canes staff and all the other guys playing in the game. I was taken into the assistant coaches office to meet Steve Smith, a teammate for the day. Born in Glasgow, but raised in Canada – a fellow Scot! He won three Stanley Cups on the same Edmonton Oilers team with Wayne Gretzky.

He gave me his signed Alumni game jersey as an extra special wee gift, a fantastic gesture.

Team White had ex-players Rod Brind’Amour, Shane Willis, Stu Grimson, Niclas Wallin, Steve Smith and Steve Rice. After our warm-up we were told who our linemates would be. I was centering a line with Stu Grimson on the wing, and another alternating forward. This is when the dressing room banter really started to kick in, and the Alumni players chirping one another.

We were announced onto the ice in numerical order, with me being the last non-Alumni player on before the ex-players themselves. Waiting in the players tunnel I had three-time Stanley Cup winner Aaron Ward chatting to me about his Scottish heritage, and golf. Along with a few chirps, as he was on the Red Team.

Then came the most nerve wracking and greatest moments of my life. TV commentator John Forslund announcing “From the White Team, number 90, PAUL LAWSON!”, as I skated out the tunnel into the spotlight to give my teammates fist bumps on my way past them.

Late in the first period, Stu Grimson skated down the left wing and threw the puck on net, just as I was driving in through the slot. The goalie saved Grimmer’s shot, but as it came up off his pad, I got a touch on it – enough to knock it in. My first NHL goal, assisted by the Grim Reaper!

During the first interval, Stu was jokingly claiming it as his goal. Aaron Ward chirping me about a goalie interference call, and me chirping him back saying I was going to run him in the corners, brought the locker room into hysterics.

I went to take the opening face-off in the second period opposite Jesse Boulerice, one of the old tough guys of the NHL. I motioned to drop the gloves with him, and with a smile he declined my offer of a fight. Thankfully!

Nearing the end of the third period, down by a couple of goals, Stu Grimson shouts up the bench to me, “Hey Laws! If you need to stick someone in the moustache to stop them scoring a goal, you do it! I’m OK with that!”

Thankfully, it never came to that. Team White won 11-10, with Steve Rice scoring the game winner. I even got to play on a line with Rod Brind’Amour at the end!

I got to spend time living the dream, realising a bucket list experience that I’ll never, ever forget. I had seven interviews, including one live on TV, I was made to feel like a celebrity. The other guys, like me who paid to play, were chirping me constantly calling me a “A Pretty Big Deal”! All in good fun, of course.

A huge thank you to everyone at PNC Arena, and the Carolina Hurricanes. Especially Shane Willis and his team putting the Alumni Fantasy game together, making normal guys feel like superstars for the day.

All this was in aid of the Carolina Hurricanes Kids ‘N Community Foundation which contributes to 32 various charities in the Raleigh area.