KELOWNA - Several years ago, when the Rockets franchise had first moved to Kelowna, longtime Saskatchewan hockey man Graham Tuer found himself unattached to a Western Hockey League team.
He had been in the WHL, helping to build the Regina Pats organization (his name hangs in the rafters in Regina’s arena) as the team’s head scout and assistant general manager.
But Tuer had decided to leave the organization and focus on his other duties, some of which included working with the Saskatchwean Midget AAA league, the Saskatchewan Development Model or with NHL Central Scouting.
The phone rang pretty quick. For when a hockey man like Graham Tuer is available, he's not going to be on the market for long.
“I really wasn’t out of it for very long, it was almost immediate,” said Tuer from his home in Regina, where he stayed home to be with his wife this year, as opposed to attend the Rockets rookie training camp. “Lorne (Frey, Rockets head scout) phoned and asked me if I wanted to work with Kelowna and that was it.”
Over the years if it was happening in Saskatchewan hockey, odds are Graham Tuer was involved. He has a bantam hockey tournament named after him in Regina, is in the Regina Sports Hall of Fame and sits on the board of the Saskatchewan Development Model, a body that represents all of Saskatchewan’s hockey leagues from the WHL to minor hockey, with an aim to help Saskatchewan players better develop.
“We do a lot of work about education and moving players and we’ve been quite successful in the province,” said Tuer. “I get satisfaction out of the fact you are helping develop kids, doing things to make things better for the kids, like education and all the good things that go on in the background that people don’t think about but are very beneficial to the boys.”
This year Tuer remains home with his wife as the Rockets rookie camp takes place. He has been to more rookie camps than he can keep track of and says it’s the camaraderie with his fellow scouts and others in the game that he is missing.
“It’s amazing the relationships that develop and how they are maintained,” he said. “You develop a relationship and you look forward to meeting with the scouts and arguing with them. Sometimes it gets a little hot because you think one player is better than another. I use the analogy of picking a girlfriend. It’s silly but it’s something like that. Sometimes I just like a player better than another one and other guys see it differently.”
A man of his word, Tuer knows the game of hockey front and back and speaks from the heart.
KP: "Can I ask how old you are?"
GT: “Fairly old (laughs). I don’t talk about age because age doesn’t mean anything to me. What you want to be on any given day is what you are. I’m very active. Too active.”
KP: "Are there any players people may know who you have helped that are special to you?"
GT: "There are lots of players that I have been involved with but honestly I just never talk about it. When I see a player I think: 'well I remember we really liked him because he was a good kid, he worked hard.' That is the highlight for me. Quite honestly, what the heck kind of difference does it make (if I helped)?"
KP: "So what is it that you like in a hockey player?"
GT: "Number one the little bugger has to be hard working. I want a player that devotes himself to being a success. It's just like any other job….I like people who devote themselves to the task at hand."
One thing is for sure when it comes to Graham Tuer and that is that family means everything.
A retired government employee, Tuer and his wife have four children: Two boys and two girls. One son (Al) has followed in Dad’s footprint and is working in hockey as a pro scout for the Florida Panthers. Tuer’s family has always been there to support him as he drove from town to town watching hockey. They've done it together.
“My focus has mostly been on the management side of things,” he said, reminiscing about his hockey life.
“I’ve helped one of my kids to participate in the game. I didn’t push him. It’s always been a family thing. It was a family thing when I was a kid and it’s still a family thing. My family support has been unbelievable. I talked to my daughter the other day and she said ‘it’s great Mom has been able to help you do what you love to do and that’s watching hockey.’
"It’s like anything: There are high days and low days but hockey has been great for myself selfishly and great for my family as well.”
And so while Graham Tuer may be missing Rockets training camp this year, in two weeks he will be back where he belongs - he hitches rides these day, usually with the refs - as he heads to hockey rinks for NHL Central Scouting, and for the Rockets, living the game of hockey.