Having been born in Willow Park, spent a few years on an acreage in DeWinton and mostly brought up in the Riverbend area, Tyler Sloan is Calgary to the core.
“I’ve still got programs from old games, with signatures from the guys,” says Sloan, now 39. “I grew up here going to games.
“The ’89 Cup win. Listening to Peter Maher on 66 CFR. I have such vivid memories of those things, those times.
“Gary Roberts was one of my favourite players.
“I always tried to wear No. 10.”
Making the evening of Oct. 21, 2008 even more unforgettable than normal, if such a thing is possible:
The undrafted Sloan’s NHL debut, marked in his hometown, at the rink he’d come to regard as something of a shrine, decked out in the livery of the Washington Capitals.
Made his presence felt, too, folding Daymond Langkow like a piece of origami with a thunderous open-ice check that drew the predictable crowd, and nine Calgary Flames penalty minutes.
“A surreal experience, coming back here,” recalls Sloan, approaching a dozen years later. “I ran into my minor-bantam hockey coach down by the media room, warming up before the game. He came over and said: ‘Congrats.’
“I think I was almost in shock in those two days before we got on the plane and took off for Phoenix. Like: ‘Holy s—-, that just happened …’
“Such a whirlwind, right? You get called up, you’re going to Calgary, you’re calling people and packing a bag. Drive, get on the plane and then everyone wants your attention. We stayed downtown at the Sheraton Eau Claire, my brother works down there and we actually took the C Train over to Chinook Station, got picked up and went to my mom’s house for dinner the night before the game, then got back to the hotel and slept.
“Or tried to.”
The kicker to the tale? Fred Sloan had driven his son’s car 4,100 kilometres, a roughly 46-hour trek, from Calgary to Hershey, planning to hang around a couple of weeks, catch the Bears’ home opener and a few other AHL games.
“He’d just got to Hershey,” recalls Sloan, “and – wouldn’t you know it – I get called up. I told him: ‘I’m going to Calgary.’ And he’s like: ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got to get home.’ We scrambled to find him a flight back and the morning he landed he went straight to the Saddledome to watch the skate.
“He was so excited. Oh, yeah. I don’t think he slept for a couple of days, either.”
These days, Sloan, who logged 103 games of NHL service for the Caps along with minor-league stints in Syracuse, Dayton, Las Vegas, Winnipeg, Hershey, Milwaukee and Cedar Park, Tx., runs Sloan Safety, an industrial equipment and clothing company here in town.
He acquired the business in 2015 from a friend of his dad that had been running it for 16 years in Pembroke, B.C.
“I was at the time looking for something to do,” he explains. “I’d worked in the oil fields, in a sales job, for a year and that didn’t go well. So I took a few months off, got a dog and took some time to think about what it was I wanted to do.
“This came along, I took a long look at it through the summer and decided it would be a good fit and took over in October of 2015.
“Since then, I’ve built it up. It was kind of an archaic business, they were still using FAX machines. I incorporated e-mail and website and social-media stuff, eventually changing the name to make it my own.
“It’s been challenging at times. Painful. Stressful. But also fun, just because you’re learning so much because so much has been trial by fire.
“When I think back to 2015 and all that I’ve learned, it’s unbelievable. I don’t have an MBA, I didn’t go to university but you sure pick up a lot of things and meet incredible people who are willing to help you.
“And that’s where we are today.”
The one-time Calgary Buffaloes’ D-man keeps in touch with the game via the Calgary Flames’ Alumni.
“I played in Washington for a few years and then signed with Nashville, hoping to crack that lineup. It didn’t happen. I go down to Milwaukee, Kirk Muller is coaching there, I’m playing 30 minutes a night and he’s telling me: ‘I’m gonna get you back up.’ Everything was going great. Then Kirk went to Carolina. After that I had a couple injuries and the next year was the lockout year and they wanted to play all the kids.
“I was only 31, 32 but the game was getting very young … 31, 32 is old. Ancient.
“I still thought I had lots to give, thought I could get back. But I just kinda got worn down mentally from some of the BS that goes with it.”
The European option beckoned, or so Sloan imagined. Lovely locales. Good money, tax free. And the opportunity to prolong his career.
“But I wasn’t super-excited about the offers coming in. I was training, training, training. Then Christmas came and went and I was like: ‘That’s good. I’m going to get a real job.’
“The decision wasn’t easy. I really struggled with it.
‘I still had people asking me if I wanted to play two years later, after I played in the Allan Cup. Tommy Coolen, who coached with Ted Nolan in Buffalo, asked me if I wanted to go play in Poland. But I told him: ‘Nah. I’m done.’
“I’d had some concussions and neck issues that contributed to it. Looking back, if I’d taken a full year off to let my body heal a little bit and kept training, I probably could’ve kept playing for another few years.
“I’ve struggled with moving on, creating a different persona. You’re known as ‘a hockey player.’ Not Tyler Sloan.
“I still check on guys I played with, still love watching the playoffs. There’ve been lots of opportunities to go down the hockey road, whether it’s hockey schools or power skating or skill development – my dad has coached power skating for over 40 years. And maybe I will revisit it down the road.
“But right now I’m good with the decision I made.”
Back home, the opportunity to stretch the legs with the alumni – numbering a few of the gents whose signatures highlight those long-ago programs – has been a blast.
“The hockey world,” says Sloan, “is a fishbowl. I never played for the Flames but I know the Flames’ alumni are very receptive to local guys from other teams joining them, as long as you played or you coached.
“It was Bob Murdoch who said to me: ‘I really think you should go out and give it a try.’
“Getting involved with the guys and the charities has been amazing. The chance to skate with … I don’t want to say older generation … let’s say the legendary generation of guys that won the Cup in ’89 – Otts, Jamie Macoun – who won that Cup in ’89 is so cool. Still.
“Just the best.”