A Life's Story
October 13, 2018
The first star...
'Gunner' a beloved, unforgettable fixture on sports scene for decades
By: Ashley Prest
When junior A hockey players got the gate in the late-1970s in Keewatin Arena, they’d do the time with Brian (Gunner) Gunn chirping in their ears.
And they loved every minute of it.
The penalty box was Gunn’s domain then as he ran the gate, served as a timekeeper at the rink — now renamed Billy Mosienko Arena — and volunteered with the Kildonan North Stars of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. He was a fixture with plenty of other sports teams, organizations and venues.
The quintessential volunteer for about 50 years, Gunn died of cancer on June 2 at age 78. He and his ever-present grin were well-known in the community and especially at the rink, where he was cracking wise with whoever took a seat in the penalty box.
"It was called Gunner’s Sin Bin," said Winnipeg Blue Bombers Hall of Fame offensive lineman Chris Walby who, in 1975-76 — his rookie junior A season with the Kildonan North Stars — logged a fair bit of time as one of Gunner’s guests; he racked up 156 penalty minutes in 20 games.
"Spent so much time in there, they should have opened a bar."
Gunner coached son Randy and teammate Brad McClintock when they were 12 years old. Later, when McClintock played for the North Stars in 1978-79 and found himself in the box, he and Gunn had plenty of occasions to catch up.
"I was noted for taking a few penalties in my day so I’d be sitting in there with Gunner just chirping at me; it was like old home week sitting there with him, and I’d be just laughing the whole time," said McClintock, 57.
"I’d get back at him by threatening to take his daughter, Cindy, out on a date. That would really get him fired up! When the penalty would be over and I’d get out of the box and skate across the ice, Gunner would yell at me, ‘Hey, Pieface! I’ll see you again in about two minutes!’"
McClintock said Gunn tagged him with the "Pieface" nickname, which followed him throughout his pro hockey career in Europe and has stuck with him since.
"I had kind of a round face, I guess, and Gunner thought that was pretty funny," McClintock said with a laugh.
He said Gunn was still volunteering with the team in 1986-87 when McClintock was part of the North Stars’ coaching staff in their now-legendary 0-48 season. Ken Sutherland, another former North Stars player, said Gunn helped keep him out of more trouble.
"I spent a lot of time in Gunner’s Sin Bin in those days so me and Gunner, we had a pretty special bond!" said Sutherland, 61. "The number of times he saved me from going over into the other penalty box to get at another player. He’d talk sense into me, ‘Sudsy, it’s not worth it.’ He was really, really good."
Gunn is survived by his wife, Josie, of 57 years; Randy, 57; their daughter, Cindy Gunn Vandale, 56; grandson Chad and great-grandsons Brody, six, and Austin, four. He was predeceased by his granddaughter and Cindy’s daughter, Lauren, Brody’s mom, who died tragically in 2014.
"My dad, he just never grew up. He was just the funniest, most loving guy," Vandale said. "Anybody that knew him knew that. I get teared up thinking of it, but they’re happy tears. I just miss him so much.
"Dad was very outgoing, very much a people person, always wanted to be busy doing something and just a natural goofball. I can remember when we were little, my brother and I sitting around the table and Dad just making us laugh. He had false teeth and he’d always be sticking his teeth out and teasing my mom. He’d look at us and stick his teeth out at her when her back was turned. We’d just crack up."
She said Gunn mentored Chad in hockey as he played for the River East Marauders and Miles Macdonell Buckeyes and went to all of Lauren’s soccer games with Phoenix Soccer Club and the provincial team.
"Dad was so thrilled that he got to see Brody start hockey last year in his first year. Wow, was he proud of Brody. We were so glad he got to see Brody play," Vandale said.
Gunn retired in 2002 from Napa Auto Parts after a career of working in the automotive industry. He volunteered in minor football with the Nomads and Winnipeg Hawkeyes, CancerCare Wheels of Hope, did colour commentary on Shaw TV with Gary Whyte for MJHL games and coached Legion 141 baseball.
Russ Cassidy, Hockey Winnipeg’s AAA vice-president, said Gunn was a longtime member of the Hockey Winnipeg AAA Council until about five years ago when he stepped down due to health concerns. Gunn volunteered as director for the bantam II division (age 13) and served on committees for the Western Canadian Bantam Championship and the Telus Cup national and regional midget Championship in Manitoba.
"Brian was always upbeat and positive and greeted everyone with a great big smile and a firm handshake," Cassidy said.
The Winnipeg AAA Hockey League was where Adam Brooks and his older brother, Brett, got to know Gunn.
"Gunner knew my dad (Scott, from junior hockey) and he was a big part of my and my brother’s lives in hockey back then. He was like part of the family; he was always around and so supportive to us. When things weren’t going well, he was there to lend a hand," said Adam, 22, who went on to captain the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League and now plays for the 2018 Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.
"He had that kind of impact on a lot of guys, not just us, and on the hockey community with everything he did. A lot people are going to miss that (this winter) and do miss him already."
Vandale said she used to go with her dad to the rink, eventually got a job working in the Keewatin Arena canteen and met her first husband there when he was playing hockey. She said her father loved living in the North End — in the same home she and her brother grew up in — and would often walk to Nomads Field to watch minor football and visit with anyone he met.
"Dad knew everyone," she said. "Years ago, he and my mom took a vacation in Mexico. They were walking down the street when suddenly they hear, ‘Hey, Gunner!’ My mom just laughed, because of course, Dad would know someone in Mexico."
McClintock said he would meet up with Gunn at the old Canad Inns Stadium to watch the Bombers practise.
"One day, we’re standing there, and a player yells, ‘Hey, Gunner!’ and he comes running up into the stands towards us. It’s Odell Willis," said McClintock, referring to the former Blue Bomber (2009-11) now with the B.C. Lions. "He went through a crowd just to say hi to Mr. Gunn.
"Gunner just loved people. He knew everybody. It wasn’t just hockey. You could run into him at the Garden City Shopping Centre and he’d be talking to a bunch of people," McClintock said. "He just kind of spanned the generations with how much he gave (to the community) and the way he was."