Nick Lees: Former Oilers trainer Barrie Stafford to be guest of honour at Toast of the Town fundraiser

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Former longtime Edmonton Oilers trainer Barrie Stafford has recruited many of the team’s former Stanley Cup greats to score big again — for a charity.

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Kevin Lowe, says Stafford, will be guest of honour Aug. 5 at a Toast of the Town fundraiser held at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre, with proceeds going to the Cross Cancer Institute (CCI).

Oilers alumni attending the event and representing the newly formed Cure Cancer Foundation (CCF), include Glenn Anderson, Randy Gregg, Craig MacTavish, Craig Simpson, Kelly Buchberger, Ron Low, Al Hamilton, Doug Hicks, Mike Krushelnyski, Jason Smith, Kevin McClelland, Jason Strudwick, Dave Hunter, and Charlie Huddy.

Special VIP guests include former NHL executives Glen Sather, Brian Burke and former Calgary Flames forward Tim Hunter.

“Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada, responsible for 30 per cent of all deaths,” says Stafford, who retired in June 2019 after 38 years with the Oilers’ organization.

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“We must all work together for a major victory over this disease, which took the life of some 83,000 Canadians in 2020. The motto of our event: What we do today saves lives tomorrow.”

In 2011, Stafford was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood-borne bone cancer with no known cure. He is in remission after receiving a stem-cell transplant.

Stafford says he had always been a very health-conscious person, but there was a time when he struggled with pain.

“I couldn’t sleep and just wasn’t feeling right,” he says. ”I came face to face with my mortality and didn’t know whether I was going to live or die.”

Oilers’ captain Doug Weight presents Oilers’ equipment manager Barrie Stafford a silver stick for his 1500th game with the Oilers in a ceremony before Monday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks.
Oilers’ captain Doug Weight presents Oilers’ equipment manager Barrie Stafford a silver stick for his 1500th game with the Oilers in a ceremony before Monday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks. Photo by File photo /Postmedia

Toast of the Town was founded by event co-chairs Stafford, buddy Brian Anstice (also diagnosed with multiple myeloma) and a group of friends called The Sunday Morning Coffee Gang. Everyone in the group has been touched by cancer and seeks to make a difference by assisting the CCF.

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Event proceeds will go towards the research of CCI’s Dr. Michael Chu’s CAR-T Cell therapy, potentially a cure for many blood cancers.

“We decided our dinner was the best way we could help research,” says Stafford. “We held a similar event in 2019 and raised some $150,000 to help try to find a cure for multiple myeloma.”

The upcoming fundraiser sold out quickly after organizers announced it would honour Lowe, now an alternate governor of Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG).

Lowe, born in Lachute, Que. in 1959, was 20 years old when he became the Oilers’ first-ever NHL draft pick. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019.

Before taking up his present OEG position, Lowe had previously served for seven seasons as the Oilers president of hockey operations and prior to that, eight seasons as the Oilers general manager.

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“His leadership didn’t go unnoticed,” says Stafford. “In 1990, Kevin became the only player in the same season to win both the King Clancy Memorial Trophy and the Budweiser/NHL Man of the Year Award in one season.”

The Toast of the Town organizers were afraid Lowe is so busy developing a section of land in BC’s Shuswap country that he might not want to be their honoured guest.

They were delighted when Lowe, who has played on six Stanley Cup-winning teams, replied it was “truly an honour” to support the Cure Cancer Foundation.

“It’s an important evening to raise money for something that touches us all,” said Lowe, adding: “I would like my involvement to be recognized as a tribute to all the members of the Oilers’ family we’ve lost, in particular Brian Ross, Daryl Duke, Dave Semenko and Steve Moss.”

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Not everyone knows what strong community supporters Lowe and his wife Karen are, says Stafford, who played for the U of A Golden Bears Hockey Club and helped win three CIAU national championships.

Lowe has served as Christmas Bureau chief for more than 20 years and helped many more charities in a leadership role, including the Edmonton Christmas Bureau; the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation and the Edmonton Police Foundation.

With his wife Karen, a two-time Olympic alpine skiing bronze medal winner at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, the couple significantly helped the Waterkeeper Alliance, which works to ensure every community worldwide has drinkable, fishable and swimmable water.

“Don’t forget Kevin was also responsible for getting the likes of Darryl Katz, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and many other Oilers, and company heads, to play in our Tee-Up for Tots golf games and raise $7.2 million to help the Stollery Children’s Hospital,” says clothier Sam Abouhassan, who co-hosted the tournaments with Lowe.

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Kevin Lowe and wife Karen have been strong supporters of many Edmonton causes.
Kevin Lowe and wife Karen have been strong supporters of many Edmonton causes. Supplied

“Even with hockey stars from five Stanley Cup victories, in today’s economy it would be hard to raise the funds we did. But we should always remember to support the Stollery, which manages more than 300,000 cases annually from across Alberta and other parts of Canada.”

Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron MacLean will host the Toast of the Town event, with help from Stafford and his gala-organizing buddy Anstice and some media personalities.

Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier won’t be at the dinner, but you can bet your favourite hockey stick they will both send warm greetings wishing the gathering every success.

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