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Thomas Steen’s favourite story about Randy Carlyle actually involves a racehorse, not a hockey game. Turns out the man known as "Kitty" owned a few ponies back in the day, and Steen recalls a memorable pit stop during a Winnipeg Jets road trip.
"He had this one horse, Famous Lemon (Len, actually, but everyone called him Lemon). We had a van pick us up at the airport when we were playing Detroit and it took us to the race track and we had dinner there, the bunch of us. Some of the guys were going out to hand out trophies and Famous Lemon never won in Winnipeg. Ever. In one of the races in Windsor, Famous Lemon was in the running and I think it was the one where he was handing out the trophies and the horse won by lengths," Steen recalled.
"And the funny part was, I didn’t bet a nickel on the horse," cracked Carlyle.
Steen and Carlyle were thoroughbreds for the Jets, playing key roles in the 1.0 era in Winnipeg. And now they can call themselves Jets Hall of Famers after officially being inducted Tuesday night prior to the game against the New York Rangers at Bell MTS Place. They are the seventh and eighth members of the exclusive club.
Steen played all 950 games of his career with the Jets. The centre from Grums, Sweden had 817 points, and his No. 25 was retired in 1995.
"When I first came here it was how we were welcomed by the community and all that stuff. Today I think I enjoy most the camaraderie that we had, the players that I played with, even more today, when I can’t see them as much. I really appreciate what good guys they were and how much fun they had. I don’t really think about the results a whole lot, but it was tons of fun competition," said Steen.
Carlyle was traded to the Jets in 1984 from the Pittsburgh Penguins and remained in Winnipeg until retiring in 1993. The Ontario native played 564 games for the Jets, with 306 points. The defenceman became an assistant coach for Winnipeg in their final season, then took the helm of the Manitoba Moose during their initial season in 1996-97. He left for a brief stint as an assistant in Washington, returned for another shot with the Moose, then took on head coaching jobs in Toronto and Anaheim (twice), capturing a cup with the Ducks in 2006-07.
Carlyle recalled arriving in Winnipeg after temporarily leaving his wife and newborn son behind.
"When I was walking out the door I made a promise to (his wife). I said ‘This will never happen again.’ At that time I made a commitment that I was going to make it work. No matter where I was going, what was going to happen, there was going to be some roots set down and there was going to be a commitment made on my behalf, to my family that I’d started, that I was going to stay somewhere. And I did everything that was necessary in my power to be involved with the community. To raise a family in a community like Winnipeg was very, very valuable," said Carlyle.
Steen served as a Winnipeg city councillor from 2010-14 and is currently employed by True North in scouting and alumni relations. His son, Alex, is a Stanley Cup champion with the St. Louis Blues and played his 1,000th NHL game earlier this month in Winnipeg.
That was the start of a beautiful relationship, one that continues to this day.
"Winnipeg was a big city to me. Winnipeg wasn’t small town. I know there’s this perception that historically Winnipeg didn’t rate with some of the bigger cities in Canada. But that’s not true. There was a hidden gem here. And the people that are here welcomed me and my family into this community, and we felt there was an obligation to stay here. And to commit. And that’s what we did. Obviously you can’t stay forever, but spent 18 years here in this community. And enjoyed it. Some of the best friends of my life are here," he said.
Now his Hall of Fame banner is here as well.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.