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This article was published 19/1/2017 (1174 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Grant Ledyard was the epitome of a late bloomer.
"I was one of those guys that kinda slipped through the cracks," the veteran of 19 seasons and nine NHL teams recalled Thursday via telephone from Amherst, N.Y. "I grew when I was 18½ to 20. I didn’t get my driver’s licence at 16 because my mother thought I was too short. I got my driver’s licence at 17 — it lists me at 5-6, but that was stretching it a bit."
The undersized blue-liner from River Heights would grow eight more inches to 6-2 and tip the scales at 200 pounds before he was 21. By that time, with a superb final season of junior hockey with the Fort Garry Blues under his belt, the New York Rangers came calling with a US$10,000 signing bonus.
Ledyard went on to play 1,028 games in the NHL before retiring after the 2001-02 season. Next month, he will be the first player inducted into the Winnipeg Blues Hall of Fame.
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League club announced Thursday an induction ceremony and banner commemorating Ledyard’s No. 3 jersey will be raised to the rafters at the MTS Iceplex prior to the Blues’ regular-season game against the Dauphin Kings Feb. 3. (The No. 3, however, will remain active.)
The idea for a Blues Hall of Fame was hatched last fall when club communication co-ordinator Gus Gottfred and head coach Billy Keane plotted a way to better connect with the organization’s alumni: a marquee name.
"The man we both thought of was Grant Ledyard, because he was undrafted and it’s a great MJHL story because it’s an underdog league," Gottfred said.
"You’ve got players who want to go to B.C., players that want to go down south or want to play junior in the Western (Hockey) League. So the players that play in the MJHL are really battling hard to make it. He’s obviously one of the (most) successful people."
Ledyard played with the Blues from 1978 to 1980 and returned to the club in 1981-82.
As a 20-year-old during the 1981-82 season, Ledyard led the Blues to a Turnbull Cup title while also being named the league’s MVP and top defenceman.
Ledyard — whose father, Hal Ledyard, was a pro quarterback including a stint with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers — said he was deeply honoured by Thursday’s announcement.
"It’s kind of hard to describe because there have been a tremendous amount of not only quality players but great people that have gone through the (Blues) system," Ledyard said. "When I was there, our owners were top-notch. They had fun with the guys and made sure we were treated very, very well. It was a great experience for me."
The 55-year-old, born and raised in Winnipeg, lives in Amherst with his wife, Liza, and children Jacob, 24, Ryall, 22, and Taggart, 21.
He’s the director of hockey for the Amherst Youth Hockey Association in suburban Buffalo. He’s also a facilities manager for the Dent Neurologic Institute and a spokesman for its concussion program.
The MJHL team plans to honour more individuals, but Gottfred said those plans are still formative. There is no timetable for future inductions.
"There will be (more) banners and in the future, we’d like to honour past championship teams with people who are still living," Gottfred said. "Championships go back to 1932, so they’ve won, over time, many Turnbull Cups."
Ledyard’s induction ceremony is in conjunction with the festivities of the Blues alumni weekend, which also includes the second annual alumni games Feb. 4 at the MTS Iceplex.
The Wiley Veterans alumni game for players 45 and older is scheduled for 5:15 p.m., while the Young Guns alumni game (for players ages 21-45) is slated for 5:30 p.m.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.