As a pro hockey player in the NHL, Gary Nylund knew how to a pick a fight.
As an amateur guitar player, he knows how to a pick a chord.
The Surrey-born Nylund, drafted third-overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1982 after learning the game on rinks in North Delta, loves noodling on the guitar in the basement of his Cloverdale-area home.
Framed hockey jerseys of his past are hung on the walls, along with several guitars.
“I love coming down here to play,” says Nylund, 54, a longtime firefighter in Delta.
All the practicing he does will come in handy for a charity concert set for April 14 at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver. The second annual Canuck Country Rocks event will feature performances by Aaron Pritchett, Odds, Shawn Austin, Meghan Patrick and special guests, along with appearances by retired NHLers Kirk McLean, Cliff Ronning, Jyrki Lumme, Dave Babych, Garth Butcher, Kyle Wellwood, Nylund and others.
Nylund will once again join Odds on stage for a few rocking songs.
“I guess I’m a fifth Odd for this, like a fifth Beatle,” he said with a laugh.
Last time around, Nylund got a huge rush from being on stage — a familiar rush.
“Playing the start of one song of theirs, I felt almost the same way, for a fraction of a second, like I did in old Chicago Stadium when standing on the blueline during the anthem,” he recalled. “It’s that rush, and if you don’t feel it, you’re not alive. And it’s probably something you can feel only if you were there on the blueline for the anthem, because it’s a sound that comes down, and in, like that. So when we hit that D chord, we’re all there for the same reason, as one, and the crowd is loud, that same rush was there for a second.
“You know, I phoned the guys the next day and told them that feeling I had the previous night, and I thanked them for that, for being given the opportunity to stand on stage and pretend to be a rock star – because that’s all I am, I just pretend.”
Nylund’s career in the NHL stretched from 1982 to 1993, with stops in Toronto, Chicago and Long Island, New York. He was a rugged, six-foot-four blueliner who once fought his way to 208 penalty minutes in a single season. His jersey hangs on a wall at Sungod Arena in North Delta.
While playing with the Blackhawks in the late-1980s, he was a part of a Chicago 6 cover band assembled with the help of the editor of a local sports magazine. Nylund, on rhythm guitar, was joined in the band by fellow hockey guys Curt Fraser (lead guitar) and Troy Murray (sax), and Bears football players Dan Hampton (bass), Dave Duerson (trumpet) and Walter Payton (drums).
The band’s very first performance was in front of close to 10,000 people at Chicago’s UIC Pavilion, the arena at the University of Illinois.
“It was big, and we played it up and had a lot of fun,” Nylund remembered.
“I don’t think I’ve told this story to anyone in the media,” he teased, “but we had a whole bunch of guys training us and showing us what to do, some professionals, and then they left and we went on stage. Our training was over and we had to pull it together. Well, Walter was a drummer, but didn’t exactly stay in the pocket. He was a rusher or a dragger, and didn’t stay in the pocket very often. So we had this big curtain there, and behind the curtain we hired a professional drummer who was behind Walter and could see us through the curtain, and played. Walter has passed on now, but to the day he died he didn’t know that this other guy was there taking over the drum parts. So when Walter did a drum roll, they switched the mics over to his drum set, but for the song, this other guy would play.”
The band rehearsed in a studio with multiple soundproofed rooms.
“That’s where we met other people, musicians,” Nylund recalled. “One day this older-looking dude came into our room and was farting around with my amplifier, and I said, ‘Hey, what are you doing there?’ He said he wanted to tweak it, whatever, and I said, ‘Don’t bugger around with my sound, OK?’ Like, who does he think he is? So I asked him what he was doing in here, because I thought he was trying to steal stuff or something, and he said his band was practicing there, too, down the hall. Turns out he was Dennis DeYoung (from the band Styx). So I apologized to him and then said if he wanted to paint my amplifier green, go ahead.”
Today, Nylund cherishes his time playing some guitar with Odds, who’ve taught him a thing or two about being a musician and playing in front of a crowd.
“They’re really great guys but they also expect me to know my stuff,” he noted. “So I’m like the left-side defenseman, and if I get passed the puck, or if it’s my turn to do lead, whatever, I have to act, I can’t just stand there. There are no do-overs, either. They’ve given me a great chance to just explore that other side of the brain, the creative side.”
The Canuck Country Rocks gig on April 14 benefits the Canucks for Kids Fund. Tickets are priced at $44.50 on the event website, canuckcountryrocks.com.
For Nylund, the all-ages charity concert has become a highlight of his year.
“At the age I am, I’m turning 55 this year, I know that if I don’t do this type of stuff now, I’ll never do it, will never have another chance to do it,” he explained. “The worst thing at the end of life is thinking, ‘I had a chance to do that and didn’t – and could have, and should have,’ you know? Why not just try and maybe fall on your face, so what. That was the attitude going into all this, and I love it, absolutely love being around those guys and playing with them. They’re just good, down-to-earth guys, and if they were egotistical rock stars or whatever, I wouldn’t hang around with them.”