(Courtesy of Chris Jaster, Brandon Sun) — Don Dietrich feels fortunate for living one of his dreams by playing in the NHL. Today he will live another.
Dietrich, a former Brandon Wheat Kings captain, was inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame builder category in Winnipeg Saturday. He was inducted along with former Wheat Kings owner Bob Cornell, ex-head coach/general manger Glen Lawson, former Wheat King defenceman Jayson More of Deloraine and Russell native Theoren Fleury. A total of seven players, four builders, two officials, two media members and six teams will be inducted.
“It’s a great honour for me,” said Dietrich. “I never imagined or dreamt or anything that anything like that could be possible. I was quite overwhelmed. I cried when they told me.”
The Deloraine native takes a special amount of pride to be inducted in the builder category because it represents him giving back to the game he loves. He did this through coaching everything from minor hockey to senior hockey in Deloraine and being a part of Hockey Manitoba’s national coaching mentorship program.
His start in coaching, however, began while playing pro in Europe. During a game in Switzerland, his team’s head coach let Dietrich run the team’s bench.
“I felt like I was the admiral who was driving the ship and making sure everything was getting done and it was a different feeling than I had from playing,” said Dietrich, who has battled cancer and Parkinson’s disease for the past decade. “I guess I felt when you’re coaching then you’re putting the pieces in the right place and I found that very rewarding. I find it more rewarding than when I played, especially with kids when the light goes on.”
As happy as Dietrich is to be inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, he couldn’t be happier than going in with Cornell. Cornell was a part-owner of the Wheat Kings in 1979, the year Dietrich and the Wheat Kings won their first Western Hockey League title.
“There’s a no more-deserving guy than Bob Cornell for what he has done for hockey in Brandon and the Wheat Kings,” said Dietrich. “I always look forward to seeing him and I’m very proud to stand up there with him.”
Cornell grew up playing minor hockey in Brandon all the way up to the juvenile level before he was asked by his father why he wasn’t getting a real job. So Cornell, who was invited to a Detroit Red Wings camp when he was 17 but didn’t get any further, went into the plumbing and heating business with his father. He started his own company in Melita in 1957 and eventually moved back to Brandon in 1969.
Shortly after returning, he was invited to a meeting with local businessmen who were looking at buying the Wheat Kings, who had financial issues. He was the team’s part owner for a few seasons before selling the Wheat Kings to another owner, who struggled to keep the team financially viable, so he purchased the club again with a few friends. Cornell eventually bought out his partners and brought long-term financial stability to the club.
“(It worked because of) a lot of hard work,” he said. “You’re trying to raise advertising money and sell season tickets and that was the only revenues you had. It was tough going, but we persevered.”
As the team’s owner, he witnessed the Wheat Kings win a pair of WHLtitles (1979 and 1996) and appear in three Memorial Cups (1979, 1995 and 1996). His only regret as the team’s owner was never winning a Memorial Cup.
One of Cornell’s proudest moments was hiring Kelly McCrimmon as general manager.
“He was my general manager for 10 years until 2000 and then I sold him my hockey team,” Cornell said. “I actually sold him one-third shortly after he was my general manager. He was very good, as his record has shown, and I thought I’d keep him around. He has taken it to greater levels as far as junior hockey is concerned. He has done a great job.”
Cornell is even more impressed that the Wheat Kings were able to host the Memorial Cup in 2010, something he never thought would happen.
“It’s just phenomenal,” he said. “It was a great event for our city and southwest Manitoba.”
Looking back on his career, Cornell couldn’t be prouder to be inducted into Manitoba’s Hockey Hall of Fame.
“For me it means an awful lot because it’s a finality for my time in hockey,” he said. “… It’s a very nice honour.”
More, who now resides in Tennessee, had a four-year career in the WHL, including half a season in Brandon. He went on to play 406 career NHLgames with six different teams from 1988 to 1999.
Fleury racked up 1,088 points in 1,084 career NHLgames over 15 seasons. He won a Stanley Cup with Calgary in 1989 and helped lead Canada to an Olympic gold medal in 2002 in Salt Lake City.
Selkirk native Neil Wilkinson and three-time Stanley Cup winner Mike Keane of Winnipeg will also be inducted.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 1, 2011