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Two for the money

Good morning!

A father who involves his children in sports expects little more in return than a vicarious thrill or two, but for Bob Weiss the payback has been enormous.

The 72-year-old Weiss grew up in Deerfield and slapped the puck around Highland Pond with rink rats Nook Burniske, Paul Chaput and Ted Croteau. When the Greenfield rink opened in 1970, he coached his boys, Dave and Doug, up through the ranks of the FCHA. Meanwhile the oldest child Bonnie eschewed hockey or figure skating for horseback riding.

Both boys played at Deerfield Academy and later in college, Dave at Union College and Doug at Dartmouth, where he was a captain and eventually returned and enrolled in medical school.

Today Dave is a teacher and high school hockey coach in Michigan, and Doug is an orthopedic surgeon in Peterborough, N.H. Prior to becoming a doctor he played professionally in Springfield, Johnstown, Pa., and Europe. Like his brother, Doug sought to meld his passion for hockey with his livelihood and that opportunity occurred in 2009 when a mutual acquaintance put him in touch with Mike Stuart, USA Hockey’s Chief Medical Officer.

He contacted Stuart, an orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and conveyed his enthusiasm. “I said, ‘Here’s my hockey background, here’s my orthopedic background. I’ll cover wherever you want. I will always say yes.’”

Stuart added Weiss to the list of physicians that are willing to go to Lake Placid for training tryouts and overseas for world championships. His first assignment was to Finland, and he asked Stuart, “My dad just retired and he loves hockey. If I took care of his airfare can he come along?”

Suddenly the man who never left Franklin County was on the hockey ride of his life, watching hockey in Finland, Winnipeg and the Czech Republic. “We have a great time on these trips and we see some unbelievable players,” said Doug.

This week Bob was in Saskatoon watching the Memorial Cup, standing in for Doug as the guest of Bob and Lynda MacPherson, whose late son Duncan was teammates with him in Springfield.

In April both were in Sochi, Russia, for the World U-18 championships where the 2014 Winter Olympics will begin in February. Sochi is one of the southernmost places in Russia, about 1,000 miles from Moscow and a popular destination for the Russian elite.

“It’s their vacationland. You stand outside the rink and 1,000 feet away is the Black Sea, then do a 180 and you’re looking at snowcapped mountains,” said Bob, referring to the Caucasus Mountains.

During the three-week tournament, Doug was on the bench attending to injuries. “One kid broke a bone in his hand, I had to get that x-rayed and cast him up. The same kid had a knee injury and a couple of kids had some minor stuff. Before games I’d meet with the ambulance crew and make sure there was an interpreter. That was the big challenge, dealing with the language barrier.

“My dad was in the stands doing video or helping the equipment manager, always finding someone looking for an extra hand. We were in Sweden last February and the goalie coach told him he needed his own card.”

Good idea, thought Weiss, and before flying to Russia he went to Mohawk Copy Services in Deerfield and had a card printed that declared him the team’s assistant videographer, assistant equipment manager and goodwill ambassador.

“It’s exactly like the coaches’ and GM’s cards,” said Doug. “He showed it to them and they loved it.”

While Doug tended to business on the bench, Bob was handing out his USA hockey pins and helping equipment manager Jake Visser load and unload equipment and repacking it after games. To show his appreciation, Visser gave him his copy of former U.S.S.R. goaltender Vladamir Tretiak’s autobiography that had been gifted to him by the host courtesy staff.

“There was a lot of security,” said Bob. “Metal detectors, mirrors to look underneath the vehicles, dogs that went and around sniffing. Nobody spoke English. The younger ones were friendly but the older ones were solemn faced, but I liked Russia.”

The father-son team stayed at the 15-story Vezna Hotel where a standard twin room cost about $150 a night, and though there was never the opportunity to see Sochi’s world aquarium, its famous botanical garden or Joseph Stalin’s summer residence, they were asked to represent the team at a dinner sponsored by the International Hockey Federation.

“We were in a banquet hall inside a renovated seaport building,” said Doug. “We got a taste of the Russian food and a glimpse of its culture, its singers, dancers and music from different regions of Russia.”

The tournament was a dress rehearsal for the Olympics and Russian president Vladimir Putin was in town, hosting the U-18s at his villa before their preliminary game against the U.S. The players met Tretiak and watched “Legend 17” about Soviet forward Valeri Kharlamov who died in a car accident in 1981.

“Talk about motivation,” said Doug. “The next night Putin was at the rink and mentioned the Boston bombings and the explosion at the Texas fertilizer plant. He was very gracious, expressing condolences and thoughts.

“Then he went up to his sky box and watched the game, he didn’t just show up and leave. Every time the Russians touched the puck or had control of it in their own zone the crowd was deafening. We beat ‘em, 4-3, then played ‘em in the semifinals. They scored with four minutes left and it’s 3-2, but two minutes later we scored to tie it up. After a 10-minute sudden death (overtime), we beat ‘em in a shootout. It was probably the most exciting game I’ve ever been a part of.”

Two nights later Canada beat the U.S. to win the championship and the next morning the U.S. team boarded an Aeroflot jetliner for the trip back to Moscow and Amsterdam and on to Detroit. During the stopover in Moscow, Bob Weiss spotted Tretiak. “I rifled through my suitcase and got his book and he autographed it.”

Meanwhile Doug was talking to U.S. head coach Don Granato, asking how he thought things had gone from a medical standpoint. “Doc,” said Granato, “I couldn’t have been happier … And there’s the bonus right there.”

Granato was pointing at his father and smiling. “He was the MVP of the tournament.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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