The “Uncle Gary” moniker is taking on a life of its own.
Gary Haden came to the Saskatoon Blades looking for a new start. He was acquired in a trade with the Medicine Hat Tigers on Oct. 25, 2018 in an exchange of 1999-born forwards, which saw Logan Christensen go the other way.
After going on a couple of early season scoring streaks, he was dubbed “Uncle Gary” by Blades’ manager of communications and community relations Tyler Wawryk.
The product of Airdrie, Alta., kept scoring, and he has recorded 28 goals, 30 assists and a plus-20 rating in his first 48 games with the Blades. As a result, the nickname is staying as well.
“I get called ‘Uncle’ now all the time,” said Haden, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 175 pounds. “You could be called a lot worse things.
“I’ll take it for what it is worth. We have a great team this year. Hopefully, we make a long playoff push.”
Haden has played a big part in helping the Blades post a 39-14-8 record and qualifying for the WHL playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“Uncle Gary” t-shirts are even being sold at the Blades merchandise store at the SaskTel Centre.
“It makes me laugh for sure,” said Haden, who turned 20 in late January. “I’m sure there will be probably 150 bought in Airdrie.
“The City of Airdrie would love them. It is lots of fun. You just kind of have to run with it and just enjoy it.
“It is the best time of your life playing junior hockey, and just don’t take it for granted and just be thankful for the opportunity I’m given.”
Blades head coach Mitch Love chuckles, when he hears the “Uncle Gary” moniker.
“He (Haden) is quite the character,” said Love. “It is something the guys have had a lot of fun with, and I think even the media as well right now after he has been pretty successful here as of late.”
Fun with nicknames aside, Love said Haden has been a big pickup for the Blades.
“Gary has done a real good job,” said Love. “I think the numbers speak for themselves in terms of what he has been able to accomplish as a Blade.
“He is a smart hockey player. He finds ways to produce offence in many different ways. Scoring goals, he goes to the right spots.
“To make plays for his linemates, he goes to the right spots. He has done a real good job. He has been a nice fit for us.”
Growing up in Airdrie, Haden had always been a big point producer. In his final season with the Airdrie Xtreme bantam AAA team in 2013-14, Haden piled up 39 goals and 31 assists in 33 games.
“The minor hockey system is awesome there,” said Haden. “They really guided me on my way.”
He proceeded to play the next two seasons in midget AAA with the Foothills CFR Chemical Bisons team that was based in Strathmore, Alta. at the time. In 66 regular- season games, he had 32 goals and 45 assists.
“My billets were awesome,” said Haden. “It was kind of the perfect program to get you ready for the next level in junior hockey and move away from home.
“Throughout my minor hockey career, I was given exactly what I needed. I can’t thank them more.”
He was called up to play for the Tigers for four games in 2015-16 before joining the team full time in 2016-17. The offensive numbers didn’t follow.
In 115 career regular-season games with the Tigers, Haden had 25 goals and 28 assists including one goal and two assists in nine games starting the current campaign in Medicine Hat.
Looking for a change of scenery, he asked for a trade.
With the Blades, Haden has turned heads with some big performances including a night where he scored four goals and another outing where he had four assists.
“They’ve given me every opportunity to succeed,” said Haden. “I’ve played with great linemates.
“I have to attribute my success to them, too. They’ve treated me with world-class respect, and it has just been awesome. It has been a great place to play hockey.”
Haden started out playing left wing on a line centred by captain Chase Wouters with Josh Paterson playing right wing. On Jan. 10, Paterson was traded to the Portland Winterhawks, and Haden found himself on a line centred by Wouters with former Tigers teammate Max Gerlach playing right wing.
The Blades acquired Gerlach in a trade with the Tigers on Jan. 10, 2018.
The move worked out better than Haden has ever imagined.
“Throughout your career, you’re on different teams, and you kind of get to see different personalities,” said Haden. “I have never really been on a team like this where everyone likes each other.
“Everyone gets along. It is really a family-friendly environment. You can trust any one of those guys to tell anything.
“They have your back, and you have their back. It is something special. Hopefully, we can take this far.”
While he is enjoying every moment with the Blades, Haden said he has been looking forward to the upcoming playoffs.
“It is obviously really exciting,” said Haden. “We have some guys in this room that have never played in playoffs.
“I think obviously the City of Saskatoon has been starving for some playoff hockey. It is a great time to win in hockey and more fans start coming. It just gets electric.”
(You can see more of Darren Steinke’s work in his online blog stankssermon.blogspot.ca.)