LOUISDALE: Hundreds of people from across Richmond County and beyond recently gathered to salute a native son who has spent 44 years of his life as a National Hockey League goal judge.
Still a familiar face at the Bell Centre as a result of his many years working with the Montreal Canadiens, Al Sampson received a hero’s welcome at St. Louis Parish Hall on June 11, with celebrations that stretched over several hours and included a roast from family members and friends, musical performances, comedy sketches, and a catered meal.
The jam-packed schedule of events also saw Sampson put in a position he has never experienced in his four-decades plus with the NHL – serving a “10-minute misconduct” in a special penalty box developed by event organizers to allow individuals and business owners to make pledges towards worthy charities to set Sampson free.
Sampson’s early days as a sports fan, including his devotion to the New York Yankees and his participation in hockey, baseball and football, were recounted by his longtime friend Jim Marchand and one of Sampson’s cousins, Felix Boudreau.
“Did you ever see a goaltender with a plain hockey stick with plain shin guards and no uniform, nothing on his face? He was crazy enough that he would put his face in front of a puck if he had to – he never wanted somebody to score,” Boudreau smiled.
Following Boudreau’s recollection that a Yogi Berra home run led a jubilant Sampson to jump up in excitement, “smash through the wall in his room” and leave “a big hole where his rear end was,” Marchand upped the ante with his own baseball story.
“We were listening to the World Series in the old school, upstairs, and there were six of us around the radio,” Marchand recalled.
“Mickey Mantle was on deck, and Al… said, ‘If Mickey Mantle hits a home run, I’ll pull my pants down.’ And Mickey hit a home run, and down went the pants and the shorts.”
Despite the raucous laughter generated by these stories, Marchand later used glowing words to describe the evening’s guest of honour.
“There is no more honest man, more generous man, more kind man, and more genuine man than this man, Al Sampson,” Marchand declared, earning warm applause.
Given the opportunity to share his own memories of growing up in Louisdale, Sampson corroborated at least one story – “The holes in the wall are true…I gave them a good body-check” – and thanked those who served as mentors and role models. These treasured people included his own father and paternal grandmother, Grand Anse business owner Billy Urquhart, and Minnie Joyce, who gave Sampson one of his first jobs, paying him $30 per month in one of the community’s stores.
“The fact that I didn’t go to school much – I had mentors, and I had people I really admired, and I figured this was the time to say thank you to those people,” Sampson told the Louisdale crowd, adding that he has always held his community and his family close throughout his years of NHL service.
“My biggest pride – I had four. One is that I’m a Canadian, two is that I’m an Acadian, three is that I belong to the Sampson family, and fourth: I’m a barraco!”