Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Part 26: Dr. Gary Abraham

Gary Abraham is the only father to have had three sons chosen by the Brampton Battalion in the Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.

He’s also been the head of the club’s medical staff for each of its 15 seasons.

Abraham’s oldest son, Brayden, a left winger, was a 15th-round pick in 2006, while middle son Spencer, a defenceman, was taken in the same round in 2009 and youngest son Bryce, also a defenceman, was a 10th-round choice in 2011.

To date, Spencer is the only member of the Abraham clan to play in the OHL. He skated in 116 games over three seasons with the Troops, scoring nine goals and adding 33 assists for 42 points, before being traded to the Erie Otters on Oct. 3.

“My kids grew up watching and idolizing the guys on the Battalion,” Dr. Abraham said in a recent telephone interview from his Brampton office. “When they were smaller, they would pretty much beg me to take them to every game. They would emulate those guys more than NHL players. They really identified with them. I have countless stories of my kids playing on our backyard rink pretending to be those guys. They enjoyed everything about the league. They collected all the pucks from the different teams.”

Spencer Abraham, who turns 20 on March 18, remembered attending the Battalion’s first home game, a 5-1 loss to the Kitchener Rangers on Oct. 9, 1998.

“I celebrated five or six birthdays here, and I’ve seen plenty of games here,” he said Dec. 9, when the Otters made their last trip to the Powerade Centre. “My day had a pretty close relationship to the organization from the beginning, and it’s become part of our life. To play a couple of seasons here was a dream come true. As a kid I would play on my backyard rink and pretend I was Jason Spezza or Raffi Torres. It was pretty exciting to put on that sweater for real.”

Said Dr. Abraham: “I didn’t put my kids in hockey for this reason, but to see Spencer play his first game for the Battalion in Kitchener in an exhibition game was an unbelievable thrill. I was pretty nervous, and to see him skate around in that uniform was for me as a parent a proud moment.”

Abraham first got to know Battalion owner Scott Abbott and Stan Butler, director of hockey operations and head coach, when both were engaged with Junior A teams. Abraham was involved with the Junior A Bramalea Blues, owned for many years by his father, Joe.

“At that time Scott owned the Caledon Canadians, and I knew him a bit through that,” said Abraham. “I had probably sent my resume on to him when he was awarded an OHL franchise, and he probably forwarded it to Stan.

“I can remember sitting down with Stan probably a year before the Battalion started. I knew of him, and Stan knew my dad from when Stan was coaching at Wexford.”

Abraham said that during his time with the Battalion the biggest change he has seen medically is the diagnosis and treatment of concussions.

“I stitched more players up in other years. There were a lot more facial injuries and a lot more fights in previous years, so that’s changed. The players have always been well cared for here. I’ve always been a fairly conservative doctor, and Stan has always been supportive of the decisions I would make. We haven’t changed how we’ve taken care of the Battalion’s players. We’ve always had good trainers with the Battalion, and to be a successful doctor in the OHL you need to have the respect of the coach, because if they don’t respect your decision the relationship won’t work.”

Abraham said he’s disappointed the Battalion is heading to North Bay for next season.

“I don’t know where the 15 years have gone. I’m happy they’re going somewhere where they’ll receive more support. I think the players will enjoy that experience. Having a son who plays in the OHL gives me a chance to go to other cities and see how the teams are received, and when you see that you notice there was something that was missing in Brampton for the players.”

Said Spencer : “When I found out the team was moving it was kind of upsetting. It wasn’t just a team I played for moving; it was a personal thing because it’s been a part of my life for so long. I was a 15th-round pick, so I knew nobody would be giving me much of a chance to make the team, but I’ve known Stan for a long time and I knew he would give me an honest chance to make the team if I worked as hard as I could. I had my mind set on playing here. Putting on a sweater with my name on it for the first time is a feeling I’ll never forget.”

Dr. Abraham said he’d like to remain involved with the OHL in some capacity after the Battalion departs.

“I spoke to Stan about potentially being involved in the OHL as a consultant. I might be able to help out as a medical advisor with new policies they might be considering or act as a liaison with teams.  I hope Spencer will be back for one more OHL season. I’ll miss going to the rink, and I’ll miss seeing the players in the office as their family doctor when they’re here.”

Said Spencer: “He’s a big hockey fan, and he’s driven us to rinks across Ontario since we were little kids. He has really enjoyed being part of it. To see one of his kids play for them was pretty exciting for him. I think it’s something he’ll miss, but we’ll still be Battalion fans.”

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