February 4, 2024

Solving the Hitchcock mystery: Who wore No. 88 in the Roughrider Foundation Winter Classic?

SASKATOON — Shawn Hitchcock savoured his involvement in an action-packed, auction-packed hockey game.

On Saturday, he played for the victorious Team Lauther in the second annual Roughrider Foundation Winter Classic charity hockey game after a friend purchased a roster spot — which had been auctioned off — on his behalf.

“He just hit me up and said, ‘This is right up your alley. You’ll have a lot of fun,’ ” Hitchcock said in reference to and appreciation of Triant Steuart.

“He said, ‘Don’t make it weird. Just accept it and say thanks.’ ”

The gift of a coveted roster position was Steuart’s own way of expressing his gratitude.

“We’ve been friends for 15 to 20 years,” noted Hitchcock, a 47-year-old resident of Saskatoon. “Back in the day, he was really generous with me. He gave me a really expensive watch and he took me on a trip to Dallas for my first NFL game. He’s just a really generous, nice guy, and I never really had the opportunity to pay him back.

“Fast forward to this year. He has just turned 50 years old and, before his birthday, his wife messaged my wife. We have a limo company and his wife asked if we would be willing to do a little limo thing for them and take their friends and family around the city.

“We obliged. We hadn’t seen them for a couple of years. It was finally my time that I could repay them. My ‘thank you’ back to him was my time and  energy. A limo ride for the night was my ‘happy birthday’ gift to him.

“About a week later, my friend hit me up and said he wanted to thank me for the ‘thank you’ that I gave him. He had bid on the auction item, thinking of me, and it was super, super nice of him.”

So there was Hitchcock on Saturday afternoon at Merlis Belsher Place, on the University of Saskatchewan campus, playing for a team that was captained by Saskatchewan Roughriders placekicker Brett Lauther.

Lauther scored the lone shootout goal to deliver a 11-10 victory over a squad that was captained by former Roughriders receiver Chris Getzlaf. His brother, Anaheim Ducks legend Ryan Getzlaf, also took part in the second annual game.

“Being in the same room with them is fun and being on the same ice with Ryan Getzlaf and all the Riders is pretty amazing,” Hitchcock marvelled.

“It’s a really cool experience.

“I loved watching Getzlaf play (in the NHL) and enjoyed watching (ex-Roughrider) Andy Fantuz play as well.

“I had some good conversations with Fantuz on the ice, actually. I told him that I didn’t realize that there was a wide receiver position in hockey.”

Fantuz wore his trademark No. 83. Hitchcock, for his part, was resplendent in a No. 88 jersey.

Considering that Hitchcock’s first NFL game featured the Dallas Cowboys, he was asked whether the No. 88 was in honour of one of the team’s star receivers — Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin, Dez Bryant or CeeDee Lamb.

Nope.

“You see, ’88 is my wife’s birth year, so I wear 88 everywhere,” Hitchcock explained shortly after a post-game visit with Stephanie and the couple’s two children — Harrison (who is seven) and Hazel (who turns five on Tuesday).

Shawn and Stephanie Hitchcock operate Shlimo YXE, a limousine service. As well, Shawn is the president of H&S Wiring Solutions Ltd.

His business resume is certainly lengthier than his hockey-related CV.

“I played hockey until I was 12 years old,” he recalled, “and then I didn’t play again until I was 32.

“That’s a little bit of a dip in the valley.”

Since coming out of retirement, athletically speaking, Hitchcock has played recreational hockey with friends.

That is hardly a conventional stepping stone to sharing the ice with former NHLers and prominent football players in front of 1,000-plus spectators.

“I had a couple of battles with myself and with my skates,” Hitchcock said with a laugh. “Those blue lines are pretty thick out there, so I tripped over a few of those.

“I’m not sure I got on the scoresheet, but I had a lot of fun being out there.”

With that in mind, will the series of profuse, generous ‘thank you’ gifts continue in the form of a lavish demonstration of gratitude toward Steuart?

“Well, I’ve got a bag of chips for him,” Hitchcock concluded, “and he can have as many limo rides as he wants.”