At each stage of his hockey career, Pat Falloon excelled as the new guy.
As an underage invitee to the Regina Pats’ training camp, Falloon was the 14-year-old who Bob Strumm just had to find a way to list.
As a star in the Western Hockey League, Falloon was an 18-year-old leading his team to a 1991 Memorial Cup title.
As an NHL rookie, Falloon was the 19-year-old who led the expansion San Jose Sharks with 25 goals.
Even after he retired from professional hockey and returned home to play in the Western Manitoba senior league with the Foxwarren Falcons, in his first year Falloon was named league MVP with 51 goals and 60 assists in 2001-02, a few months shy of his 30th birthday.
“Late birthday,” said Falloon, who will turn 48 on Sept. 22. “Through most of my years, I was the younger one.”
And he was always one with a talent for scoring that scouts just loved.
Now, though, Falloon is more farmer than forward. Back on his family farm in Manitoba, where they grow wheat, soybeans and flaxseed, this is his favorite time of year.
“Harvest, reaping what you sow,” he said. “If you’re not a farmer you maybe don’t understand it, but that’s the best part. Getting the bins full. It’s just the way I was born and raised.”
The son of farmers, Falloon first started playing hockey when he was 4, at the local rink in Foxwarren, which was open basically all the time, he said.
“Once I got on skates, that’s where I wanted to be,” he said.
Falloon became a teenager in an era of hockey when there was not yet a bantam draft, something the WHL first held in 1990. Before that, if a team liked a player, all the general manager had to do was be the first to add him to his protected list, and he was his.
The first time Strumm saw Falloon play was when Strumm was GM of the Pats, a franchise based about three hours west of Foxwarren.
Ernie Wells, the Pats’ scout for southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, brought the underage Falloon to Regina’s training camp, which was really for 15- and 16-year-olds. Falloon was 13 years old at the time, though he was a 14-year-old as far as his junior eligibility.
Strumm was reluctant to put Falloon on the ice.
“Patty was not small, but young, and not a big guy to begin with,” said Strumm, who now lives in Las Vegas. “I said, ‘Ernie, I don’t know whether we should put this kid on the ice.’ “
Listing a player who was not yet 15 required two spaces, not one, but at the end of the first session, Strumm told the scouts they needed to list him right away.
“He was that good at that age,” Strumm said.
Later, Strumm took over as GM of the Spokane Chiefs, and that’s when the finagling began. Strumm wanted Falloon, who was still on Regina’s protected list. The Pats told Strumm that Falloon was untouchable.
But Strumm was determined, so he orchestrated what was essentially a three-way trade with Prince Albert to get Jamie Heward – a Regina native – back to Regina, and to get Jeff Nelson from Regina to his hometown in Prince Albert.
In the end, Strumm got Falloon – who had no such hometown ties – to Spokane.
“I got a great billet family, Frank and Betty Ann McCoy,” Falloon said. “I come in there, 15 years old and on a plane out of the middle of the prairie. … It was the best thing for me. Strummer was absolutely great to me.”
All three players ended up as NHL draft picks, but the Chiefs arguably got the best of the deal. Falloon scored 22 goals his first season and 60 the next before his 64-goal campaign in 1990-91, when he helped lead the Chiefs to the Memorial Cup championship.
Falloon had 24 points in 15 WHL playoff games, then added 12 more points in the Memorial Cup and was named tournament MVP.
“Nobody could knock him off the puck,” Chiefs enforcer Kerry Toporowski said of the 5-foot-11 Falloon. “He was very shifty.”
A month later, the expansion San Jose Sharks made Falloon their first draft selection, second overall. That fall, he made the team in their inaugural season. Falloon turned 19 just before the regular season started.
“I was treated like gold in San Jose,” Falloon said. “I’m very grateful for the time I had there.”
He played four full seasons for the Sharks but was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers nine games into the 1995-96 season. His 25 goals as a 19-year-old were the most he scored in a single NHL season.
He played for three other NHL teams, before moving to Davos, Switzerland, in 2000 to continue his career.
Following that season, he went home to Foxwarren and was prepared to accept Davos’ offer to keep playing in Europe.
“It was about this time of the year, and we were heavy into harvest,” Falloon said, “and I was like, well, I love what I’m doing. … So I stayed home, and that was it. I don’t regret it.
“I went from farmer to hockey to farmer.”
He still found opportunities to play, though. He played seven seasons in the North Central Hockey League, from 2001 to 2008. The Falcons won the league title six of those years.
In 144 regular-season NCHL games, Falloon scored 265 goals and added 343 assists, winning two single-season scoring titles.
“He was born in the country and loves being in the country,” said Sharon Thevenot, Falloon’s girlfriend, “and then hockey is also an equal love.”
For the Chiefs, Falloon’s single-season goal totals of 64 and 60 still rank fourth and sixth, respectively, all time. Valerie Bure’s 68 goals are the team record, followed by Ray Whitney’s 67 during the Memorial Cup season.
Although he didn’t have the long NHL career of his teammate Whitney, who played more than twice as many games in the NHL as Falloon, the speedster from Foxwarren is happy with how it all played out.
“Occasionally, I’ll think back, and I’ll have thoughts of wow, maybe I could have stretched a year or two more,” Falloon said, “but I loved every minute of it. I’m very fortunate to have had that time in my life. I’m very fortunate.”
Coming next: The surging Chiefs boost their roster at the trade deadline, get past league power Kamloops in the WHL playoffs.
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