Bernie Parent Entered the NHL Making $20,000. It Suited Him Fine

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I grew up in Montreal in a family with four sisters and three brothers. We were probably a little bit below middle-class—let’s face it, whatever mom cooked on Sunday was what we ate the whole week, you know? My father worked at a cement factory, and my mom did some work on the side sewing suits and things. But when I look back, we did pretty good.

I didn’t work when I was younger. I hate working. Einstein said imagination is more important than education. So imagination was a big part of my life growing up.

When I was 13 years old, I wanted to become a defenseman. I went to try out with the team. We had outdoor rinks then, so you had to go around the rink once, and the coach would give you a position. Everyone else went around in maybe 13 or 14 seconds, and I did mine in 21. The coach looked at me and said, “Goaltender.”

The rumor that I had the first million-dollar contract in hockey? I only made $999,000. No, I’m kidding.

I said sure, but I’d never played goal with skates on before. I just wore boots. I played the first game and they scored 21 or 22 goals against me. Coach said, “Get the hell out of there.” So I said I’m going to start practicing with the skates on. And then the starting goaltender got hurt. Coach said, “Do you want to give it one more shot?” We won the game, and I was on my way. When opportunity knocks at the door, always say yes.

I got on the train to Niagara Falls when I was 17 to play for the Boston Bruins’ junior-league team. I couldn’t speak English. I was making five dollars a week, but the team picked up the room and board—three or four guys to a house. Nobody came in there from big money, so it wasn’t a big thing, you know? We had fun. We had a rec room where we could play pool. This was in the early 1960s, so it didn’t cost much to do things.

When I got to the NHL with the Bruins, I got a raise of fifty cents a week. No, just kidding. I believe my first year, I made $20,000. In those days, we only had six teams in the league. So you’re fortunate just to be on the team, because if they had two great goalies, you could be in the minors for five or six years.

Fishing was a big thing for me. That’s a passion of mine. Fishing in the ocean, not on lakes –– which I have done. When I go to Philadelphia and Boston and see that big body of water and realize that the other side is 3,000 miles away, there's the beauty and magic in that. I was 23 or 24 when I bought my first boat. I’d just gotten a contract with the Flyers. It was a 23-footer. I named it the Carol Ann, after my fifth wife. No, I’m kidding.

I got traded from the Flyers to Toronto in 1971, and by 1972 the World Hockey Association came on to compete with the NHL. I got a call. I said, if it doesn't work out, then I'll come back to Toronto. In those days, the average NHL salary was about $20,000. The WHA, you're talking about $120,000. The following year I was back with the Flyers and making decent money. About the rumor that I had the first million-dollar contract in hockey? I only made $999,000. No, I’m kidding with you again.

We won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975 with the Flyers, but I was still a shy person. For me to go out and do some endorsement, that wasn't me at all, you know? So I shied away from that. And then I had the place on the shore, and I had the boat behind the house, and that's what I would do pretty much the whole summer.

If I would have saved everything that I made, I would have missed out on some beautiful trips when I was younger. You don't have to be foolish, but you know what? My philosophy in life is to experience life.

My career ending so suddenly with a freak eye injury in 1979 was a nightmare, that’s for sure. I had no clue what to do as far as keeping the lifestyle that I was accustomed to. It's not just the financial aspect of the thing. It's a situation where you have to learn from the right people how to function in the world of business. You don't pay that much attention while you're playing. Then you get caught where your career ends, and it’s, “Okay, what am I going to do now?” I drank most of my life, and it became a problem then. But I haven’t had a drink for thirty-nine years.

What changed my hockey career was when I played goalie with Jacques Plante in Toronto. I said, “Can you teach me?” He said sure. I was 24, 25 years old, and he was 42 at the time, so there was no competition there. And I became a good goalie because of what he did, you know? So I always took this attitude to find someone successful and ask questions. You don't have to duplicate them, but you could utilize some of their qualities and add that to yourself. After I retired I got involved with this company, and this one top guy, he was a master at socializing with people. And I said, “Can you teach me?” He said sure.

I still work as an ambassador for the Flyers. But I think to be successful is not to settle for one place or one location. I believe success is not money. Success is to have as many clients as you can. Whatever business you're involved in, if you have one client or two clients and something happens, then you have problems. If you have 12, 15, 20 clients, and something happens, you still have quite a few clients you could hold onto. Then you learn from each one of them, and you can sell yourself to anybody in the world. It's a beautiful feeling. I even did an endorsement for a hair-loss doctor. We worked out a deal, and I got some hair back.

When you're dreaming, you're visualizing something. Too many people make it small. Make it big. And you look at this and say, “Are you kidding me? There's no way I can achieve this.” But as you move forward and you go away from it, the how, when and where will be shown to you in the right place at the right time. I wrote a book a few years ago, and the title is Journey Through Risk and Fear. You’ve got to take risks, and you’ve got to face your fears.

We have a 45-foot boat I keep in Cape May, The French Connection. I just put new engines in it. I think next year I might take it to Fort Lauderdale, since my wife Gini and I have a place nearby. I used to live on the boat half the year when I lived by myself, but when you compromise a little bit, life is good. We do a lot of charity work now, for a local animal shelter, and for a program called Snider Hockey for kids that are less fortunate. We took them fishing last year, and many of them had never been on the ocean before.

I’m not a great saver in life. Let me give you an example: When I was in my 20s, I did a lot of hunting out west in the Rockies. And I’m 73 now, and six years ago I went to the Rockies again for a hunting trip at 10,000 feet. And I look at myself, I look at the mountains, I look at the sky.I knew that my time to hunt in the Rockies was over. If I would have saved everything that I made, I would have missed out on some beautiful trips when I was younger. You don't have to be foolish, but you know what? My philosophy in life is to experience life. I want to explore until the end comes. I’d like to go to Mars, but it takes 21 years to get there and 21 years to get back, so I don’t have time for that.

As told to Michael Weinreb exclusively for Wealthsimple; transcript edited and condensed for clarity. Illustration by Jenny Mörtsell.

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