Many people in the junior hockey world will be in London Tuesday to pay their respects to a beloved trainer.
Don (Branks) Brankley spent nearly 40 years with the London Knights organization and they will honour him with a celebration of his life at 6 p.m.
Branks, who passed away last month at the age of 69, was a colourful character. During out of town games, he would be heckled by the opponent’s fans. Loving every minute of it, Branks would do what he could to rile them up.
He slept at the arenas where he worked – Treasure Island Gardens, which became the Ice House, and then at the downtown arena, now called Budweiser Gardens.
I remember going to talk to Don one day in the bowels of the arena. He was busy washing the team’s uniforms and players were hanging around him then, as always. He told me the players were his life.
He had a special relationship with them, for sure. He said that they told him things they would never tell a coach.
Former Knights would always have to stop in and see Branks if they were in town. I once missed an interview with Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan, because he wanted to go see Don. Shanahan will get one last time to honour his mentor when he speaks at his celebration of life.
The last time I saw Branks was at the 2014 Memorial Cup in London. After retiring in 2008 and moving north to Capreol, he came back to see his boys.
I wrote a blog for CTV London about the man who held the respect of generations of players. You can read it here: http://london.ctvnews.ca/jealousy-of-knights-organization-causes-hate-of-late-1.1835349/comments-7.519187
One thing that stood out that day in May was how happy he was to be “home.
He enjoyed talking to everyone he came across, whether he knew the person or not. And at the Memorial Cup there were many who wanted to bend his ear. Branks loved every minute of it. I think this quote he gave me sums up Branks so well: “I’m a great believer that if someone wants to acknowledge you as a person, you have a duty to stop and chat with them and make them feel as special as they’ve made you feel.”
We will miss you Branks, until we meet again.