Full Article: Calgary Sun
Twenty seconds of heads bowed in uniform silence, a thanks to Ken Bracko for 20-plus years of service.
With the death of the Calgary minor-hockey legend this past summer, the Mac's AAA Midget Hockey Tournament lost a founding father, but his passion for the tourney is something that should be bottled, fermented and kept on the shelf for later use.
“(Bracko) was a good guy with a big heart and he did whatever he had to do for hockey,” former Mac's tournament chair Byron Stephen said after the tournament informally said goodbye to Bracko — and fellow Mac's volunteer Tony Sharples — with 20 seconds of silence at the downtown Hilton last week.
“I think (my dad) has always been in love with watching kids play hockey,” Carey Bracko said. “There's no doubt the tournament was a big part of the things he loved to watch and to be a part of for so many years.”
Friend of the tournament and former Global Calgary sports director Grant Pollock still remembers the raspy voice of Ken that had one simple message, a message that never wavered in Bracko's service to the Mac's.
“He was so focused about (the experience),” Pollock said. “I remember his voice saying, 'it's all about the kids, we've got to focus on the kids.' He wasn't worried about the guy in the stands, he wanted the little kid from southeast Calgary to have the time of his life.”
The 'it's all about the kids' line wasn't a throwaway line. It was real and it meant something to Ken.
“The European teams playing in the Mac's would go to the Calgary Tower for dinner, and, at the end of the night, the bill would be paid and no one knew who paid for it,” said Edge School for Athletes Elite 15s hockey coach Kelly Mruk. “After years of this happening, with different teams, the story is that it was Ken who paid the tab to make sure they had a great experience in Calgary.”
Mruk played for Carey in the 1991 Mac's tournament as a member of the Calgary Northstars.
The elder Bracko was mostly involved with the player-awards side of the operation and wasn't one for standing alone under the house lights, preferring that others took the adoration.
When it came to the work he valued, he could be translucent, just an unfocussed object in the corner of your eye as you focus on something else.
“Sometimes he was like a shadow or a ghost,” the younger Bracko said with a chuckle. “He never wanted any fanfare, he would just go do it. The spotlight was someplace he never glamoured for, he wanted the kids to have the spotlight.”
But he was not a total recluse, not by a longshot. After all, he was a friend of all things hockey.
The elder Bracko would be up in the stands or down in the bowels of the Max Bell Centre, or whatever rink was lucky enough to hold him captive for an hour or two or an entire day.
“He was always very helpful, he was always at the rink, he'd walk around the rink, have a chat with you — hockey was part of his DNA,” said present tournament chair Mike O'Neil. “He was just a real part of the landscape for Calgary hockey, no question. He will be sorely missed.”
Bracko, along with Sharples, will be honoured for their contributions to the Mac's tournament during the boys championship game on New Year's Day at the Saddledome.
No doubt, that's something the senior Bracko would have put a stop to in a red-hot minute. But there's nothing he can do to stop that now.
“He wouldn't have enjoyed the spotlight but as a family we are honoured,” Carey said. “Any award he gets is deserved, whether he's up there looking down on us saying, 'it's not necessary.' “
And maybe this time he won't mind the applause and appreciation, something that's probably long overdue.