Sparky: A Life of Hockey and Service
Being an Edmonton Oilers fan I was very familiar with the name Lyle Kulchisky, better known as “Sparky.” He had been in many pictures, and on TV working as the equipment manager for the Oilers. He is known around the NHL as one of the best in his trade.
It takes very special people to work with kids. You must have patience, be understanding and caring, and have the passion to make a difference in a child’s life. Sparky has all of these skills and more. Our community and the kids who come to the rink are very fortunate to have him. One of my favorite quotes comes from Sparky. One day one of the kids was saying that the skates they borrowed weren’t very good and he said, “I use to think that too, until I met a child who didn’t have any skates.”
Sparky is a home boy, born and raised in Northeast Edmonton. He attended Montrose School, then went on to Highlands and finished high school at Eastglen. During high school he would hang out at the rink after school where he would meet players like Glen Sather. One day the trainer for the WHA Oilers, Ron Walters, asked if he wanted to help out. So, he started as a part time dressing room attendant with the WHA Edmonton Oilers which grew in to a full time position for three years. He then joined the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League. He served as the Oil Kings’ equipment manager for one year before returning to the Oilers, now with the NHL, in 1979-80.
During Sparky’s 34 years of working in hockey he met many great people and athletes. His favourite memories are being part of the five Stanley Cups while working for the Edmonton Oilers. He says that, “seeing my name on the Stanley Cup five times is an honour.” Sparky still keeps in touch with the likes of Paul Coffey, Wayne Gretzky, and the many other friends he made while working in hockey. Every February he goes to Las Vegas to work at Wayne Gretzky’s fantasy camp which is attended by former NHL stars such as Dennis Savard, Brian Leetch, Eddie Mio, and many more.
One of the questions I was looking forward to asking Lyle was how he got his nickname “Sparky.” He says back when the Oilers were in the WHA there were a defenseman named Ron Buznick who came up with the nickname. One day in the locker room, Buznick came across a picture of a great lefty who was playing in major league baseball named “Sparky” Lyle. Of course, with his name being Lyle it was the start of his nickname.
Sparky’s interest in helping with the McCauley community inner city rink project started with a call from his long time friend of 40 years, Al Hamilton. Al asked Sparky to come take a look at an inner city rink project he was working on and asked Sparky if he would be interested in managing it. In late January of 2012, Sparky agreed to help out. During the skating season Sparky got to see first hand how popular and important the skating rink was for the kids. He enjoyed the time he got to spend with the kids and formed a special bond. He also says that he can’t say enough about the kids who come to the rink. They have a lot of respect for the place and have fun, something that Sparky enjoys watching.
The Family Day event was one of his favourites. It was amazing to see three hundred people come through the gate and how the community came together to share the facility. Being outside and meeting community members while handing out hotdogs and hot chocolate was not only a great feeling for him, but he could see it was for everyone who was there.
Having Norwood School come out to the rink and seeing some kids on the ice for the very first time was very rewarding as well. One of the many good things he sees is the kids getting the opportunity to skate, play hockey with no pressure, and just be kids. In the future he would like to see more schools involved with the rink.
I asked Sparky why he does this. He told me he believes in the vision of Ted Green, Al Hamilton, and Father Jim Holland of having a permanent building, a place in the community for the kids to call theirs year round, and a place the community could share.
When Sparky isn’t at the rink you will find him spending time at the farm looking after his horses. Both he and his partner Marianne enjoy pleasure rides and getting away. During the NHL hockey season Sparkly can still be found at Rexall, visiting with the visitor trainers and his longtime friends. He is still a huge Edmonton Oilers and Oil Kings fan and enjoys cheering both teams on.