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Hockey veteran finds solace on golf course

Dave Creighton never expected to set down roots here when he bought the Northdale Golf Club 17 years ago.

A native of Ontario, Creighton grew up playing hockey outdoors. But after 21 years on the ice with the National Hockey League, Creighton was ready for a change.

Creighton retired from hockey in 1970 and got into the golf course business. He bought courses in Canada before visiting the then 2-year-old golf and tennis club in Northdale.

"I'm a Northern boy, and I remember thinking how great it would be to live here all the time where it's warm," he said. "But I wouldn't have believed I'd end up in Florida."

He relocated with his wife, Iris, and their three children, who have remained in the Tampa area as adults. Adam lives in Lutz and played for the NHL the past 13 years, including two years with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Dave Jr. is a pro at the golf club. And daughter Carolyn is a Zephyrhills teacher.

After living in a house near the club for 17 years, Creighton, 67, wonders where the time has gone. Standing near the putting green recently, Creighton gestured to a pine tree towering over the pro shop.

"That tree was planted when the course was built," he said. "I never realized this would take me where I am now. It's given me something to look forward to, to make the time go by quickly."

Creighton learned to skate at age 3 and began playing on a local team when he was 10. He started his professional career with the Boston Bruins in 1949 and recalls a busy life dictated by train schedules.

"We were looking at a four-day deal anytime we went to play another team," he said. "It was exhausting, riding for hours on the train. Nowadays, teams can play and be back home in the same day."

Creighton started playing center when there were only six teams in the NHL, unlike the 26 teams that comprise the league today. "You really knew you were the best of the best," he said.

But the biggest difference between playing in the '50s and now is players' salaries. When Creighton first signed with Boston's farm team, he was making $5,000 a year. Within a few months he was moved up to the Bruins and made an extra $2,000.

Compared with today's hockey players who make an average of just under $1-million a year, that may not seem like a lot. But Creighton said he was glad to take it. Players only signed one-year contracts and had very little influence to get more money.

"In those days, you had to argue like crazy just to get a raise in $500 increments," he said. "But compared to the average wage earner who was making $2,000 a year, we considered ourselves very lucky.

"We didn't have to shovel snow off our cars and carry lunch pails to the same old job each week. Whenever I thought it was tough, I'd think of those cold mornings, having to wear long underwear fighting the elements. Then playing hockey didn't look so bad."

Throughout his 21-year career with the NHL, Creighton also played for Toronto, Chicago and the New York Rangers and played in two Stanley Cup finals.

In the American League, he worked for teams in Buffalo, Rochester and Providence, where he played, managed and coached before retiring at 39, having been named most valuable player in 1968.

After leaving the NHL, Creighton said he went through withdrawal pains from the game that had been his life. But the concentration of golf soon replaced the action of hockey.

Creighton golfs three times a week and also owns a course in Ontario which he likes to visit in the summer. Winters are filled with visits from people he met while playing hockey. He often gets offers from others interested in buying the course, but says he's happy with the arrangement for now.

"Northdale has been good to me," he said. "To find another place like this would cost a fortune. We've watched it grow, and it's been a good place to watch our kids grow up. This is what I enjoy doing."

_ If you have a story about Northdale, call Kari Ridge at 226-3464.