Vaive Still Has The Drive

Published: December 19, 2020 10:45 am EST

Rick Vaive, the first Toronto Maple Leafs player to score 50 goals in a season, has his wheels in motion.

For a player who never backed down from a challenge, a right wing that was tasked with toiling against the opposition’s top defencemen night after night for nearly 900 NHL games, jumping into the race bike and sitting behind a Standardbred might seem like a breeze.

Not exactly.

Vaive, who recently had the opportunity to hold the reins of one of’s horses, enjoyed the drive, so to speak, but admitted there was one moment in particular that left him feeling a little out of his element.

“Actually, the most nervous part for me was getting up to the track, going up the hill and getting on to the track. Once you’re on there, the nerves are gone. It’s very relaxing, is what it is. To see such a powerful animal in front of you and watching them go, it’s really incredible.

“I did it a couple of times in P.E.I. and I loved it. Getting out and doing it again, it’s unbelievable, actually. It’s a great feeling, it’s a lot of fun and I really enjoy it.”

Don’t expect Vaive, who recently released his national best-selling book, Catch 22: My Battles, in Hockey and Life, to line up behind the gate in real race conditions any time soon.

Ditto for an NHL comeback.

“Oh, boy, I don’t think either one,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t know if I could drive in an actual race. Jogging the horses is fun, but you look down sometimes and you realize how fast that ground is going by underneath you. And you’re not even beside other horses. I don’t know if I could get behind one in a race or not, but that would be more likely than coming back and playing the NHL, that’s for sure.”

Having the title of horse owner is more than enough to keep his competitive edge going strong.

When longtime standardbred horseman Anthony MacDonald, who along with his wife Amy are at the helm of, one of Standardbred racing’s biggest and most successful fractional horse racing ownership groups, reached out Vaive to see if he would be interested in owning a horse a few years back, the former Maple Leafs captain was quick to jump on board.

Vaive, along with former Maple Leafs Doug Gilmour and Shayne Corson, has an ownership stake in colt U Gotta Be Leaf through

“I’ve always enjoyed going to the races and the thought of owning horse has something that’s interested me for a long time. So, when the chance came along to do that, I was excited about it. It’s a lot of fun to be an owner, and to be part of a group of people that can share in that excitement.”

The man who tallied 441 career goals sees similarities between former big league teammates and horsepeople he’s met over the years.

“I haven’t met anyone in the racing industry who aren’t down to earth. They’re good people. It says a lot about that business. It’s like hockey players. If I were to go over the guys I played with, they’re all great guys. I can say the same for the harness racing industry. You meet a lot of good people in this sport.”

Owning horses is one of many reasons Vaive is sporting a big smile these days.

His book, which continues to receive positive reviews, is another.

“I have a lot of people asking me about the book. I have people that I know, or that I know casually, who are calling and saying they have a couple of books for people that they’d like me to sign. I just drive by the person’s house, and sign the book. Hopefully, it puts the same smile on their face as it does mine.”

“I think the biggest thing about the book is that it’s truthful. It’s how my life was. It’s not perfect, as I don’t think anybody’s is. I think that’s what I’m most proud of. That a lot of people are reading it and seeing what I had to go through, for them to say it was a great read, and they didn’t know that I went through a lot in your life, it feels pretty darn good. Right now, I might be at the best point in my life that I’ve been in a long time. It’s a nice feeling and it’s nice that people are recognizing that.”

What would Vaive think about the prospect of facing off against MacDonald on the track and then on the ice, a match race followed by a hockey target shooting contest?

“I’m pretty sure I’d win the hockey one, but I’m not too sure about the racing. But you know what? I’d give it my best.”

Ever the competitor, Vaive already has a game plan in place if the match race ever came to fruition.

“If I got really comfortable, I might be able to pull out, pass Anthony and then I’d just stay in front of him and not let him get by me.”

(Ontario Racing)

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