Baycrest hockey tournament enters 12th year

Larry Berman, centre, with former NHLers Marty McSorley, left, and Adam Oates

When it comes to memories of the pro-am hockey tournament in support of Alzheimer’s research at Baycrest, Larry Berman has plenty.

Like the time he centred a line with former Toronto Maple Leafs captains Darryl Sittler and Rick Vaive. Or the time former Calgary Flames player Theo Fleury not-so-gently rubbed out an amateur skater and responded to the guy’s complaint by saying, “did you pay for half the experience, or the full experience?”

We can recall events like those because our brain retains the memories. The fact that our memories are so significant to us shows the importance of the work Baycrest Health Sciences does in researching and addressing dementia and memory loss. “Fighting Alzheimer’s is about preserving memories,” said Berman.

Berman, 50, is a regular participant in the Scotiabank Pro-Am for Alzheimer’s, an annual event now in its 12th year that attracts hundreds of supporters and raises money for Baycrest. This year’s event will take place at Scotiabank Pond in Toronto on May 5 and 6. Not only does the tournament raise the profile of the respected seniors residence and medical institution, it also raises money for the Baycrest Foundation, which is used to fund research into brain disease. At the same time, beer league players get to rub shoulders with National Hockey League stars.

The event holds particular significance for his family, Berman explained. Both his parents had mental illnesses. His mother suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and then developed Alzheimer’s in her later years.

She spent the last two years of her life at Baycrest. His paternal grandparents had also resided at the Bathurst Street seniors institution, “so our family has had a long history with Baycrest.”

As his mother’s condition worsened, “she did not even know she was dying. That was a comfort for me,” Berman recalled. At times, she’d ask to see her sister, not recalling that “she’d passed away years before.”

Berman, chief investment officer of ETF Capital Management and host of Berman’s Call on the Business News Network, said he can see the effect of mental health issues in his work.

“When people are making investment decisions, if you don’t have your cognitive function, you can’t make decisions about anything,” he said.

Berman has skated at the pro-am for the past five years and he’s been the top individual fundraiser for the last two, raising $220,000 in total.

He’s even participated in research, in which former NHLers and casual athletes, like himself, undergo intelligence tests and MRIs, to learn more about their brain functions, he said.

Raising money is, of course, a key part of the event. The pro-am has raised more than $30 million since its inception in 2004.

“What sets this tournament apart from others is the full breadth of the participant experience,” said Josh Cooper, president and CEO of the Baycrest Foundation, the charitable arm of Baycrest Health Services. “This is not just a quick meet-and-greet with hockey legends, but a full weekend of face time, both on and off the ice. Combined with the good work that comes from their fundraising efforts, the tournament provides a priceless experience for everyone involved.”