Cam Plante jokes that he knew his 1983-84 season with the Brandon Wheat Kings would be a good one the moment that Ray Ferraro stepped off the plane.
The truth about his record-setting campaign, however, is a little different.
Now 52 and a Brandon realtor, Plante posted an astonishing 22 goals and 118 assists in 72 games that season as a defenceman for his hometown Wheat Kings.
Amazingly, Plante didn’t have a good start to the season, seeing very little power-play duty in the first 20 games.
But as the magic developed with Ferraro, who arrived after a pre-season trade with the Portland Winter Hawks, Plante’s season took off.
"Ray and I had some sort of chemistry that you don’t get all the time," Plante said. "Ray was a special guy. He had vision and he could score … We had some sort of vision chemistry where I always knew where he would be. We had some up-the-middle plays that really worked for us."
Plante’s 118 assists and 140 points still stand as Western Hockey League records for defencemen 33 years later, as does Ferraro’s single-season high of 108 goals. Ferraro’s 192 total points sit fourth in WHL history.
Plante played 234 regular season games over four seasons with the Wheat Kings, scoring 48 goals and adding 200 assists. In 20 playoff games, he had 28 points.
If ever something was meant to be, it was Plante becoming a WHL player in Brandon.
"The Wheat Kings were what you wanted to do, what you wanted to be," Plante said. "For me especially. One of my best buddies was Patty (Patrick) Boschman. His brother Laurie played with the team at the time when we were in bantam and midget … Those were big years that we watched so not only being a local team but being as good as they were, it was quite a thing to watch and that’s all you wanted to do, was to be a Wheat King."
Plante went to the games with Boschman and other friends like Ron Hextall.
Plante certainly provided signs of what was to come before he even joined the Wheat Kings. In the 1979-80 season with the midget AAA Wheat Kings, he scored 35 goals and added 45 assists.
His numbers grew more gradually in the WHL.
In an era when it was an older league because the National Hockey League drafted 18- to 20-year-old players — and 16-year-olds were an anomaly — Plante earned a full-time spot in 1980-81 and posted three goals and 14 assists in 70 games.
A year later he was hampered by a bad charley horse, and after Dunc McCallum arrived mid-season, the new coach sent Plante to North Battleford of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League for half a season.
He only played 36 games in the WHL and had 16 points.
In his third year, the magic really started to appear. Despite playing just 56 games because of a couple of smaller injuries, Plante had 19 goals and 56 assists. The Toronto Maple Leafs liked what they saw and took him in the seventh round of the 1983 draft.
A record-setting year awaited, but Plante stresses it was more than just his work with Ferraro that led to the team’s offensive success as they scored 463 goals, second most in the team’s WHL history.
The team was also the beneficiary of a deadly power play that included players such as Byron Lomow, Stacy Pratt, Brad Wells, Dave Curry and Al Tarasuk.
"We very talented but it must have been across the league because we never had really successful years if you look back to the team stats," Plante said. "But certainly we had a lot of talent and guys who went on to have really successful careers."
A season later he turned pro.
Plante spent the 1984-85 season with the St. Catharines Saints of the American Hockey League. He also earned a pair of games with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While Plante jokes that he didn’t exactly fill anyone with awe on his NHL entrance when he mistakenly left the stretch-on blade guards on his skates for warmup, fell immediately and couldn’t get up, it was an experience to remember.
One of his NHL games came against his old friend Hextall and the Philadelphia Flyers.
"It was pretty incredible," Plante said. "That was the pinnacle for me obviously, Maple Leaf Gardens."
They were the only National Hockey League games he would see in a 14-year professional career that he spent in the North American minors and in Europe.
After two final seasons helping to serve as a player and assistant coach with the Wichita Thunder in the Central Hockey League, he knew it was time to pack it in.
"I wouldn’t change anything with the voyage that I had," Plante said, noting he had a chance to travel in North America and Europe.
Ultimately, he realized that his sons Tyler and Alex weren’t getting the hockey opportunities that he was and it was time to come home to Brandon in the summer of 1998 with the boys and his high school sweetheart wife, Valerie.
It certainly worked out.
Tyler, now the Wheat Kings’ goaltending coach, played full time with Brandon from 2004 to 2007, earning WHL rookie of the year honours in 2004-05. Now 29, he had a nine-year professional career.
Alex, a defenceman, could possibly have become a Wheat King too, but Brandon held the 24th selection in the 2004 bantam draft and the Calgary Hitmen swooped in to take him with the 21st pick. Alex went on to play four seasons in Calgary, before spending 10 games with the Edmonton Oilers in a pro career that now has him playing in South Korea at age 27.
Cam said he and Alex joke that they played in the wrong eras, with Alex’s bruising style perfect for the 1980s and Cam’s swift skating suited to the 2000s.
In the 2006-07 playoffs, Alex’s Hitmen and Tyler’s Wheat Kings met in the Eastern Conference semifinals, a series Calgary won in six games that saw Cam happily driving back and forth so that he didn’t miss any action.
"I think I enjoyed it more as a father than I did as a player," he said of watching his sons play.
The Plante family holds a unique spot in Wheat Kings lore, with both Cam and Tyler in the balloting for the Wheat Kings all-time WHL Dream Team, the only father-son duo to make the cut. (Voting is now closed.)
"That was so long ago that I don’t see myself as being one of those types of players who belongs on that type of list," he said. "I had a good junior career. I didn’t have that high level of NHL but it’s a lot of fun to see both our names on that list. Tyler deserves to be there. He had a really good junior career."
Cam began studying to go into real estate prior to retiring from hockey, and immediately was recruited by another former Wheat King, Scott Hetherington, and started at Royal LePage. He’s been there ever since and now actually works with Tyler. They have a website — teamplante.com — that Cam chuckles is Tyler’s handiwork.
Both Tyler and Alex have a pair of children, making Cam a grandfather four times over. Due to three of the babies being born while the boys were playing hockey elsewhere, the grandchildren are Canadian, Swedish, Korean and Norwegian.
It’s a tangible reminder of where hockey has taken the three.
Plante is acutely aware of how good the game has been to his family.
"I don’t know that my boys are at a place right now where they can understand how good it’s been to them," he said. "I think you have to retire and get into the workforce and see what working is really like to appreciate what you had as a hockey player. But as family, there’s no question that hockey has been great to us."
» Twitter: @PerryBergson