Whether seated on a chair at ice level, peering upwards as images of a younger self flickered past on the JumboTron, faces and moments and memories, or later standing in front of the microphone, 11,000 people hanging on every word, Tracey Kelusky felt nothing so much as exhilaration.
“I was talking,’’ he confessed three hours after his banner had been raised into the Scotiabank Saddledome rafters, “but I felt almost detached, you know?
“For the most part, I found myself looking around. My brother-in-law said: ‘You’ve got to live in the moment, right?’ That’s what I tried to do.
“Just kind of soaking it all up, taking it all in.
“People asked: ‘Do you need a Kleenex?’ And I’m like: ‘No.’ I was just … excited. The way I used to be when I played here, getting ready for games.
“Like a little kid in a theme park, eyes lighting up at all the rides.
Prior to Saturday’s Calgary Roughnecks-New England Black Wolves NLL tilt, Kelusky, the eight-year Riggers’ captain, was celebrated as the second man to be enshrined in the Forever a Roughneck program, joining old sidekick Kaleb Toth.
“If you’re going to model yourself after a captain,’’ asked the ‘Necks current skipper, Mike Carnegie, “why not T.K.?”
Why not, indeed.
Kelusky, of course, embodied everything in his sport – in any sport, actually – that we hold dear, winning two Champions Cups during his tenure here.
His impact, influence, extended far beyond the 256 goals and 539 points accrued. Which is the hallmark of a truly great player.
When Tracey Kelusky pulled on a jersey, he didn’t just shoot and pass, he gave everyone in the building an unvarnished glimpse into his competitive soul.
Nothing much has changed as he’s segued into coaching.
“It was a business trip, first and foremost,’’ he said, “but my hat’s got to go off to the organization. What a first-class thing tonight.
“Beyond my expectations. Unbelievable.”
The post-ceremony part of the evening didn’t turn out to be anywhere nearly as enjoyable, his old side running out 18-13 winners over his current employers.
“No one likes that score, so lopsided,’’ said Kelusky. “But we know what’s in that locker room. Their record isn’t indicative of what they are.
“They’re a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde type of team.
“Tonight we got Dr. Jekyll.”
Kelsey’s still inspiring people today. Even people on the other side of the floor.
“My message to (his team),’’ said Roughnecks coach, and former Kelusky teammate, Curt Malawsky, “was: Just listen to Tracey talk. Just listen to what he has to say. He speaks from the heart. I don’t think he talked about himself once. That’s what exemplifies a team.
“That’s why he’s in the rafters. He deferred all the accolades to everyone else and that’s why he was the best captain to play out here. He’s a special guy and he touched a lot of guys’ lives.”
Having his nearest and dearest – wife Emily, son Keller and mom Gwen – to share the honour made it all the richer.
“My family was there, by my side. That meant a lot to me. My old man was here, too. (Reggie Kelusky passed away three years ago).
“I know that. For a fact.
“I looked over at my boy and thought how awesome this is for him, to be there. He was so excited for this. He’s as excited to be going to the Flames’ game Monday night.”
This visit has been, and will be, old-home week.
“Seeing everybody was awesome. Seeing Banny” – the Roughnecks’ first owner, Brad Banister – “was great. Saw the Carnegies before the game. Talked to Brider.
“For me, so special.
“We’re having dinner tomorrow at Devan Wray’s. The Carnegies are coming. Brider, too. It’s going to be the same crew, if you add about 12 kids and instead of one six-pound roast we’ll probably need two 10-pounders. And I’ll get stuck cookin’ ‘em.
“Nothing changes, right?”
The No. 17 banner will never change. Never move.
“That’s the thing that hasn’t set in yet,’’ said Kelusky. “Jesse Phillips, one of my teammates, said: ‘That thing’s going to be up there as long as the building is, man. Take pride in that.’
“And I do. I will. But as I said in my talk, when I look up at the it, I don’t see my name. I see Jesse Phillips sitting across from me with blood on his knees. I hear Kyle Goundrey whispering in my ear: ’T.K., we need one.’ I see Brider and Kaleb and the whole team.
“I’m the guy that gets the recognition but I see a bunch of great guys, great players, that I shared great times, championships, with.”
During an eloquent on-floor speech, in advance of the banner raising, Kelusky had talked about his love for this town, and joked about his initial days as a Roughneck.
“On the road,’’ he reminisced, “we had to wear cowboy hats.
“At first, I was a little uncomfortable …”
Then the eastern boy imbued with a western indomitability who in eight seasons here set standards for everyone to follow, slipped on a black Stetson as easily as shedding a defender back in the day.
The Duke, John Wayne, wouldn’t have looked more at home in it.