Remembering Dave Ash, the ultimate fan

Dave Ash always knew how to get on television. CFL games. Grey Cups. NHL or Olympics, he was easy to spot.

His most famous appearances came regularly and often during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, when he was wearing Canada’s colours during the men’s gold-medal hockey game. He also wore a hockey helmet adorned with a flashing light and was waving a gigantic Canadian flag, which captain Sidney Crosby — after scoring the game-winning goal — carried around the ice while celebrating the home team’s victory.

A couple weeks ago, in a Regina hospital, Dave and I talked about that game. He told me the Hockey Hall of Fame got the flag; his flashy Olympic gear was subsequently put on display in a sports hall near the arena.

That was the last time I saw Dave, who died Sunday from cancer at the age of 61.

We knew each other for 40 years, meeting and working together as minor hockey officials in Regina’s chilly indoor arenas. Dave had a fulltime job at CKTV, first as a switcher then as a producer, so his TV instincts were well-formed. When the Saskatchewan Roughriders decided they needed a mascot, Dave became an original Gainer the Gopher and donned the carpet costume for seven seasons, sharing TV time during CFL games with Don Hewitt and Sandor Jerkovits.

As a sidelight, Dave started booking bus trips to sporting events. He eventually formed a company called Dash Tours, which ultimately allowed thousands of fans to make memorable trips to CFL, NHL or NFL games, or maybe a Fleetwood Mac concert.

Dave would go along on all the early trips, before he hired employees to serve as tour leaders, and he became well-known for frantically cheering on the Edmonton Oilers (while wearing blue) or the Roughriders (wearing green).

In the early days, Dave was often alongside another famous Saskatchewan fan, Sandy Monteith, who was known as The Flame for setting alight a small canister of gunpowder atop his helmeted head while celebrating Roughriders touchdowns. The genesis of The Flame, apparently, came about during a famous Dave Ash bus trip.

I was among those early attendees. Dave invited me and another hockey referee, Bruce Rogers, to join him and four dozen customers on a six-hour, chartered-bus trip to the Winnipeg Arena for an NHL game between the Jets and New York Islanders.

Dave was planning to make a TV commercial for his tour company during the game; we were going to be his helpers and he would pay us $20. We were cash-strapped university students at the time.

Dave got us press passes and ice-level access so we could film parts of the game from the vicinity of the benches. I remember being right beside Butch Goring and Clark Gillies as Dave panned his camera along the Islanders bench. It was truly a memorable moment, similar to some of the stories I’ve been hearing lately from Dash customers who recall making trips with family members and friends to special events through the past four decades.

During the bus ride back to Regina from Winnipeg, Dave was true to his word. Our friend, the aspiring businessman, told Bruce and me that he appreciated our help and our $100 trips would cost only $80 each. It was worth every penny.

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.