If he’d been any closer to the action, he might not be here to tell about it.
Luckily, Denis Gibbons was 500 miles away in Moscow when the nuclear plant explosion took place in Chernobyl in April of 1986.
Medical experts said anybody within a 500-mile radius of the explosion might ultimately suffer serious effects of radiation.
The Burlington author and reporter for The Bay Observer had just finished covering the World Hockey Championship in the Soviet capital when he got a call from Lawrence Martin, then Moscow correspondent for The Globe and Mail, informing him of the catastrophe.
The details of this and other earth-shattering events are included in Gibbons`new book Hockey My Door to Europe , which was supposed to be out for Christmas but nevertheless has made it just in time for the Winter Olympics in Korea.
Huge news stories seem to follow the 74-year-old former editor of The Burlington Post wherever he travels in Europe.
After immersing himself in the Russian language for a week, he had just sat down to enjoy a beer and a hamburger at the British Embassy in Moscow in November of 1989 when he noticed a copy of The Daily Telegraph with huge black headlines on the next table.
‘The Iron Curtain is swept aside: East Germany throws open all its borders,’
the banner shouted out.
Although on its last legs, the Communist government still was in power and, fearful of creating a panic in the populace, authorities limited coverage of both events to about three inches in the bottom corner of a page. And then, three days after the fact.
Everything was running smoothly during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, when the author turned on his TV one night to see the part of the centre of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, burning down.
Protestors, upset with the way Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych was running the country, had decided to give him a hot foot on the way out of town.
Yanukovych was ousted, but it didn’t take long for Russian President Vladimir Putin to react and snatch back the Crimean Peninsula, which Soviet dictator Nikita Krushchev had given to the Ukrainian republic in 1954.
Gibbons found himself in a personal crisis earlier in 1983 when he was detained by the Czechoslovak Secret Police (STB) under suspicion of taking photos of a Soviet military base.
Accompanying the Burlington Cougars midget hockey club, which was playing in a tournament in the town of Sumperk, just south of the Czechoslovak-Polish border, the international hockey expert was under house arrest for three days until his named was cleared.
The deciding factor, in his view, was that the STB concluded no self-respecting spy would dare to wear a bright orange and blue (Burlington minor hockey colors at that time) hockey jacket!
A full two chapters in the book are dedicated to exchanges Burlington bantam and midget teams carried out with counterparts behind the Iron Curtain between 1980 and 1985.
Gibbons filed radio reports to Al Craig at CHML from cities like Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Prague, Helsinki, Stockholm and Minsk, one even from the captain’s bridge of an ocean liner sailing between the Finnish and Swedish capitals.
The players from those Burlington teams now are pushing 50 and have families of their own. But they managed to put Burlington on the world hockey along the way.
The 1982-83 Cougars bantam team was the first Canadian club to win a youth hockey tournament in the Soviet Union.
Mark Jooris, star of the 1980-81 midgets, won an NCAA championship at Renselaar Polytechnic Institute (RPI) playing on the same line as future Hall of Famer Adam Oates in 1984-85.
Dan Currie played briefly in the NHL with Edmonton and Los Angeles, flanking Wayne Gretzky on the wing for a couple of games. Paul Constantin led Lake Superior State to an NCAA championship in the 1991-92 season.
Mike Moes became captain of the University of Michigan Wolverines and was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Rod Anthony, captain of the 1982-83 bantams, was named Athlete of the Year at the University of Windsor in 1992.
Working for the ABC, CBS and NBC television networks as chief researcher-ice hockey at seven Winter Olympics, Gibbons also used the Russian language skills he acquired at McMaster University to dig up nuggets that enhanced the broadcasts of distinguished announcers Mike Emrick, John Davidson, Al Michaels, Ken Dryden, Eddie Olczyk and Gary Thorne.
The notes from a diary he kept form the basis of seven chapters.
Gibbons had been writing freelance articles for Hockey Canada in the 1980s when Dave King was national team coach. The organization recommended him to the ABC network, which was looking for a researcher with international hockey knowledge to work at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.
The American TV rights switched to CBS for the next three Olympics, then to NBC, but he subsequently was hired by these networks too.
He will be signing copies of his book at Chapter’s, 3315 Fairview St., in Burlington on Saturday, Feb. 10 from 1 to 4 p.m. and at A Different Drummer Books, 513 Locust St., in Burlington, on Sunday, Feb. 18 from 2 to 4 p.m.
Further information is available at 905-632-6101