It was the 2006 high school rugby provincial quarterfinals and the Oak Bay Barbarians were on the back foot, losing by less than a try with minutes left to play.
Future Rugby Canada player Sean White was in the sin bin, meaning they were down a man.
That’s when Bayne Pettinger dragged three, four, possibly five tacklers to the line for the game-winning try. During the subsequent try conversion, Pettinger could be seen in the backfield on all fours vomiting from exhaustion (the Barbarians won that game but lost in the semifinals).
|Bayne Pettinger with Connor McDavid and his father Brian at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.(Courtesy of Bayne Pettinger)
READ ALSO: Matt Pettinger: From the NHL to real estate
In his athletic prime, Pettinger was a 6’4” powerhouse on the rugby pitch, hockey rink and basketball court. All the while, he did it with an equally powerful level of charisma and an engaging personality. It was no surprise to his family and friends that he worked his way up through the ranks of Hockey Canada as manager of hockey operations where he worked with the elite of Canada’s men’s hockey establishment.
Now at 33, he’s not only one of the brightest young player agents around the game of pro hockey, he’s doing it while openly gay.
“He brought enthusiasm to every team he was on, and every team he was on was successful, and it’s no question he was a reason for that,” said high school coach Rich Fast, Oak Bay High athletic director.
It’s with those same characteristics that Pettinger freed himself from the burden of keeping his personal life secret, breaking the news in The Athletic last week.
Pettinger is so respected and cherished by the people who are at the centre of NHL hockey culture know him, for a split second you can forget that hockey culture, and society in general, has oppressed people based on their sexuality. His coming out story featured support from superstars Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby, from numerous other players, from established agents and of course, former Canucks general manager Brian Burke (whose son Brendan was paving the way as an openly gay hockey manager in the NCAA when he died in a 2010 car crash).
“Hopefully, this opens up doors that you can be successful and be gay and that no one really cares,” Pettinger told the Oak Bay News on Monday. “I am able to use this platform to involve some superstars in the NHL to show that, it isn’t a big deal, while also breaking down a door for young athletes and others.”
|Bayne Pettinger, 19, playing for Rugby Canada's U20 team circa 2005. Pettinger competed for Canada at the 2006 World U20 Championship in United Arab Emirates. (Courtesy of Bayne Pettinger)
Since 2019 Pettinger has been based out of Toronto as a player agent with CAA. When COVID shut things down in the spring Pettinger came back to Victoria to stay with his parents, Rick and Laurie. What was supposed to be a two-week stay became 100 days. The time at home allowed Pettinger to finalize his decision that he would no longer dodge the subject among friends.
“My family has known for years,” Pettinger said. “[The decision] had been coming for a while. It really changed when I came back to Victoria for 100 plus days. At 33, there I was, COVID cut the noise away from my phone, emails, text. It gave me time to think.”
Then came the final steps. It took some deep conversations with his brothers, his sister, and some close friends in hockey including Victoria’s Tyson Barrie (now of the Edmonton Oilers).
“In high school, and the early 20s, there’s lots of things going on in your head,” Pettinger said. “I loved hockey, didn’t want that to change because of who I sleep with, and it really doesn’t matter.”
In 2005, a graduating Pettinger was named Oak Bay High athlete of the year, a prestigious award (though he still has feelings about sharing it with UVic Vikes star Jeff Cullen). He lived four months in Wales training for the 2006 U20 World Junior Rugby championship in the United Arab Emirates. And he was a strong hockey player, representing the Victoria Racquet Club before winning a Vancouver Island Junior B championship title with the Victoria Cougars.
|Bayne Pettinger aged 2 with mom Laurie in the Oak Bay News. (Courtesy of Bayne Pettinger)
“He was especially tough to bring down in rugby, he was a train,” said White, of their time as Barbarians. “I’m super happy for him to be sharing his journey and getting acknowledged for his strength.”
“I’m really proud of him for doing this and hope it can inspire others not to feel they have to hide who they truly are, it’s really empowering,” Fast said.
After graduating Oak Bay High, Pettinger studied business at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. He continued his studies in Calgary while taking on an entry-level job, nights and weekends, with Hockey Canada, thanks to family friend Bob Nicholson (who knew the Pettingers from his time as a coach and ice manager of Oak Bay arena in the early ‘80s). He ended up working there for nine years and was manager of hockey operations for Hockey Canada’s men’s national teams.
He was there when Canada won gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and has been part of multiple World Junior Championship teams.
It culminated when he worked his final tournament as manager of hockey operations at the 2018 World Junior Championship held between Victoria and Vancouver. That tournament was a homecoming. Pettinger’s brother Matt, an NHL alumni with the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks, hosted Pettinger and 20 staff from Hockey Canada at his Oak Bay house.
“Hockey Canada always talks about being family, and that was the epitome of family, in my brother’s house,” Pettinger said.
Matt recalls Bayne holding his cards close to his chest, and said he never really saw Bayne struggle.
“His close friends and family have known for a while, and it was more of an awkwardness of him walking into room and not knowing who knew, that he won’t have anymore,” Matt said. “And that’s the goal. The goal wasn’t to be the first gay guy to come out in hockey or sports. It’s that he’s doing it in a time that is socially acceptable, and to use is platform to help others.”
It wasn’t until Canada was bounced from the tournament by Finland that Pettinger began to think about a life in hockey outside of Hockey Canada. He went to Tofino and started exchanging messages with the brass in the hockey branch of the renowned CAA agency.
CAA represents an A list of hockey’s biggest stars, many who Pettinger already knew well from taking care of them at the World Junior, World Championship and Olympic tournaments.
“I’ve had it fortunate that I haven’t faced any adversity,” Pettinger said. “I’ve had some dark days and time to think about it. But I never had a member of my family, a friend, or a coworker, say they don’t want to be around me. But that happens out there.
“If you’re talented and passionate it doesn’t matter, whether if it’s golf or hockey doesn’t matter, sexuality is such a small part of it.”
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.