When Willi Plett retired from the NHL, he did it on his own terms. In his early 30s at the time, it wasn’t that he was too old or that he couldn’t keep up. And he wasn’t too battered and bruised from playing his hard-nosed style. Rather, Plett didn’t want to continue his career when his heart was no longer in it.
“I lost my desire for the game,” Plett said recently from his home just outside of Atlanta. “I had to play with a bit of an edge and as I got older it was harder to play with that edge. I felt that if I couldn’t play that way, I wasn’t going to play anymore. I just didn’t want to hang on and play a style that I never played my whole career.”
During his 13-year career, Plett racked up 2,572 penalty minutes, including 316 in 1983-84 alone as a member of the Minnesota North Stars. He was no slouch with the puck on his stick, though, tallying 20-plus goals six times. His best year came when he potted 38 for the Calgary Flames in 1980-81. In 1976-77, Plett lead all NHL rookies with 33 goals on his way to capturing the Calder Trophy.
Plett, with his blond locks flowing in the breeze as he skated without a helmet, was a fan favorite in Calgary, which was enjoying NHL hockey for the first time. He’d be a much-appreciated power forward in today’s game.
His career is made all the more amazing by the fact he didn’t lace up skates and play organized hockey until he was 12. Plett’s family – which had settled in Paraguay before Willi’s birth, making him the only Paraguayan player in NHL history – came to Canada when Plett was a child.
Being a man who in large part made his living with his fists – he dropped the gloves more than 100 times during his career – it’s a bit humorous Plett switched his stick for a putter in his life after the NHL. “I didn’t want to be involved in hockey,” Plett said. “I didn’t want to go that route or even try to do that. We came back to Atlanta, which was our home away from home, and we opened up a mini golf park and driving range. I thought that was kind of fun.”
He came to the conclusion that Willi Plett’s Sports Park was what he wanted to develop after taking a year off to be with his wife and four sons. He had more than a dozen acres of land in Atlanta, where he’d played the first five seasons of his career, and decided to develop it into the sports park. He laughs now when talking about the business, saying he wouldn’t wish the trouble of working in retail on anyone. “Sometimes you learn too late that it’s really difficult to be in the retail business,” Plett said. “Everybody thinks it’s a great job – just sell beer and food, that everybody has a good time – but it’s very, very difficult.”
Plett, who comes from the generation of players who still work for a living out of necessity, said he’s in a really good place in his life. Now, more than a decade removed from his days owning and operating Willi’s, Plett works alongside his son Brian at Brian’s landscaping company, Blaydes Landscaping. Plett works to ensure everything runs smoothly, whether it be getting the crews to their next job, overseeing the day-to-day operations on a site or helping with whatever Brian needs.
Now 59, Plett is enjoying his new role. And in this one, the only time he’s dropping his gloves is when he walks through the door after a hard day’s work.