Ex-NHLer says deadline is 'hell'

EARL MCRAE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:15 AM ET

"It's like when you were a kid, that last day of school before the summer holidays and you were waiting for your report card to see if you passed or failed. You had a sick feeling in your stomach. If you were just an ordinary student, it was the worst day in your life, the fear. I flunked grade nine and I didn't want to go home. My father wouldn't understand."

He's comparing the last day of school to today: Wednesday March 4, Trade Deadline Day in the NHL.

"It can either be the best day in a player's life if he goes to a better team where he's respected, or the worst day. If the guy is married and has kids or is living with a girlfriend, it doesn't matter how good he is or what team he's going to, it can be hell. Because of the women. They can make it hell. Especially if there's kids involved. I knew of cases from when I played where marriages broke up."

He's from Ottawa. Born and raised here. During the 1960s and '70s, he played pro hockey including in the NHL and WHA with different teams over several years, never more than an average player, but as he points out: "There were less teams back then, meaning the talent wasn't diluted like it is today. With all the teams there are now, I'd be considered a good player. I was no star, but when you think of all the millions of kids who wanted to make the NHL -- they didn't, but I did."

The culture of pro hockey contributed to the break up of his first marriage. The absences from home, the drinking that eventually turned him into an alcoholic, the machismo, the girlfriend on the road that his wife "somehow" found out about and forgave him for, after which, he says, he immediately broke it off.

When his career ended -- divorced, approaching middle age, little formal education, no skills but hockey -- he bounced from job to job on grey, mundane civvy streets, never satisfied, never fulfilled, in more than a few cities. His job now, he says, "is not the greatest, but it's a living. I don't need much and I don't ask for much."

A few years ago, he remarried. To a "fine, sweet woman the same age as me" he met out West; also divorced, and who has no interest in sports, no detailed knowledge of his hockey career, "and that's fine with me, there's stuff she doesn't need to know. She doesn't ask and I don't tell her. She only cares about my present, who I am now."

He hopes the NHL players who'll be traded today, those who are married, those with children, are blessed with wives who understand that trades can happen and, over the course of a career, likely will happen with all the attendant social and emotional turmoil and pain.

"Hockey is not like a guy working in a bank in one town all his life, marrying his sweetheart and staying together forever. Hockey wives have to be special people. The lucky guys get that kind of wife, but a lot don't. Even for the wives who understand, it's not easy.

"When you get traded a few times -- what happened with me is that I phoned home to say I was traded and she went crazy. Tears, screaming, the whole nine yards. Blaming me and my job. She said there was no way (censored) she was going to move. She told me to turn down the trade. I told her there's no goddam way I could do that.

"The problem -- and it's the same today, believe me -- is that when you've been in one place for awhile, a nice place, the wives get settled into it and get into community activities with the other hockey wives and other friends they make. Same with the kids. Nice home, nice neighbours, the whole bit.

"They don't want to up and leave. It's like they refuse to get it. I know players who've gone through this s--t. With me, I left for my new team, she didn't. I finally got her to move out and sold the house. Then the divorce. It was a messy time."

He hopes today won't be a messy time in some players' homes across the NHL; he suspects it will be.


Videos

Photos