The first time I spoke to Shirley Kennedy, it was either my first or second day at the Winnipeg Sun. The first week of January, 1997.
That week, junior hockey coach Graham James had pleaded guilty to sexually abusing her son, Sheldon, over a period of several years.
I could hear the pain in Shirley Kennedy's voice over the phone that day.
How could she not have seen what was happening? You can only imagine how many times she's asked herself that question.
Nine years later, her son appears to have finally turned his life around. He's stopped abusing drugs and alcohol. He's become a dependable father. He's even written a book about his ordeal.
Judging by the sound of her voice, mom is doing better, too.
"It will always bother me," Shirley Kennedy told me from her home in Virden. "But ... Sheldon made a point of saying, 'It wasn't your fault, mom.' I also learned an awful lot about how predators work. That helped me understand that I was a victim. Our whole family were victims of this predator. Because every predator works the same way."
That might be the best thing that comes out of Kennedy's book: a better understanding of how abusers work, and how to watch out for them.
"Most people ... don't really understand the effect something like this has on a person," Shirley said. "And they also don't believe it can happen to them or to their children or to a person they love. It can happen."
As for Kennedy, he's hitting the books, taking an addictions diploma course through McMaster University.
It sounds harder than any NHL training camp he ever had to go through.
"I'll tell you, I'm blowin' the old dust off the brain," Kennedy said. "Finally using the brain cells, instead of throwin' them out the window."
After another year, he hopes to land a job with the NHL Players Association's substance abuse program.
"I feel relieved at what he is doing with his life right now," Shirley said. "I feel very grateful, to be honest, because we could have lost him many, many times before. I just feel grateful we have him in our life."
PRO, OR BRO? Winnipeg's Travis Zajac might have a tough choice on his hands this summer: play hockey with his brother next season, or play for money?
Zajac, 20, is a star forward at the University of North Dakota, the same school that's recruited his 18-year-old brother, Darcy.
But whether or not Zajac returns for a third season with the Fighting Sioux could depend on the New Jersey Devils, who made him a first-round NHL draft pick in 2004.
The Devils may choose to offer him a contract and send him to the AHL.
"My goal, obviously, is to play professional hockey," Zajac was saying yesterday. "But any time your brother can come and play with you, it would be kind of cool."
Driving back home from Grand Forks yesterday, Zajac had mixed feelings about the way his season ended.
His young team, also boasting 17-year-old Winnipeg sensation Jonathan Toews, showed plenty of promise, but lost to Boston College in Thursday's Frozen Four semifinal.
"At the beginning of the year, a lot of people counted us out because of our inexperience," Zajac said. "I'd like to come back and win a championship."
Two Manitobans playing for the University of Maine Black Bears won't have that option.
Steve Mullin, of Cartwright, and Travis Wight, from Fannystelle, saw their college careers end with a loss to Wisconsin in Thursday's other semifinal.
Unlike Zajac and Toews, they aren't likely to get a shot at the NHL.
Wight's prospects if he doesn't land a suitable pro hockey job?
"Maybe I'll come to Manitoba to teach phys-ed," he said.