Friday, February 18, 2005

Ode to the way it was

I've never been a huge fan of USA Today's Ted Montgomery, but his post-lockout piece has an interesting anecdote. It's just too bad he buried the best part of the column at the very end:
I was in high school and fancied myself as a budding journalist, even though I didn't know the first thing about reporting.

One of my friends told me that she lived next door to a Red Wings player named J.P. LeBlanc. LeBlanc was a journeyman player who at the time held a third-line center position for a very bad Detroit team. His story is interesting: He played one year in the league, then didn't appear in another NHL game until seven years later.

I asked my friend if she'd ask J.P. if I could interview him for our school paper. She did ask him, and he quickly acceded to my request.

As fate would have it, LeBlanc had received his release papers on the appointed interview day (although he once again caught on with the Wings the following season). I called to ask him if he still wanted to go through with the interview. He graciously agreed to honor my request.

We spent an hour together, and he talked about the realization that his career was probably over. His voice was inflected with great sadness, and the interview was difficult. I cut it short in deference to J.P.

During the interview, he said something that has stayed with me all this time, and which now has particular resonance.

"When kids look at me, they look at with me with such awe, just because I'm a hockey player," J.P. said wistfully on that spring day 28 years ago.

"Now, I don't know what I'll tell them. Hockey has been my life since I was a little kid. The fact is, the way I feel now, I'd play for nothing."

How in the world can you write a column with that kind of quote and stick it at the end? Anyway, J.P. is typical of hockey players of his time, and I'd even argue typical of the role players oftoday.

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