"John tried to tell himself that he hated fighting, but really he loved to fight," Perron says. "The only way for him to attract attention was to fight, and he loved the attention. After he beat up Gord Donnelly of the Nordiques before an opening face-off in Quebec [in 1988], as he was skating off the ice he kissed his fist and held it up to the crowd. I never saw anyone else do that, before or since."
Kordic's sister Toni swears that her brother's inner conflict was genuine. "He didn't want to fight," she says. "He just knew what he had to do to keep his job. Each game he was expected to fight. And somebody like John maybe couldn't deal with all that pressure."
Kordic reported to camp in the fall of "86 looking like the Incredible Bulk. He had added at least 15 pounds of muscle, tipping the scales at a rock-hard 220. Perron was alarmed. "No question, he had been using steroids," he says.
If you get caught using marijuana or cocaine, the NHL might ban you for half a season for the first offense. But pump yourself full of steroids, and the morality cops look the other way. Steroids, the league reasons, are not illegal if prescribed by a doctor, and besides, they probably don't enhance the performance of a hockey player. Try telling that to a goon who wants to put on a couple of layers of chemically treated beef, the better to smash Mario Lemieux to smithereens against the boards. Steroids aren't performance-enhancing drugs? John Kordic certainly thought they were.
As he battled his way through the legion of NHL tough guys, Kordic became ensnared by other demons. He once told reporters he was drowning his anguish in a sea of vodka because of his father's disapproval of his style of play. Some of Kordic's friends say he was merely trying to hide his real problem. "John wasn't an alcoholic," says Bruce Cashman, a former roommate who operates a gym in Quebec City where many of the Nordiques work out. "He drank, yes, but only when he was doing drugs. He was a drug addict. He was addicted to cocaine, had been since he played for Montreal. He said it was a big thing on the Canadiens."
Kordic told Cashman and others that the coaches in Montreal knew some players were snorting coke. "John said a coach walked into a hotel room where a couple of players were doing drugs," Cashman says, "and the coach just said, "I didn't see that," turned around and walked out the door." Kordic's fiancée, Nancy Massé, tells a similar story. "John told me he was doing coke with another player when a coach came in," she says. "The coach didn't say——. He just walked away."
The NHL's interim president, Gil Stein, says coaches are expected to report drug use among players to the league office, though he doesn't remember any coach ever doing so. Stein defends the league's tough stance on first offenders, but he concedes that the thought of losing a key player for 40 games might prompt a coach to think long and hard before undermining his own job security.
"That's possible," Stein says. "It's pretty easy for you or anyone else to sit back and take shots at this policy, which is geared to prevent first-time use by making it known that there will be maximum penalties. Other leagues accept that there is going to be drug use and have policies that aren't too hard on the first offenders. Our program is a maximum deterrent, and that's what I support."
In the fall of '88 the Canadiens shipped Kordic to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Russ Courtnall. The change of venue didn't slow Kordic's meteoric descent. In December 1988 he was suspended for 10 games for high-sticking Keith Acton of the Edmonton Oilers, breaking his nose. "While he was serving that suspension," says Gord Stellick, then the general manager of the Leafs and now a broadcaster in Toronto, "I got tipped off by a senior member of the Metro police that I'd better tell John Kordic to watch out. I was told that he was hanging around with hookers and druggies and that he was getting into trouble. I called him into the office and told him that, but he denied it."
Then, in October 1989, Ivan Kordic died of liver cancer. ""After that," Regina says, "John was never the same."