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E.M. Swift
November 20, 1995
Boston University freshman Travis Roy had just fulfilled his dream of playing Division I hockey when a terrible accident on the ice changed his life forever
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November 20, 1995

Eleven Seconds

Boston University freshman Travis Roy had just fulfilled his dream of playing Division I hockey when a terrible accident on the ice changed his life forever

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Lee Roy, too, had walked down to the end of the rink. He replayed the missed check in his mind. Travis had wanted to pop somebody right off, to show that he belonged. Someone came up to Lee and said, "Are you Mr. Roy? Travis wants to talk to you."

Lee shuffled onto the ice, hoping his son had suffered a broken arm or a separated shoulder. Deep down, though, he must have known. "I think Travis was looking for a friendly face," he says. "I wanted to sound upbeat, so I said, 'Hey, boy, let's get going. There's a hockey game to play.' But when I got down on the ice next to him, he said, 'Dad, I'm in deep——. I can't feel my arms or legs. My neck hurls.' I was trying to think of something positive to say back. Then Travis looked me right in the eyes and said, 'But Dad. I made it.' " Lee's pale blue eyes fill with tears as he recounts this, and shaking his head, he starts to weep. "I said, 'You're right, son. You did.' It didn't last long. Eleven seconds. But he made it."

Travis Roy would cringe if you were to describe him as a rink rat. He loved hockey, but to those who knew him, there was always much more to Travis than hockey. "There'll be other kids who come to Tabor who're as good hockey players as Travis," says Pratt, "but none who are more complete as human beings."

Travis won the school art award for ceramics, and he was often found on weekday nights last spring working at the wheel, making small ceramic gifts—coffee mugs and colorful fish—for teachers and friends. Once when his Spanish teacher at Tabor had to leave class to tend to an emergency, it was Travis she left in charge. He was co-captain and all-New England in soccer, a sport he had been reluctant even to try out for, fearing that he would fall behind academically. He played on the Tabor golf team. Humble and kind, he endeared himself to awestruck underclassmen by greeting them by name in the halls, whether they played sports or not. And he was funny. He once tied the manager of the hockey team to a chair in study hall, a message that it was time for the manager to hit the books.

"He hated the image of a one-dimensional person," says Matt Perrin, one of Travis's best friends at Tabor and a teammate in both hockey and soccer. "We'd talk about anything but athletics. He was so mature. Such a leader."

Yet in his early years Travis was the embodiment of a rink rat. How could he not have been? Lee, who had grown up in Swampscott, Mass., and starred in hockey at Vermont from 1964-65 to '67-68, became the first manager of the first indoor rink in Portland, Maine, the Riverside Ice Arena, in 1972. Maine had always been a basketball hotbed in the winter, and men of Lee's background in hockey were few and far between in the early '70s. When the man who had built the Riverside rink went bankrupt in '74, Lee and Brenda moved to Farmingdale, and Lee managed the Kennebec Ice Arena, in nearby Hallowell, for 2½ years. Travis was born on April 17, 1975. In the summer of the next year, the Roys were lured south to Yarmouth when Lee was offered the job of managing the new North Yarmouth Academy rink. It was there that he put Travis, age 20 months, on the ice for the first time, shod in a pair of Riedell figure skates 3½ inches long. True to the lore surrounding every hockey family, Travis took right to the ice, walking across it as if he were wearing sneakers. "He's a natural," a friend of the family said. "He'll be a hockey player."

There were so few kids in the Yarmouth area who were interested in hockey that Lee was unable to field a pre-Mite team. So Travis spent five years, beginning at age three, skating with boys who were as old as eight. Lee was the coach. Travis would play forward one year and then move back to defense the next, a rotation that continued each time the father and son moved up an age group—through Squirts, Pee Wees, Bantams and Midgets. Travis was always among the best players but never one who could skate through the other team each time he touched the puck. Lee knew that if Travis learned both offense and defense, he would better understand the game.

In 1979 Lee was hired as assistant director of operations at the Cumberland Civic Center. The Maine Mariners, the top minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, played there, and on weekends Lee and Travis would make the 15-minute drive from Yarmouth to the Civic Center to see the Mariners practice. Lee would send the five-year-old Travis into the locker room armed with books of raffle tickets—90% of the proceeds to pay for Travis's youth hockey expenses—and a half hour later he would emerge with empty books of stubs and $200 in cash. Flyer honchos such as Fred Shero, Keith Allen and Jacques Plante would see this little blond kid with bright eyes and a big smile coming, and they would start ragging on Lee: "Give us a break, eh?" Their hands were already reaching for their billfolds. They couldn't say no to Travis.

When Travis was seven, Tom McVie, a gravel-throated, big-hearted man who'd already had two coaching stints in the NHL, was general manager and coach of the Mariners. He took Travis under his wing. He called the boy Clifford, the only nickname Travis has ever had. Lee still doesn't know the derivation of the name. McVie made Travis a stickboy, though he was barely big enough to carry one regulation stick, never mind 15 or 20. But the players liked having him around, and Travis did what he could to help out, filling water bottles, fetching tape, delivering gum to the bench. He watched the games from the penalty box. The players gave him spare hockey sticks, and to this day Travis has a basement full of sticks signed by players who went on to play in the NHL—Billy Barber, Lindsay Carson, Bob Froese, Kelly Hrudey, Chico Resell, Bruce Shoebottom—and many others who never made it.

McVie was succeeded by a series of coaches who were also bound for the NHL (John Paddock, Mike Milbury, Rick Bowness, E.J. McGuire), and for nine years Travis worked for all of them. "It was an endless wealth of hockey information he was exposed to," Lee says. "He was in the locker room before and after the games, between periods. He heard the pep talks, the strategy. I can't imagine there are three kids in the U.S. who had the hockey tutelage he did."

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