Sometimes Travis was allowed to skate after practice with the players who stayed on the ice for extra work. He made a few road trips too: one to Hershey, Pa., another to Montreal. Travis knew which stories stayed in the locker room and which ones he could bring home. "It was as if he was part of the team," says Milbury, now coach of the New York Islanders. Milbury threw a legendary tantrum while with the Mariners. During a game he deposited every movable object from the bench onto the Civic Center ice—helmets, sticks, water bottles, gloves. The next day the Portland Press Herald ran a photo of a small blond stick-boy, age 12, struggling to clean up the sea of debris. (It has been preserved in Travis's scrapbook.) When he finished, the crowd gave him an ovation. "He was just a peach of a kid," Milbury says. "And back then you knew that playing for a guy like Jack Parker was exactly where he was headed."
"All those years as a stickboy, he was picking up his master's degree in hockey," says Jack O'Brien, Travis's coach his freshman year at Yarmouth High. Travis didn't have great speed. And he was always small for his age. But it was his understanding of the game, his anticipation of what would happen next, that set him apart. O'Brien remembers the first time he saw Travis play. "Every year we have a day when the eighth-graders skate with the high school team to see what prospects are coming up," he says. "The first 10 minutes Travis was on the ice, my son, who assisted me, said, 'I believe you have another Division I prospect.' I asked him which one. 'The little white-haired kid. He sees the ice better than most college players.' "
As a 5'3", 120-pound freshman, Travis played on the first line with two seniors. "When Travis talked about the things we should be doing as a team, it was clear he knew the game better than anyone else," O'Brien says. "He knew it like the coaches knew it. The only question mark was his size."
Travis thrived under the direction of O'Brien, a former Marine who preached hard work, discipline and respect. O'Brien also talked to his players about setting goals. One night when Travis was 14, he sat down and made a list. Then he went into the living room and asked his parents if he could speak with them. Lee and Brenda had no idea what was coming. "He wanted to go over what he considered his goals in life and what it would take to achieve them," Lee says. "He told us he wanted to get a good education, to be a Division I college hockey player and to have the opportunity to play pro hockey. Just the opportunity. He realized from his years with the Mariners that pro hockey was not glamorous. He knew it was a meat market, and he wanted an education to fall back on."
Yarmouth High played Class B hockey in Maine. Nearby North Yarmouth Academy played Class A. So before his sophomore year, Travis switched schools. It wasn't exactly traumatic. Both teams played at the North Yarmouth Academy rink, which was managed by Lee, who'd returned there after seven years with the Civic Center. Travis spent nearly as much time at the rink as his father. He helped sharpen skates, drove the Zamboni, scraped the ice along the boards. Many nights Lee gave Travis the keys to the rink, so he could work out by himself or with a friend and then lock up. "He'd go over to that rink night after night and just play," Brenda says. "He also played soccer. He was a great runner. The only ski race he ever entered, he won. But hockey was his love."
"Growing up the son of a rink manager was almost like the old days when players learned the game on a pond," says Kevin Potter, who coached Travis at North Yarmouth Academy. "But Lee never pushed him. If Travis wanted to do it, fine."
Potter was immediately struck by the leadership qualities Travis brought to his new team. "His sophomore year the team captain came in after a bad period and broke his stick on the wall," Potter says. "Travis stood up and said, 'This is not what we need right now.' He's a sophomore, right? But he took control of the locker room, channeled that energy in a positive way. His enthusiasm and spirit were catching, and he brought everyone along with him. I played hockey at Bowdoin, and I can honestly say that Travis, as a sophomore in high school, had the greatest hockey sense of anyone I've ever played with. There's no question, down the road, he'd have been a coach. He will be a coach. Hockey will always be a big part of his life."
In his junior year at North-Yarmouth Academy, Travis made first team all-state as a forward. But when the Panthers played in out-of-state tournaments, he saw that he was a big fish in a small pond. "Every kid says, 'I want to play hockey for the Bruins,' " says Brenda, "but Lee kept turning that back at Travis: 'What are you going to do to get there? You have to work at it.' Travis realized that. He wanted to play Division I hockey, and he knew what they were doing in Maine wasn't what they were doing in Massachusetts. Nobody came to North Yarmouth Academy to recruit. He had to go to a place where people would see him."
He decided to apply to Tabor and repeat his junior year. Tabor's hockey team had gone 27-2-1 in 1992-93, losing in the semifinals of the New England Prep School championship. Potter vividly remembers when Travis told him of his decision to leave North Yarmouth Academy. "He said he had a goal, and he needed to make another step before he could reach it," says Potter. "All I could tell him was, 'Follow your dreams, Travis.' He didn't want to be the best player on the team anymore. He'd rather have been an average player trying to get better, even if it meant playing on the third or fourth line."
But every time Travis went up a level, he met the challenge. There would be no fourth-line stints in his future. The summer of 1993, before enrolling at Tabor, Travis tried out for the prestigious Hockey Night in Boston summer league. Every top prospect in the Northeast tries out, and college coaches from all over scout the league. The year before, as a 17-year-old, Travis had been cut. Now, at 18, he was the last forward selected by the team representing northern New England. "A new resolve came out of that," Lee recalls. "He was going to prove to those people who chose him that he deserved to play."