There was an unwritten rule in the Roy household: No lying down on the ice. Ever since Travis was three, a towheaded bug of a kid playing for his father's Mite team, he was taught that if he got knocked down, or if he tumbled into the boards, or if he got whacked in the ankle by a puck, he should bounce back up. His dad, Lee, a former MVP at the University of Vermont, wouldn't stand for the theatrics some kids pulled, collapsing at the first sling of pain as if they'd been felled by a splitting maul. "Get up, you're not hurt," Lee would say, a Yankee accent flavoring the reproach, a smile creasing his gentle face.
Lee was famous for these words in Maine, where for the last 20-plus years he has been Mr. Youth Hockey, helping to found the Portland Youth Hockey Association in 1972, managing four different rinks in the southern part of the state, coaching kids from Mite to college age, running summer hockey camps, sharpening skates, driving the Zamboni. Get up, you're not hurt. It was right there in Travis Matthew Roy's scrapbook, a city phone book-sized compilation of hockey clippings, programs, photos and award certificates that Travis had saved over the years. In one early entry he had pasted in a picture of his dad with a cartoon balloon coming out of his mouth that read, "Get up, you're not hurt. Get up."
And Travis always did. One time, when he was about 12, he skated past the bench during a game and yanked off a glove so his dad could see the blood dripping from the tip of one of his fingers. "What do I do?" Travis asked.
"What do you mean?" Lee replied, having ascertained that the wound was a long way from the boy's heart. "There's a shift going on." Travis slid the glove back on and kept playing.
Which was why, on Friday, Oct. 20, as Travis lay motionless on the ice of Boston University's Walter Brown Arena, just 1:56 into the opening period of the season, those who knew him felt a cold wave of panic. Travis had never lain on the ice. No coach who'd ever had him—not his father, not any of his three high school mentors and certainly not BU coach Jack Parker—had ever had to go out onto the ice to help Travis Roy to his feet. Never. The worst injury Travis had ever had in hockey was a sprained knee. But 11 seconds into his first shift of his first college game—minutes after the Terriers had unfurled their 1995 national championship banner—with his family in the stands and the last of his high school coaches proudly looking on, Travis lost his balance while trying to put a little something extra into a check. He hit the end boards with the top of his helmet and fell to the ice like a rag doll, utterly inert.
"It looked scary," says Tim Pratt, Travis's coach for two years at Tabor Academy, a boarding school in Marion, Mass. Pratt had driven up to see his former star player's first Division I game. "I cringed," he says. "But I've been around hockey my whole life. You're used to scary moments that turn out all right. But the longer it went on, the scarier it became."
"I thought it was a shoulder or an arm," says Brenda Roy, Travis's mother, an assistant high school principal. "We're trained after all these years that if the boy goes down, you sit. Lee never panics. But Lee went down to the ice fairly quickly. I thought, If it's a shoulder, darn, he'll miss a few games. Maybe the season. After all that hard work. Then my daughter, Tobi, said she wasn't going to sit there any longer, and she went down. I told her I'd wait. I was still thinking, He'll roll over. Then Lee called me down, and I knew it must really be something."
Tobi, Travis's older (by three years) sister, is a neonatal nurse at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital. She was watching Travis as he tried to check a North Dakota defenseman to the left of the visitors' net. "He fell straight down and didn't move," Tobi says. "He didn't pull his legs in. He wasn't writhing. When my dad went down to the ice, I knew this was different, because he'd never done that. I stayed for a while in my seat, then the nursing side of me kicked in. I realized if Trav wasn't moving, we were dealing with the neck or the head. That's when I decided to go down. When I got there, my dad had tears in his eyes, and I knew we were in trouble."
One of Travis's roommates, defenseman Dan Ronan, was on the ice when the accident happened. "He was lying so still, I automatically thought he'd been KO'd, because his chin was flat on the ice," Ronan says. "That ice is cold. I was thinking, If he were conscious, he'd get his chin off the ice. But when I finally went over to him, I saw his eyes were wide open."
Parker didn't see the play. He was reading the riot act to one of his players, who had celebrated excessively after scoring to give BU a 1-0 lead just 1:45 into the game. Then he saw Travis sprawled on the ice. "The way he was lying there, I thought there was a major problem," says Parker. "I was hoping he was knocked out, because there was no movement at all. Many times a guy will go into the boards, and it looks scary, and I always think: Move your legs. I walked around to the end of the rink where it happened. I saw he was talking. I never had one before where the legs weren't moving and the guy was talking."