"In the U.S., Eagleson wasn't big news," says Hall of Fame defenseman Brad Park, who along with four other retired players filed a class-action suit against Eagleson, former NHL president John Ziegler, former NHL chairman of the board William Wirtz and 22 NHL teams last November charging collusion to suppress player salaries. "And in Canada, going after Eagleson was, uh, politically incorrect. Too many people in the media depended on him or believed him. He was a good story, a great quote. With the in-depth reporting Russ has done, he's brought to light a good deal of what has transpired."
In mid-December the U.S. asked Canada to extradite Eagleson so he could stand trial in Boston on 32 counts that include racketeering, mail fraud, embezzlement of labor organization assets, receipt of kickbacks affecting welfare-benefit plans and obstruction of justice. The indictments were based largely upon information that Conway had uncovered. If convicted, Eagleson faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $2 million fine under the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Eagleson refused comment for this story, but his attorney, Brian Greenspan, has dismissed the allegations in Game Misconduct as "preconceived notions." Greenspan says that Conway became involved because of his friendship with hockey great Bobby Orr, who had a falling out with Eagleson, his former agent, in 1980.
Orr, who with Park complained to the FBI about Eagleson's practices in 1991, is hesitant to discuss Eagleson. "That guy has been out of my life a long time, and my life has been a whole lot better since," Orr says. "I'd love to say that everything Russ has reported I've given him"—Orr laughs—"but it's obvious that not a lot of information came from me."
Conway pulled off his investigation with the journalistic equivalent of David's slingshot. He made use of a phone, a fax machine and a few confederates who did some legwork for him in Canada and in England. He took maybe a dozen trips to Canada himself.
This is the way it has to work at a newspaper like the Eagle-Tribune, which, pound for pound, as they say in the sports pages, may be as aggressive as any newspaper in America. In addition to printing school lunch menus, the newspaper, under publisher Irving E. Rogers Jr., won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for general news reporting for exposing flaws in the Massachusetts prison furlough system with stories about a convict named William Horton. ( George Bush's presidential campaign ads later made him famous as Willie Horton.)
"Russ's biggest expense is that at the end of the year he turns in a phone bill of three or four thousand dollars," Eagle-Tribune editor Dan Warner says. "But resources weren't a problem. You couldn't have replicated Russ's work even if you turned a lot of people loose on the story. There are great 'people' reporters, and there are reporters who can follow a paper trail. Russ can do both. He's the best reporter I've known in 40 years."
Along the way the 46-year-old Conway cultivated sources. He developed them inside Eagleson's office in Toronto, inside the NHL and inside Hockey Canada, the sport's governing body. He had about 400 sources in all; only six demanded confidentiality.
Conway's sources included many of the Bruins players he has covered over the years. He says their complaints at a 20th reunion of Boston's 1970 Stanley Cup team about Eagleson and their pensions set him off on his investigation.
What began with a few files on Eagleson and international hockey now takes up a room in Conway's condo. The files, color-coded with seven different shades of Post-it notes, have filled his life in unforeseen ways. The investigation Conway figured would last six months turns six years old in June. "I wouldn't call it an obsession but a challenge," Conway says.