The Eagleson story has finally reached critical mass. The trickle of incriminating documents that once dribbled into the Eagle-Tribune is now a freshet. New sources surface every week. Already Conway says he has enough information for another series of investigative articles on Eagleson.
"All I've done," Conway says, "is connect the dots."
"Usually it takes one person to change something, and Russ was that person," says Rick Middleton, one of the retired players involved in the lawsuit against Eagleson and the NHL. "This is a great story. One small guy at one small newspaper doing all this. It's like a Jimmy Stewart movie."
Russ Conway has had a pretty wonderful life. He joined the Eagle-Tribune at 18, and in his first story he exposed the squalid condition of the Lawrence High School football locker room. "I wouldn't have showered there," Conway says. "There was mold everywhere."
Over the years he has worked on a race-fixing scandal and has broken more than his share of Bruins stories, including Orr's 1976 move to the Chicago Blackhawks and coach Rick Bowness's firing in 1992. And Conway has made a difference, or so says Fern Flaman, the former NHL defenseman. As they watched the closing ceremonies at Boston Garden last September, Flaman told Conway that "you've affected the life of everyone on the ice." Jimmy Stewart then would have saddled his horse and ridden out of town; Conway hopped into his Corvette. The 'Vette he currently drives—his 14th, if you're counting—is metallic turquoise. Conway is wild about cars and auto racing. From 1965 to '89 he was a partner in operating three small racetracks in New Hampshire and in organizing and promoting races from Florida to Canada.
Conway tells time by cars. He began work on the Eagleson story two 'Vettes ago, on June 5, 1990. Since then he has gone through two phones, two tape recorders, one fianc�e, three Canadian prime ministers, two U.S. presidents, four Bruins coaches and goodness knows how many L&M filter kings. The only constants have been his portable TRS 80 laptop computer and his long sideburns.
More than a book and some notoriety, Conway's work on Eagleson has given him a sense of purpose. In October 1992 the former players he championed won a suit against the NHL Pension Society when an Ontario court ruled that NHL owners—unchallenged by Eagleson—had improperly used a $24 million surplus in the players' pension fund. The NHL was ordered to distribute an estimated $50 million award through increased pension payments. The first of those checks were mailed in September.
Canada is mulling the extradition request, so perhaps Eagleson will be tried by the U.S. justice system. If not, maybe the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which is also investigating Eagleson, will turn up something that induces Canada to prosecute a favorite son.
If Eagleson ever steps into a courtroom to face criminal charges, Conway swears he will not cover the trial. "I've had my fill of Eagleson," he says. "There are better things to do in life than watch him."