McSorley lacked finesse but not determination. In 1986, playing for Toledo, McSorley totaled 55 points in 75 games and earned the IHL's Most Improved Player award. (He also led the league in penalty minutes, with 545.) That got the attention of the Los Angeles Kings, who offered McSorley a contract. But the Hollywood ending was not to be. McSorley wasn't invited to suit up for the Kings, and he would never put up numbers worthy of another shot at the NHL.
It was a painful cut. Only stubborn pride kept McSorley from returning to the steel mill. His brother was not surprised. "I remember when Chris was five or six, and people would come to the farm to buy eggs," says Marty. "Dad caught Chris throwing eggs against the side of the house. Chris got a pretty good whuppin' for it. The funny thing was, five minutes later he was standing there, tears running down his face, two more trays of eggs, throwing them against the house."
Reminded of the episode, Chris nods bashfully. "My mother always told me that if I ever drowned, I'd float upstream," he says. Sure enough, after he was released by the Kings, he fought the current during three more seasons in the bush leagues.
In 1989 McSorley was with the IHL's Indianapolis Ice, his seventh club. One day the coach of a rival team mentioned that a bench job was opening up with the ECHL's Winston-Salem T-Birds. McSorley applied for the position. The T-Birds took a chance on the 27-year-old journeyman.
He returned the favor by hitting the books, studying scouting reports and stat sheets. He drove the team bus and even put up young players who were away from home for the first time. One night in Nashville he caught the eye of Carrie Folks, an aspiring young country singer who was performing the national anthem for the Nashville Knights. She and Chris were married three years later. For Chris hockey was, once again, a family affair.
Which for a McSorley means not just something beloved but also something fiercely competitive. Putting together his talented Las Vegas roster is McSorley's proudest accomplishment. He keeps a ledger of scouting reports from far-flung hockey outposts, and his living room is strewn with so many hockey books that it looks like a college student's room the night before final exams. "If you own a stick and skates," he says, "it's my job to know you're out there." He's meticulous in practice as well, recording every minute of every team session in a calendar.
A Thunder workout is not all boot camp, though. McSorley is as likely to hold a four-on-four intramural tournament as to drill his team in game situations. The key is competing. "A lot of teams play badly one night and the coach says, 'Aw, it was just one of those games,' " says Thunder captain Greg Hawgood. "Chris doesn't let us blow off a bad effort."
He won't let his players give up, and he won't give up on his own NHL dream. What Chris McSorley wants is a job in the NHL—like Marty has. He wants his name on a Stanley Cup—like Marty has. "But now I'm focusing only on the Turner Cup," Chris says. "I'd rather be a star among bums than a bum among stars. I'm like a junkie. Winning is my fix."