Andrew remains a very upright, fluid skater. At 6' 3" and 190 pounds, he is nearly willowy compared with some of the bruisers he skates against. He seems to be aware of everything in the offensive zone and sends passes where they need to be before you even see the opening for them. Good wrist shot, good slap shot, good nose for the goal. He is a playmaker and has, as they say, all the tools.
The game he's had to play against himself has been the toughest part. "I almost talk to myself about it, just kind of convince myself that stuff like that can't happen again," he says of the Boulerice incident. "And I'm not worried about it happening again—it's just that... sometimes I ask myself, What if I take a big hit tonight? I try to say to myself, You gotta do it, because I want to play in the NHL. If I'm scared out there, I'm not going to make it."
Andrew's only ongoing medical concern is his concussion, so he wears a helmet with a little extra padding. It was his third concussion, and he's only 20 years old. When New York Rangers forward Pat LaFontaine retired last season because doctors said he couldn't risk another major concussion, he'd had five. He was 33 years old. The Panthers have been patient with Andrew and foresee no special problems in his development as an NHL player.
Does Andrew want to see Jesse go to jail? "I don't care to see him go to jail," he says. "What I really, really want—and I talked to the prosecutor about this—is for there to be a precedent, some sort of serious probation, and for him never to be able to lift his stick, or do something even remotely close to that on the ice. Anything even close to that, like an 'attempt to injure' penalty, and he's gone. Never play again. Playing in this game and not being able to bring his stick up when guys are coming at him would be punishment enough."
WHAT IT ALL MEANS, PART II
This is a sports story in which nobody wins. The final reckoning won't fit in a box on the sports page or add up clean in the mathematics of a nightly highlight show.
Stories like this drag too many questions behind them. What was turning in the heart and mind of Jesse Boulerice on the night of April 17? Was there criminal intent? Or was it simply iron-man hockey? Does the tape show Jesse sliding his hands up the stick? Did he shift his weight to get a lumberjack's leverage on the swing? And how do you differentiate this act, other than by its terrifying result, from 1,000 other unseen moments in that same game, the many small, subtle acts of enthusiastic violence that hockey prizes? What is most surprising about the Jesse Boulerice-Andrew Long matter is not that it happened, but that it doesn't happen more often.
And when it does happen, who bears responsibility? What about the hockey factories that tirelessly promote themselves as "quality organizations" and "builders of character"? If what they manufacture short circuits, should they not be held accountable? They're always eager to talk in the euphemisms of risk, of "role players" skating close to "the edge." But when they lose a kid, when the edge crumbles and he falls, you won't hear a word. The code of silence won't allow it, and locker-room signage is sparse on the topic of regret. Players spend years in junior hockey practicing to do things right. How much time is spent learning to do the right thing? Is Jesse Boulerice, then, a criminal or simply the product of his elite education?
And what about us, you and me, fat and happy as a couple of whorehouse bedbugs up in the seats in our souvenir jerseys, spilling our beer and screaming for brain matter whenever two guys drop the gloves? How much responsibility do we bear?
Hall of Famer Ken Dryden knows better than most: "We love to turn up the temperature, in part because it means that we go off into territory we've never been as players, and it's exciting to be where you've never been. The problem is, where you've never been may be where you shouldn't be.