Fighting is a leading cause of injury in the NHL. It is also a great tradition.
CLICHÉS MAKE THE MAN...
Andrew is referred to as a "skills" player, a "finesse" player. Jesse is regarded as a "physical" player, a player with "some skills," a player "who sticks up for his teammates" (no pun intended).
...AND NUMBERS DON'T LIE
In four seasons at Guelph, Andrew played in 189 regular-season games. He scored 48 goals and had 92 assists. He accumulated 96 penalty minutes. In three seasons at Plymouth, Jesse played 150 games. He scored 32 goals and had 42 assists. He had 529 penalty minutes.
THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT EXPECT
Jesse turned down a chance to attend Brown to play in the OHL. He played on two U.S. World Junior teams. He is a regular churchgoer. His favorite television show is Jeopardy!
THINGS YOU'D NEVER EXPECT
Jesse and Andrew seem like nice young men with a lot in common. Both are right-handed forwards. Both are polite in conversation. No brag or swagger in them—like sitting next to the deacon's son at a box social. Both are tall and move with the space-creating assurance that characterizes professional athletes. The two have similar features and share a smudged sort of handsomeness. Despite his injuries, Andrew's face is still the more smoothly engineered. Jesse's face is all broad angles and worried planes. Pale in the sickroom way that only fictional Victorian heroines and real-life hockey players are pale, each young man has wavy hair; Andrew's is black, Jesse's brown. Andrew has hazel eyes and a big, terrific smile. Jesse hasn't smiled much lately. His eyes are blue. Jesse and Andrew were born on the same day: Aug. 10, 1978.
Each has a steady girlfriend. Both enjoy video games. Jesse is crazy about golf and plays whenever he can. Andrew enjoys golf too and is starting to play more often. (They are much longer off the tee than you are.) Each has one sibling and two parents at home. Both young men were selected in the fifth round of the 1996 NHL draft. Andrew went 129th, to the Florida Panthers; Jesse went four choices later, to the Philadelphia Flyers.
People speak highly of them, both as players and as young men. They seem never to have been properly introduced.
They also have in common the fact that each, directly or indirectly, may have shortened or destroyed the other's career. Both suffer troubling thoughts about the future. And there must be times, maybe before the morning skate, or after dinner, or late at night, balanced on the dark edge of sleep, when they hate each other with a purity and purpose you couldn't begin to understand.
PLYMOUTH AND GUELPH
Plymouth, where Jesse played, is about 25 miles west of Detroit. Downtown Plymouth is as small and neat as a hatbox, with gift shops and bookstores and a restored Art Deco movie theater. The Compuware Sports Arena is on the western edge of town. It is nearly new, and the money that went into it shows. There is a landscaped pond out front, and you can reach one of the arena's entrances by a bridge that swans across the water. Inside there are two rinks and a nice restaurant. The 4,300-seat rink where the Whalers play is bright and open and has four suites. There are a couple of brightly painted concession stands that look like the kind you'd stop at for a four-dollar hot dog on the Universal Studios tour.