The team draws a youngish crowd, enthusiastic, with plenty of puck bunnies: high-school-age girls wearing cocktail-party makeup. During breaks, the P.A. system plays the same deafening rock-and-roll snippets you hear at big league games. The whole thing is like a one-quarter-scale rendering of an NHL arena.
The Guelph Memorial Gardens in Ontario, where Andrew played, is a half-century-old barn of a place, like a zeppelin hangar with a rink in it. It is downtown, across from the Black Stallion Saloon and Acker's Furniture. The training area is in the oldest part of the building; one wall is whitewashed stone. (Players must feel as if they're lifting weights in a root cellar.) Up in the rafters, in the dark, is a banner from the 1951-52 Biltmore Mad Hatters of the old Ontario Hockey Association. This rink is the one where, some say, the phrase hat trick was born. The banner may make the trip across the street to a proposed new 5,500-seat arena.
The crowd in Guelph is older than the one in Plymouth: lots of former players, guys thick through the hams and hunkers, with graying crew cuts that look as if they were done with a belt sander. One codger spends the night roaring like Lear whenever a fight breaks out. He's as deaf as a post, but he knows what he likes. Amid the cowbells and the great farting horns, the P.A. plays the same denatured rock, but you can't hear it; the sound system isn't very good, so the canned excitement dissipates into the rafters like smoke.
NEWMARKET AND MOOERS
Newmarket, Ont., is a northern suburb of Toronto. The Longs have lived there for 10 years, in a two-story brick house with blue trim dropped onto rolling farmland. David and Brenda Long share the house with Ryan, Andrew's older brother, and Rudy, a schnauzer. Andrew's bedroom, at the top of the stairs to the right, is pretty much as it was when he left home to play Major Junior hockey. There is a bunk bed along one wall, and next to it are shelves that hold many of the plaques and trophies he has accumulated. He was on skates for the first time when he was four.
David and Brenda are in their early 50s. Brenda works part time in publishing, and David is the president of several professional associations. David is a good-looking man, gone a bit gray at the temples. Brenda is a blonde, pretty woman who gets animated when she talks about what happened to Andrew. David grew up in the same neighborhood as Ken Dryden, a Hall of Fame goalie for the Montreal Canadiens and now the president and general manager of the Maple Leafs. They used to play a little hockey together and are still friendly.
Sitting in their kitchen, you begin to understand what all of this has done to them. "Andrew was nearly killed," says Brenda, "and Boulerice gets to go right on skating? It's not fair." The kitchen table is covered with newspaper clips and Internet downloads about the incident. David and Brenda both look tired. There have been a lot of interviews and phone calls and conversations since the assault last April. It's late. "I've never seen anything like this," David says. "He took two hands and swung his stick into Andrew's face."
Do they want to see Jesse go to jail? Brenda answers. "No," she says, as though measuring the word, "but somebody should take his hockey away from him for at least a year."
On the big-screen TV in the den, David plays the video of that night. He has seen it many times. He talks until the moment Andrew gets hit; then he is silent. A few seconds later he says, "I'll never get used to that." Brenda is still in the kitchen. Brenda still hasn't seen the tape. She can't bring herself to watch it.
It's late when you leave, when you've heard all their stories about the distant tournaments and the driving and the many successes and the rare failures. About how happy and jokey a kid Andrew is, and about the grind of trying to get organized hockey to pay attention to what was done to him.