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Blood on the Ice
E.M. Swift
March 12, 2001
A year ago an accidental high stick forever changed the lives of two of the NHL's brightest stars
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March 12, 2001

Blood On The Ice

A year ago an accidental high stick forever changed the lives of two of the NHL's brightest stars

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At 2 p.m. Pam and Wally finally arrived. That was the first time Bryan got emotional. "He cried when he saw them," says Smith. "There was a certain amount of grieving. You don't face something like that without a period of grief."

Though they all feared that Bryan's hockey career was over, the overriding emotion was relief that Bryan was going to be all right. "None of us gave a damn about hockey," Pam says. "You worry about him being able to have some sort of normal life."

A stream of reporters and well-wishers came by the next day, and most of them were politely turned away. Then a young man, nervous and downcast, showed up. Pam and Wally recognized Hossa right away. After the accident the television cameras had zoomed in on him in the penalty box, capturing an expression that seemed to be fright. "He could hardly talk at the hospital," Wally says. "He must have apologized to us four or five times. That was a wild swing with his stick that he shouldn't have made, but it was an accident. That's sports."

"Our hearts went out to him," Pam says. "He was a hurting puppy, too."

Hossa teared up as he went to the bedside to speak to Berard. In any language it would be hard to find the right words. In a second language, in an adopted country, to a man he had never spoken with, it was impossible. Hossa's tears became his words. Berard, still calm, told Hossa he bore him no hard feelings. Amazingly, he didn't. "He said, 'It was an accident, a freak accident. It could have been me doing it to you,' " Hossa remembers. "He was a very strong man in the hospital. Very strong."

Bryan Berard was six days past his 23rd birthday the night of the accident. Marian Hossa, a talented right wing from Tren?�n, Slovakia, was only 21. In many ways these young men had led parallel lives, half a world apart. Both came from hockey families and were identified early as among the best players of their age groups. Both moved smoothly from level to level, from town teams to all-star teams to international teams—always with their eyes fixed on the NHL. Both moved away from home as teenagers and led major junior teams to the finals of the prestigious Memorial Cup; Berard's Detroit club lost in 1995, Hossa's Portland team won in '98. Both players were NHL Rookie of the Year finalists; Berard won the award in '97, Hossa finished second two years later. Both were a solid 6'1" and about 200 pounds. Both were soft-spoken, humble, shy.

There were differences, though. Hossa was a classic European forward, fast and nifty, with soft hands and a nonconfrontational nature. He liked the open ice and abhorred the physical nature of the North American game. He'd nearly left by Christmas of his first pro season, with Portland in the rough-and-tumble Western Hockey League. He was 18, homesick, getting whacked every night. He decided he'd stick it out for one more year. If he didn't make the NHL by 19, he was going home.

Berard was a defenseman with superb offensive skills, a playmaker whose game resembled that of the New York Rangers' Brian Leetch. But he was also a tough kid who didn't mind dropping his gloves. He had to be tough, growing up in Woonsocket, one of those gritty New England towns whose mills had shut down and whose population was declining. "Part of growing up was learning to defend yourself on the street" Berard says.

"Hockey was in his genes," Pam Berard says of Bryan, the third of six children. Berard is French Canadian. The Berards' ancestors, like those of hundreds of Woonsocket families, moved down from hockey-mad Quebec to work in the textile mills in the 19th century. Pam's father and brother played hockey in high school. Wally played in as many as three adult leagues at once when Bryan was a kid, traveling to games as far away as Montreal.

Bryan and his younger brothers, Greg and Bruce, often skated till dark on the town ice rink five minutes from their house. Less than a mile away was Mount Saint Charles Academy, a parochial school with a juggernaut of a hockey team that wins the state championship every year—23 in a row and counting. Nine NHLers and two No. 1 draft choices, including Berard, have played for Mount Saint Charles.

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