Everyone was in high spirits, and then Simmons threw a changeup, altering the course of the evening.
"David, you did something none of us could ever do," said Simmons. "You made it to the NHL. And I don't think any of us understands how you could work so hard to get there, then go through something like you did on that one night and, somehow, keep it all in perspective. You stayed cheery and strong, and you never changed. We respect you for it. That's why we're here tonight." We toasted and applauded.
Reece said we were still a bunch of hoseheads. Then he lowered that John Madden voice and leaned forward, arms on the table, hands fiddling with a fork. "I know feelings are hard to talk about," he said. "Particularly sometimes with men. The memories of that game are a difficult thing to share. But I think you helped me handle it in a personal and caring way. Until tonight, I hadn't seen the replay. And, until tonight, I don't think I ever completely let go."
We were, for a moment, self-consciously silent. Humor sometimes masks deeper emotions. Reece had lifted that mask. Odd, I thought. As a player, Dave was known for never taking off his mask. Then again, it wasn't his mask he was lifting. It was ours.
Simmons called for the check.
As we stood to leave, I told Dave I had never met his wife.
"Come over tomorrow," he said. "Linda's the silver lining in this. I met her in Springfield two weeks after I got sent down. Here I was feeling life had served me a garbage sandwich [he didn't say garbage] and I meet my future wife. She's great. If it wasn't for Linda, I think I would've been bitter. Our daughter, Meredith, is five now. Thank you, Darryl Sittler."
When Doc and I arrived at the Reece house the next morning, Dave was away holding an admissions interview, but Linda was home.
She laughed when we said Dave told us he hadn't seen the tape of the goals before. That wasn't true. "The tape was delivered to our house a week ago," she said. "Dave kept saying, 'I've got to watch that. But not today.' Finally I told him, 'David, you know you're going to have to look at it, so why don't we just sit down and do it.' Goalies are so vulnerable. So we watched it and he was fine.... The only thing that still bothers him is wondering why they didn't take him out."
I wondered, too. Days later, I asked Don Cherry, the former Bruins coach, why he had left Reece in the game. "Reecer was caught in a situation where our other goalie, Gerry Cheevers, had just jumped back from the WHA and hadn't played in two months," Cherry said. "I didn't want to throw him in on a night where everything was going for Toronto. But at one point I felt so sorry for Reecer that I looked down the bench at Cheevers. Gerry just threw a towel over his head."