As I skated out on the ice in Chicago, memories of that Oakland loss and of all those early games flashed through my mind. Obvious mistakes, not always as costly but just as obvious: passing the puck to an opponent, letting it slip away when it was right on my stick, losing it on the boards after I had beaten my man to it, not freezing it solidly enough for a face-off, getting in the way of the goalie instead of protecting him, failing to carry the puck because I didn't trust myself to keep it.
And not fighting. Despite my reputation, I hadn't been looking for fights even before I was hurt; I just never ran away from them. Now I was avoiding them, backtracking if one seemed to be coming my way. If I was lucky, I could divert a man into the corner, but I didn't fight him, didn't battle, didn't try to crash him into the boards, didn't swing at him, grab him or do anything to get the puck away from him. The word was getting around the league: go down Green's side. He won't hit and he can't hurt.
Worse were those other words going through the league: don't go after Green. Don't try to hurt him. He's been hurt enough. Pity. Compassion. Sympathy. I didn't want that. I wanted to earn my way back.
The brain damage had all been on the right side of my head, which controls nerves on the left side—and I'm left-handed. While recovering I could skate, handle a stick and carry a puck before I could write my name. When I was Terrible Teddy Green and even after that they all tried to stay away from my left side. I hit with my left hip or my left shoulder, I punched with my left hand. My left side was my strong side. And now, as guys came down the ice, they knew I couldn't—or wouldn't—use it.
I could not understand why. The doctor had assured me my left side was as strong as ever, the plastic coating over the hole in my head sturdier than the bone it had replaced. And yet I was gun-shy. Before every game I gave myself fight talks: Hit, hit with your left. Fight, punch with your left. Check, check on your left. Then I got into games, and I flinched. It bothered the hell out of me. And it was bothering me when I moved that night in Chicago into the spot Orr had played.
There was another problem, an odd one. The Bruins were so much the class of the league that they often ran away with a game, sometimes winning by three or four goals. That made it doubly hard for me to get fired up. The close games were the kind I needed. But because we were so strong I got more ice time than I would have on a losing club. And by using me as much as he did, Tom Johnson was giving me the time I so badly needed to regain my form.
Since Tom and I understood each other, there were rarely any problems between us. We had a lot in common. While we were defense mates, Tom, who for 15 years was an NHL stickout, first with the Montreal Canadiens and then with us, was knocked out of hockey by Wayne Maki's brother, Chico, who has been with the Hawks all through his career. It was entirely accidental but when Chico snicked Tom in the back of the legs with his skates and severed a nerve, that was the end of Tom's career.
My own feeling about Wayne Maki was zero. He was with Vancouver last season, and every time we played the Canucks people wondered what would happen if Maki and I collided. We didn't. If he hadn't stayed away from me, I'd have stayed away from him. I wanted—and want—no part of that guy. He's apparently a little reckless with his stick, because even after he cooled me with it he couldn't control his urge to use it on people.
Don't get me wrong—I'm not afraid of Maki. I just don't want to have anything to do with him. Maybe he feels the same way. The few times we were on the ice together we hardly ever went near each other. Frankly, if I saw him coming at me, I'd go the other way. Maybe I'm afraid of myself, of what I might do to the guy.
In all those early games I was thinking too much. The moves used to be natural, a part of me. I didn't have to think I'm going to hit this guy. I just hit him. I didn't have to think I'm going to block the puck. I just blocked it. Now everything was mental. It was a problem I had to lick. If I didn't, it would lick me. After enduring all I had gone through to get into shape to return to the NHL, I couldn't let overthinking get the better of me. Something had to happen to get all the gremlins out and make me the Teddy Green I wanted to be again.