Eh bien, it was no doubt more than his parents, Gilbert and Laurette Dionne, not to mention his grandfather, Laurent Sawyer, his uncles Bertrand, Blondin, Michel and all the rest of his big, encouraging famille, could have anticipated in their fondest dreams—or, perhaps, their worst nightmares. Here was p'tit Marcel, the boy no taller than a fireplug, for whom they had laughingly passed the hat after he scored three goals one cold afternoon in Drummondville, Quebec so he could buy himself some new hockey sticks—here he was now, slugging down a Coors and reclining like a veritable movie mogul on a lounge chair by his cloverleaf pool overlooking the green, rolling hills of Southern California's Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Imagine, for six years the boy used to lug cases of beer out of his father's Épicerie Dionne in Drummondville, then wobble on his bicycle around the neighborhood to deliver them to the Thibodeaux and the Pelletiers and the Plourdes. Now, a mere decade and a half later, he was taking his leisure by his pool in the middle of February. February! In normal climes snow would have been up to the eaves of the strange modern stucco house—an unmistakably Southern California chalet—angling up like a listing A from the sauna and the patio where Marcel Dionne was sitting. Instead of snow, everything here in Lotusland was sunshine and greenery, waterslides and orange saplings. It just wasn't hockey country. It was skateboard country and Frisbee country, maybe even baseball, football and basketball country—but it definitely wasn't hockey country at all.
Surrounded now by Los Angeles Kings teammates and other friends, Dionne was not even talking about hockey. Coach Bob Berry's off-day practice had ended a few hours earlier, and though hockey was Dionne's life, to be sure, it wasn't the world here in Los Angeles. There were other things to talk about. He was remembering the musical comedy Annie, which he had recently taken his wife Carol to see at the Shubert Theater in Century City, and the dinner they had had at the Maison Gerard in Beverly Hills before the show. Hardly anyone had noticed him, either at the Maison Gerard or at the Shubert, for in this city of stars, Dionne is only a minor luminary.
If pressed, informed Angelenos might tell you that Marcel Dionne heads a rock 'n' roll group called the Belmonts, or maybe that he is related to the Dionne quintuplets. Had he been out on the town in Montreal or Quebec City, on the other hand, Dionne would have been besieged by autograph seekers from the moment he left his car, and they would have known precisely who he is—namely, the leading scorer in the National Hockey League, the fastest, shiftiest, most electric skater in North America.
Then again, Dionne's fancy dinner in Beverly Hills was probably no match for the wholesome French cooking in Montreal or in Quebec City, places to which the Dionne clan used to drive years ago to watch Marcel in youth tournaments—the Pee Wees in Quebec, then the Bantams at the Centre Paul Sauvé in Montreal. They went to tournaments in Cornwall, Ontario, and even in faraway Toronto when Marcel was picked to play on all-star teams.
Mon dieu, those were the days! The whole gang would rent a row of motel rooms in those cities and make a party of it. Since they didn't go out much in Drummondville, the Dionnes loved the trips, particularly Marcel's mother, Laurette, who had been a figure skater and who had presented her firstborn with his first pair of skates when he was 2½. She wouldn't miss one of Marcel's big games for the world, even when she had two other sons and five daughters to care for back home. But for five years now, Marcel has been playing in Los Angeles, thousands of miles and an entire culture away, where a good part of the populace doesn't know the difference between a hockey puck and a doorstop.
By his pool in Palos Verdes, glancing occasionally at Gypsy, the gentle Doberman pinscher running excitedly among the company, Dionne wasn't speaking the familiar patois of Quebec but perforce the English he started studying at 17, when he jumped from the Drummondville Rangers of the Quebec Major Hockey League to the St. Catharines Black Hawks of the Ontario Hockey Association. Many Drummondville xenophobes have never forgiven him for that move. Dionne, il a une tête gonflée. Les canadiens-français devraient rester ici chez eux-mêmes. However, Dionne had no intention of remaining in Drummondville, locked in the French language, to end up like so many of his old amateur teammates, working from 8 to 5 in one of the low-paying textile mills in town. The Ontario amateur league was simply a better league than the Quebec league. The players were more mature. They were tougher. After playing with them a couple of years, Marcel would be better prepared to enter the NHL.
Every step of Dionne's circuitous journey to Los Angeles was beset with obstacles. In an attempt to prevent him from moving to St. Catharines in 1968, a representative of the Drummondville team, a Monsieur Tetreault, walked into the Dionne household one day, marched up to Marcel's 6'1", 233-pound father, who was a lumberjack before opening his grocery store, and shouted up at him, "Gilbert, your son is finished! You want to be like this, we'll take you to court. Your son will be playing in his backyard for the rest of his life."
"You would not believe," says Marcel, "what my dad, my mom, my family, my relatives went through. But they did it. The whole family pulled together. You would not believe how many cheap shots people took at us. I was the big hometown product, see. They could not accept the fact I was leaving. Just like Detroit later on. But the Detroit situation was nothing in comparison, because there it was only me who was involved."
Dionne no doubt wishes the blustering Tetreault could see him now in February 1980. Carol, a French-Canadian girl from St. Catharines who kept Marcel going when he was lonely and homesick in the alien, English-speaking province of Ontario, was bustling about their spacious kitchen, preparing porterhouse steaks and lobster tails for the grill. His 4-year-old daughter, who has the very un-French name of Lisa Lee, was romping around the yard with other children. A Fleetwood Mac album was thumping on the stereo. The grown-ups were talking and laughing in the trophy-and photograph-filled bar, in the den and on the patio, and the only trace of ice was that which was tinkling in their glasses. What's more, the determined boy who brightened so many dark Drummondville winters, the boy who practiced incessantly within the snowbanks surrounding the backyard rink his father made for him, the boy who first entered organized hockey at the age of eight, the great Canuck hope of scores of uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents, Marcel Elphège Dionne, was enjoying every minute of it.