To chase depression. Wickenheiser spends his off-ice hours reading, sometimes a book a day, and cocking an ear to Bruce Springsteen on his stereo. He also is trying to learn his way around the city. "This looks familiar," he says as he rides home from a noon skate at the St. Laurent arena. "Yeah. I think I live around here." Wickenheiser hasn't bought a car yet, nor has he decorated any of the walls of his apartment. "I want to get the right car and the right stuff on the walls." he says.
At the moment, he'd settle for being able to tell the right jokes. Wickenheiser is attempting to build an image as a team comedian, but he isn't having much success because of his low-key, overly subtle sense of humor. "Whenever I've got a joke to tell, everyone groans and says 'Don't,' " he says. "I just want to keep the guys and myself loose. When I'm not playing, I get too down if I don't joke around."
Last week, after cooling his skates yet again while Montreal played Minnesota and Boston. Wickenheiser paused to consider his life before he joined the Canadiens. "My father once figured out that I traveled 18.000 miles in one season of junior hockey," he says. "The shortest bus trip was about eight hours. Some were 15, even 24. A day on a bus. I can't tell you how many card games that is. But it teaches you to wait; you can't go anywhere except inside that bus. Eventually it'll get you to your game, and you can't play till it does. That sort of prepared me for what I'm going through now."
If the waiting is half of it, wanting is the rest. Pride in being a Canadien, in being privileged to wear the Montreal colors, is another tradition in the Forum. "You've got to want it bad," says Wickenheiser. And he does.
One recent afternoon, Wickenheiser was tinkering with his stereo, wearing decrepit jeans and a slate-blue pullover with a Canadien crest embroidered on one pocket. "I wear this—notice the logo is over my heart—until they tattoo one on me permanently." he says, only half kidding. "Then I'll know I'm here for real, and for good."