In the end, I was mostly a bystander. The human separator sitting on the bench, keeping the forwards from bleeding into the defenders. I’m a goal scorer, so I needed to be out on the ice, I wanted to be out there so badly. Miserable, sitting there, doing nothing, and I kept thinking put me in, coach, put me in, honest, I can do something, I can make things better. I’ll score. I promise. Too close to have any perspective, and my wants blinding me, so in the end it was probably better to have me stand aside, and let more capable men take my place. 


Looking back, it’s easy to see the mistakes I would have continued to perpetuate, the extra problems I would have caused, but it still hurts. Hurt then to sit and do nothing, and hurts now to know there was nothing I could do. Of course, there were small things I could still do, still contribute—words of encouragement, showing up everyday and setting an example… Better men have done these things all my life, but it was a struggle to follow in their path when I wanted to do so much more, and thought that I could.


In the end, I had to trust, to believe that it was better for me to stand back and let Mike do this on his own. Hard to believe that when I was afraid this would be the last mistake I’d have a chance to make. (But even under Hitch I managed to make my way back up to the first line after being demoted to the fourth) Hard to believe that when my whole life had been striving towards these moments where I was cool under pressure, making the right decisions, deking left not right. A life of choices, and as a goal scorer, never afraid, reaching out and saying, “Yeah, I’ll take you.” (But this was not my life, this was not my choice)


My dad once chose to jump ship. Jump league, really. My family left Chicago behind, and though I love Chicago, I don’t think I could ever sign there. Mike’s thinking about Chicago at the moment, and maybe he’ll like it there. But my brothers and I have always been leery. Chicago might expect more of us than what we can give. It’s difficult skating in somebody else’s shadow.


But I love Chicago. Great pizza. And the city never really changes. My favorite restaurant from when I was a kid is still there. And the smokestacks still interrupt the landscape. My dad once told me that true Chicagans love those dirty, often garish, things. “Signs of progress, m’boy,” and maybe they were once, but I just shelled out two thousand dollars to my home owners association so we could place all our power lines underground. A more aesthetically pleasing option. I suppose it’s easier to be proud of what you can see, what you can take pictures of and point out to all your friends, or maybe just random tourists. The other way around you’ve just gotta have faith that when you flip a switch, you’ll have light.


Speaking of, Mike, of course, is Catholic. Good little Italian boy that goes to Christmas Mass and Easter Sunday and, and I’m sure there are others, but I’m not particularly religious. I was raised Christian, though—salvation by faith. And I’m not sure if I entirely believe that. Seems to me that it matters what you do, and there shouldn’t be any Get Out of Jail Free cards floating around just because you say that you believe. Though, I suppose God can probably tell the difference between saying and believing.


Catholicism doesn’t particularly satisfy me either. Salvation by works--but what if you’re too paralyzed to move? What if you just can’t? Shouldn’t intentions count for something? In the end, I guess maybe not. But I’m probably simplifying something that shouldn’t be, can’t be, and I think Mike might’ve told me about a couple of loopholes, Hail Mary’s or something like that.


And in the end, it wasn’t faith in God that was necessary for me, anyway. It wasn’t even faith in Mike. At least, not in the idea that he’d get better, that he’d be like he was before. But that what we had couldn’t be taken away, wouldn’t just disappear, and that when this was all over, or even if it was never quite over, but that tomorrow, tomorrow, even if we weren’t the same, even if we’d lied to each other, even if we’d let each other down in the past, that we’d still be friends. Or that we’d try.


Trying was what I’d feared. That if Mike wouldn’t, that we couldn’t. I thought I needed him to be strong, always, or we’d stumble and fall like the Stars eventually did to the Avs.


And maybe we did stumble, and maybe I did want Mike to be strong, to be the Mike I always knew, but maybe that was just because it made things easy. And our friendship had always been easy. But the things I cherished, that he cherished, were the accomplishments we’d worked so hard to achieve. Goal scorer through and through, and I can’t believe I was too afraid to try on my own. That if I tried and he didn’t, that it wouldn’t be enough. And maybe in the long run, no, it wouldn’t, but for a little while I could try enough for both of us.


When Mike moved that might’ve been a sign, that he was leaving everything in his past behind and starting fresh. That he was ready to move on, to forget about cheesecakes and tie-dyed shirts. But he didn’t just abandon his belongings. Elephants, purple turtlenecks, everything that he was made the move as well into a smaller, more streamlined, simpler apartment. He had to let some things go—the wine cellar, the tennis courts, business managers, but these were all extraneous things. Or so he told me when I called him up to ask for his new mailing address.


We hadn’t spoken in months, but he didn’t sound surprised to hear my voice. It was as if he was expecting it, as if he’d been waiting for me. Not for me to save him, to fix things between us. Just waiting for me.


In the end, Mike had to save himself. Had to drop his own gloves, and all I could do was cheer him on and promise him that if anyone ever blindsided him, I’d drop them too. Didn’t matter where I was, if I was on the other side of the rink, or if the guy outweighed me and swore in Russian and Belarusian. I’d do my best to be there for him.


The lockout is looming, but I’ve got to believe they’ll work it out. No sport’s ever been locked out an entire season. And I have a feeling this next season’s gonna be great for Mike.


Next season’s gonna be the best yet.





-- Brett Hull, August ‘04