I could say that the hit was the beginning of it all. Really,
I could choose any arbitrary date. It doesn't really matter. Mostly, I picked
that event because I remember that night so vividly.
How could anyone forget the night their best friend died?
He hadn't, but I didn't know that at the time. When someone's head snaps back
in the most awkward of ways, you generally don't think it'll still be
attached later. He came within two centimeters of being paralyzed from the
neck down. That's some scary ass shit.
I was convinced he was dead, and then never going to play hockey again, and
it didn't help matters that they dropped the fucking stretcher while wheeling
him out. But hours later when they finally let us see him, I'd been expecting
the worse, and there he was sitting up and flirting with the nurses. Ridiculous
motherfucker. He joked that night, but I knew he was scared. I knew it gave
He didn't reveal any of this to us that night, or the press later. He could
have reeled off some clichés, you know. Said that it wasn't a reflection of
increased violence in the game. Said that the speed of the game had led to
the incident. But he didn't. Quiet Mike Modano spoke up and said he'd leave
the game. He said it was unacceptable, and people listened. It was the first
year he was really being taken seriously. He had won a cup. He'd earned it.
He wasn't soft; he'd been captain for a few weeks the season before, led his
team to the cup. And people listened.
I talk a lot about the game. About how boring it is. How awful it is. How
much I hate it. He's never been as flamboyant as me, but he's relayed a
similar sentiment to the press over the last few years. I say it to improve
the game. I say it to incite the wrath of owners and fans. I say it because
it's fucking funny.
He says it because he believes it.
I love this game. Mike just happens to be good at it. I don't mean that he
doesn't care about the game. He's competitive; he wants to win. And I know
he'd miss it if he was forced to leave it. He's an athlete by nature; he
always wants to play. But it's just a game, and he wants games to be fun.
I'd play this game no matter how awful it got. I'd suck the marrow from its
dying bones. I'd play pickup games to remind me of how it used to be, and
then complain every time I hit the ice. I'd stay in the hopes it'd get
better. I'd stay in the hopes that one day I'd get to see the next Wayne
Gretzky up close. See, it's more than a game to me. It's life, it's
everything. It infiltrates every facet. There's hardly a moment when I'm not
a hockey player.
There's the difference between me and Mike. I'm a hockey player. The end.
It's not so simple, not so easy for Mike to define. He tosses me a strange
look whenever some new rookie recites those lines during some interview. He
can't understand how they've figured it all out at 18. Or rather, how they've
limited themselves already.
Male. Hockey player. Canadian. These are the things that define me. My
identity. You ask most guys in the league to describe themselves and one of
the first things they'll throw back at you besides their last name (like
trained fucking seals, man, we bark out our last names) is their team: I'm a
Detroit Red Wing.
Male/female. Californian/Wisconsinite. Gay/straight. Athlete/non-athlete. Is
this really who we are? He reads science fiction novels where you can change
your sex as easily as going to the dentist, and he asks me if I'd still be me
if I was a woman. If I was straight. If I was American.
I shoot back that I have dual citizenship.
Maybe who we are is bigger than all that, he thinks.
I never have much to say on the topic, and he finds that odd. I don't think
about these things. Because I know I'm a hockey player. I know I'm a
man. I know I'm Brett Hull. I'm certain of these things. I'm content with
checking boxes. I hate those fill-in-the-blank surveys. Who wants an endless
array of choices? I'm a multiple-choice man, myself.
I used to think that Mike did. That he wanted all those choices, enjoyed all
that freedom, all that autonomy. That night changed my mind, though. (Oh, did
he forget to mention his innocent faux pas? I figured nothing better was
going to come along?) That night was huge. You could hear an audible gasp
from the crowd. Razor's voice, breaking the bad news to the Dallas crowd:
Mike was engaged.