It's funny because his game did get good. Carried us that second half of the season, and into the playoffs. I like to think that if things had ended differently, I'd still be in Dallas. I'd be there and Hitch would be gone and so would his backwards way of thinking and I'd probably already be in second place because I know Mo would constantly be feeding me pucks.

Granted, a lot of things would probably be different had I stayed.

I suppose it strange that I'm waxing poetic and talking about how great it would be in Dallas, yet I just turned them down and now I'm in Phoenix. But, I mean... that's now. Things would've been great had I stayed. But they're different now. Because I left.

You know, after Mike won his cup, he wept like a fucking baby. I had a big Cheshire cat grin painted on my face for weeks, and he wept like a fucking baby. Lots of guys do, it's not a big thing. And Mike, well, he cries a lot. Cried after his 1000th point, cried after some kid stole his favorite toy and pushed him down. It's kinda hilarious because he's painted as this metrosexual. Because he cares about his appearance, he cares about relationships, he's not afraid to cry, and it's not a threat to his own personal masculinity. Kinda hilarious because nobody wants to just come right out and say, dude, you're gay.

You really aren't supposed to say that kind of thing to guys who are engaged to women. Which is probably why I say it to him all the fucking time. Like supposed tos ever stopped me.

Gay Gay Gay. Gay Gay, Gay Gay.

I guess I could have been flicking his ears or punching him or something stupid. Whatever, it always managed to crack a smile on his face when I'd bellow out GAY. Usually somewhere in the vicinity of his face. Like, three-inch minimum.

We were able to joke about it for so long because it wasn't true, and everyone else was convinced it was. I think, sometimes, he did things just to make people scratch their heads and say, hey, wait a minute... The blond hair, the photo shoots, parading around wearing leather. But then, I know Mike and while he's big on the inside jokes, he doesn't do things just for show. And he really does like his blond highlights.

I used to tease him about what he'd cry about next. I called the Valentine's Day all-time-franchise-points-cry. The funny thing is, all the times he's cried, all the times people have seen him cry, it's because he's so fucking happy, so fucking proud, so fucking awed of what he's accomplished. It's not conceited to say something like that. Because it's true. You have to work extremely hard, be something real special to get as far as Mike's gotten. Those 16 games are the hardest you'll ever play, and you've got 82 in front of them that are just as important.

A lot of guys cry when they win it all. You're just so emotionally drained and you sit down and the next thing you know you've got all this stuff dripping down your face. And a whole lot of guys cry when they lose. It's not just about being a sore loser. It's about giving it all and that not being enough. There are few instances in anyone's life where they absolutely give it everything they have and it's not enough.

Those Calgary boys were crushed. JS had big huge tears running down his scruffy face. Sykora had to have his coach come out and tell the press to leave him alone.

But I've never seen Mike cry after a loss. Even after a big one. First one to start to strip, take a shower, but maybe that's more so because he's one of the first people they want to interview. His voice soft and quiet and tired, but that's not very different from after any other game, and maybe his eyes are a little softer, but in the end it's just, "I guess we just didn't have it tonight," in his quiet, usual Mo way.

He's competitive and hates to lose, but he takes his dues, and in the end, it is just a game.

I think about the way he used to talk to other guys after games. We were pretty much a team of vets, but there'd always be that one kid that just needed to hear something, being his first gut wrenching loss and all. Guy, or Keaners, or maybe even Muller--good quality guys, and likely candidates. Leaders. Funny, too. Only they'd keep to themselves, and Mike, I'm not sure what he'd say, but he'd say it. Just a sentence or two, and that was always enough. I'm not sure--I wish I knew what he said. He never said much to me, never really had to. I was far more content with a look or a ride home. Strange how things get so quiet after a loss, and guys don't want to hang out or go out for a beer. That's intuitive, yeah, but it's shocking each time the way the silence hangs over everything, making it a little harder to breathe, leaving the room a little more melancholy. Everybody finds their own way home, except for the lucky ones that don't have to make that solitary journey.

I doubt he says much anymore. It's not that he's removed himself from the team, or even the same old same old about Mike being a leader by example (which is true, but not exactly right when it comes to describing the way Mike leads), or even that he doesn't care anymore. Or maybe that's what it is. I've often wondered if you can be friends without vendettas or loyalty. They seem pretty integral.

Mike, like most NHLers, was aware from the start that you don't make friends after you make it to the big leagues. Sure, your teammates become your best buds, maybe even your teammates will have a really hot daughter that you can date (poor, poor Guy), but for the most part, the people you knew when you were 16, sometimes even 18, those are your lifers. Those are your friends forever because they were your friends who knew you when. Who knew you when you were ugly, going through puberty, mother fucking stupid, poor, so not even close to being an NHL star. They're real in a way that people never are after you've made it.

They're your friends for life--they're your lifers, and everyone else is just an acquaintance. Only Mike didn't treat them like they were.

There are friends, the kind you're so fucking loyal to, you'll pass up fucking their daughter (Brendan, you owe me. Big). And there are friends you've fucking hated for like 15 years because they fucking stole your donut and then your date to the big dance, and then made fun of your ugly car and--okay, so you hate them, but for some reason they're still your friend. These are the friends that it's so easy to pay attention to. You love someone, you care about someone, you hate someone, you want to beat someone, and it's so easy to pay attention to them, to what they're saying, doing. It's easy to be with someone you care about.

I said that if you knew Mike, you really knew him, because he was honest and open. And the thing is, you didn't have to be a lifer to know him. Maybe he only knew you for a little while, or maybe he met you coincidentally two weeks after his big contract was talked about in the papers, but he was always completely present with you.

Ask one of his sisters if she's his favorite. Any of them. She'll respond with a resolute you betcha. Ask her how she knows and she'll reply, "Because he told me so."

He's got three fucking sisters and they're all his fucking favorite. And it's not that he's stupid and can't count, or doesn't understand what the word "favorite" means, or even that he was lying to them. Only that, when you were with him, you felt like you were the only one in the room, and he wasn't thinking of anything else--only you. And it was only you, and the 3 billion other people he met. It was never a matter of misleading people; simply, he made you feel special. He listened, intently.

A lot of people are quiet, but aren't necessarily listeners. They listen by default, because you won't shut the hell up. Mike, on the other hand, was genuinely interested. He actually listened; he was concerned about you.

So his friend count probably has a margin of error of about 30 points.

But... those vendettas, that loyalty, it sticks, man. It's past, it's emotion, it's love, it's why you're so fucking close, so intimate, and you're attached like superglue. Can't get rid of me no matter what. And I think about Mike, and the reason these friendships, acquaintanceships, whatever worked was because he listened. But what happens when he just stops listening? Where's the glue? How do you stick his ear to your mouth and force him to listen?

A lot of people are probably off put by that. The way he's just stopped listening. Asshole. Jerk. Doesn't give locker room captain speeches, doesn't take the rookies out for ice cream, doesn't say anything to anyone after they lose to New Jersey, Anaheim, go home without a post season.

It's probably easy to attribute it to the on-ice production problems. After all, they pushed his problems into the nice little Fiancée Ruining Game box years ago.

They assume it's some internal problem--he's self-absorbed, he's a dick, a primadonna; he's that fucker, Sykora, playing without heart during the 2002 playoffs, sitting in a cushy booth with a mild case of the sniffles.

You know, the press vilified Petr for that. Strung him up, and let the fans shake their fingers at him, for not playing hurt or "giving it his all." Selfish. Pussy. Fag.

And it's funny because it's true. That fucker, Sykora, playing without heart because his heart's been traded 300 miles away.

You hear about these sorts of things when your GAY best GAY friend is on the same GAY team. (Yep, it's still funny--GAYGAYGAYGAYGAYGAY. I'm fiGAYve years old)

I wonder, though, if people realize that Mike's the way he is, because of what they've done to him.