As told to: Dave BidiniIhad no idea what it was going to be like when I got to the NHL. Coming to the Islanders, certain people had the perception that I was going to be Clark Gillies, Bob Nystrom and Butch Goring all rolled into one. But I wasn’t a great fighter, and once I became aware that that was how they envisioned my role, I got stressed out and developed ulcers. The team’s expectations were completely unreasonable. I wanted to play hard checking hockey, but I didn’t see myself as a fighter, and the friction between what they wanted and what I wanted paralyzed me. I got hung up on it. There were two ways I could have responded to this — roll up and become a possum devoid of emotion, or attack the situation and become the bear. But I’d never been the bear before. I’d only ever played devoid of emotion.
“Shit. Okay, this is going to be interesting.”
One night against Detroit in Long Island, I took a boarding penalty. It wasn’t a particularly dirty hit; at least I didn’t think it was. But from the minute I sat down in the penalty box, Joey Kocur kept his eyes on me. Even though his team was on the power play, he wouldn’t go deeper than the blueline in either end. He basically skated between the two bluelines. He looked at me and said, “You’re fucking dead,” over and over again. I was sitting in the box thinking, “Shit. Okay, this is going to be interesting.” I was getting more tense by the second, until I considered, “Well, he can’t fight me unless I fight him. I’m just not going to encourage it.” I came out of the box convinced of this plan, but because Al Arbour wanted to prove a point– and because Detroit’s coach wanted my head– I kept being put out against Kocur. I avoided the situation at all costs, skating away, skating away. Finally, it got to the point where the linesman dropping the puck looked at me and said: “Are you going to get this over with?” The fans wanted it, the coaches and refs wanted it. Everyone wanted it except me.
We fought that shift. I was punching him and having what was a fantastic fight for me. I was in there, doing okay. After awhile, we tied each other up, and in any other situation, it would have been over. Instead, the refs just sat there and said: “Keep ‘er going boys.” In the time it took for them to say that– ten seconds– he’d worked his arm free and cracked me once on the temple. I wasn’t even cut, but it broke three bones in my face: the orbit, and both cheekbones. I just collapsed. It felt like an egg had broken in my face. I got off the ice, but because there wasn’t any blood, nobody thought much of it. I got thrown in the back of the team doctor’s car, who dropped me off at Huntington hospital– the worst equipped, but most convenient hospital for him on his way home. Inside, I was forced to fend for myself. The only person even tangentially connected to the team with whom I spoke over the next few days was Tammy Gilbert, Greg Gilbert’s wife, who knew my girlfriend at the time. From that point on, the team didn’t acknowledge me. They facilitated some doctors appointments, but that was it. It took two surgeons to repair my face.
DAVE BIDINI is the co-creator of ‘Slapshot Diaries’ as well as a writer/musician/columnist from Toronto and the author of 12 books.
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