As told to: Dave BidiniBryan Fogarty was supposed to be the next Bobby Orr. He could do amazing things on the ice. I remember his zenith, which came during an early home game at the Colisee in the winter of ‘89. Bryan picked up the puck behind our net and headed up ice, and after a few feet, he’d reached a speed that most of us can only dream of. To Bryan, the first forechecker was no more than a bother. By the time he hit the red line, he’d beaten two more forwards and half of the guys on our bench were on their feet. He froze both defencemen, and just as quickly, he was back at full speed blowing around them before firing a bullet, top shelf. I remember thinking, “Holy fuck. This kid is going to be a star.”
I remember thinking, “Holy fuck. This kid is going to be a star.”
I first met Bryan Fogarty when he was 13 years old. He was a gregarious kid, always smiling. He was the best friend of Brendan Roach, the oldest of two boys of the family I boarded with in my first year of Major Junior “A” hockey in Brantford. He and Brendan had a mutual love for professional wrestling, and I got to see Bryan a lot that year. At the time, in 1982, he was a child star in the Brantford minor hockey system, the same minor program that produced Wayne Gretzky. In fact, the talk around Brantford at the time was that Bryan was more dominant at his age than Wayne had ever been. I remember being more than a little skeptical, particularly given the fact that Bryan always seemed more interested in imitating Rick Flair’s pile driver than pretending to score the Stanley Cup-winning goal in a game of road hockey. To me, this kid, who was always laughing and goofing around, didn’t seem like the type of person who would go on to one day become a successful junior or professional hockey player.
During my second season in Brantford, I was placed with a different boarding family. But that didn’t stop me from seeing Bryan and Brendan on a regular basis. I’d encounter them at high school parties, wasted out of their minds at 14 years old. It kind of scared me. After all, these two kids were like my little brothers and I found myself acting like the responsible big brother. I’d escort them out of these parties, admonish them for being drunk, and point them in the direction of their respective homes. In my naiveté, I actually thought that they’d listen to me. But the truth is, they almost never went home.
After finishing my junior career and beginning my professional hockey life, I never really thought about Bryan Fogarty again. But one day in 1988, I picked up the Hockey News: Bryan was breaking all of Bobby Orr’s junior records in Niagara Falls. There he was– “Fogie”– splashed across the pages and touted as the next great thing. But in the article, there were references to his drinking problems. I couldn’t help but think back to those Brantford parties and wonder if I’d been witness to the germination of a life-long struggle. I remember hoping that he would be able to straighten himself out.
The very next season, he was my Nordiques teammate in Quebec. By that time, I’d heard a dozen more stories about his drinking problems, but when I saw him at training camp, he looked and acted just like the kid I used to hang out with in the Roach’s basement in Brantford. There were flashes of brilliance on the ice, but he spent most of that first year playing air guitar. Everyone in Quebec had a soft spot for Bryan and we were all hopeful that he could leave his substance abuse troubles back in junior. But Bryan’s behaviour told us that we were only kidding ourselves. Despite this, none of us seemed willing, or able, to do anything to help him. What made it worse was the realization that this wasn’t how friends were supposed to treat friends in the real world. But we weren’t living in the real world; we were part of the NHL, where you’re constantly looking over your shoulder or across the dressing room, waiting for someone to steal your job. In pro hockey, it’s a daily battle between looking out for your brothers-in-arms and looking out for yourself. The sad truth is that for the majority of pro players, self-preservation usually trumps the former.
Still, we worried about Bryan. Every one of my teammates wanted the best for him. We used to talk about it all the time. After a few seasons, we watched as he jumped from team to team, league to league, going south fast. And we hated it. We hated it because we all knew that Bryan had a good soul. We wanted him to succeed and be happy, not emotionally at war with himself and a bottle. We wanted him to conquer his anxiety and his fear of failure. We wanted to see him score the way he had that night in 1989. We wanted to see him laughing and smiling again.
When I picked up the newspaper in June of 1999 and began reading about what had happened in Brantford, my heart sank (Bryan Fogarty had been arrested and charged with drug possession after a break-in at a local school. He was charged with break and enter and possession of a controlled substance after he and a friend jacked open the kitchen doors at the Tollgate Technological Skills Centre. When the police came, Bryan’s friend was found naked in the kitchen with cooking oil spilled on the floor around him). Then, less than three years later, Bryan was dead in a hotel room in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. My first thought was that he’d died of an overdose or something, but the TV report said that he’d died of natural causes at 32. At least Bryan hadn’t gone like some flamed-out rock star. At the time, I didn’t think about Bryan’s struggle with booze. I thought about him and the Roach boys, and the laughter that used to come up from the den.
Fogie’s funeral was a few days later in his home town. I didn’t want to go, but I found myself driving down the highway to Brantford on a cold and rainy morning. I thought I’d at least see a few old NHL teammates and friends and we could grieve and commiserate over Bryan’s death together. Maybe we could tell a few stories and share a laugh in honour of Fogie. But no other NHLer showed up. I sat near the front of the church and looked straight ahead. I can’t recall the details of the service, but I remember that after his family and friends had eulogized him, they played one of Bryan’s favourite Metallica songs, “Nothing Else Matters.” For the first time, I really listened to the lyrics:
“Never cared for what they say
Never cared for games they play
Never cared for what they do
Never cared for what they know
And I know”
Then the tears came. Bryan had never really caused him too much pain. The only time he seemed truly at ease was when he was listening to Sabbath or Metallica. After the service, I saw some of Bryan’s old friends. They told me that before his death, he’d been doing a lot better and was getting his post-hockey life together. I was happy to hear this. Although hockey is religion in Canada, the pressure and the expectations that come with playing this game at the highest level are not for everyone. I know that it wasn’t for my friend.
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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