As told to: Joe Pack
Both have represented their country at the highest level, both have been World Champions and both have been part of gold medal-winning Canadian teams – in women’s and sledge hockey respectively. Sami Jo Small and Billy Bridges, married on Canada Day a few years back, share stories on what it’s like being a hockey couple.
Bridges: We both won a gold medal in 2006 at Torino and so Hockey Canada has an event in the summer for all its winning teams. I got to hang out with my heroes and then Sami befriended me and introduced me to charities like Right To Play where we started doing events together.
Small: The next year in Winnipeg at the World Championships, the sledge hockey guys did a demo between periods and we ended up winning so the sledge guys came out with us afterwards. I remember thinking he was pretty cute. Our first date was a Right To Play event at a Toronto Blue Jays game.
Bridges: But our first real date was watching an NHL playoff game.
Small: It was a double header that night, so I couldn’t miss it. I think Billy was pretty taken aback that a girl wanted to watch the playoffs. We had a lot of dates those first couple of weeks because there was so much playoff hockey. You feel like you’ve invested so much of your time watching to that point, you can’t not watch it.
Bridges: I know the second game included Vancouver because she had it on basic cable at home and that was why we went back to her place.
(Our July 1 wedding date) was definitely not coincidental. We immediately thought of Canada Day because it landed on a Friday and it was nice for people who had the three day weekend.
Small: We had a hockey game the Saturday, girls against boys, and then a golf tournament on Sunday. We had table hockey players on our wedding cake and cut off the legs off of one of them.
Bridges: Not that I’m an amputee but…
Bridges: There are more pictures of Sami and Teemu Selanne than there are of the two of us. Her mom got so mad about that when I tweeted it. Her mom said, ‘That’s not true, there’s one of you in the corner of our living room…’
Small: It’s our wedding picture.
Bridges: One of the pictures of Sami and Teemu was right after the ’98 Olympics and she had looked over at Sami Kapanen’s name tag and said to him, ‘Oh, my name’s Sami too.’
Small: I may have had a few drinks.
Bridges: Goalie parents or goalie spouses are absolutely- I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. I was new to having a partner that played sports and I knew how pissed off she’d be if she had a goal scored on her. Every time the puck crossed the goal line I’d always be so rattled.
Small: He knows that I’ll be quiet on the drive home if I’ve played poorly and he won’t want to deal with that. I get nervous when he plays because he likes to hit so much. I’m more worried for the guys he hits and what their lives are going to be like after the hit.
Bridges: In sledge hockey, you can’t just step away from a hit. You have to make a full body pivot-turn at full speed – you can’t just move laterally. So we’re way more susceptible to the big hits. If I line a guy up, unless he ditches and falls to the ice, he’s gonna get creamed and I know that feeling too. Guys stick their picks into the fatty part of your hip, that really feels good. We don’t wear hockey pants so it does leave, from the bottom of your shoulders, room for kidney shots and shots to the lower back.
Small: Billy took out all the members of The Amazing Race, like Natalie Spooner (and Meagan Mikkelson) and they got such a kick out of their sledge hockey trial. It makes them realize how good these guys are in their sled.
Bridges: When I shoot, the picks on the bottom of my stick will hit my shin pad and act as leverage. There’s only about 20 per cent of the guys in the game who do that right now. It creates (an effect) like two hands on the stick. I go through five or six pairs of shin pads a season because (the slap shot) destroys them. A forehand in Tennis (might be comparable). A one-hand cast in fishing, maybe?
Bridges: I guess I had a bit of a rough childhood and so I was always into death metal. I really loved the Deftones and Korn and Limp Bizkit when I was just getting into music. We formed a metal band in grade nine and played for two years in some pretty good spots in Toronto. I still love those days but now I have an acoustic guitar and try to play some Jack Johnson and stuff. But it never feels right.
Small: His entire family plays because they’re all from P.E.I. and of course they all play country music.
Bridges: George Jones. And now I play mostly The Hip or Joel Plaskett.
Small: And that’s really mostly for me. We don’t necessarily see eye to eye in music. My favourite band is Great Big Sea, so it’s really similar.
Bridges: Pretty much. I used to listen to death metal in the dressing room before games and I became notorious for taking four penalties a game, trying to injure people. I was still getting the job done, it was just a whole other side of the game that I was accessing.
Small: And I listen to CBC radio before my games.
Bridges: She’s got Stuart McClean’s Vinyl Cafe on before games.
Bridges: I was a big fan too of Jeff O’Neill and Todd Bertuzzi. I used to go to Easter Seals camps for disabled children. They make you a representative afterward and it’s a good way (for them) to make money, you get a cute little disabled kid to go to events for you. I dropped the puck at a Guelph Storm game and afterwards I put my skates on and Bertuzzi and O’Neill skated me around the rink. It was just when kids at school had begun to bully me. We got off the rink and they took me to their change room. I was walking behind them and some older, bigger kid made a crack about me in crutches and Bertuzzi just shoved him against the wall and told him to shut the eff up. Immediately, I was like, ‘This is the coolest guy ever!’ They ended up getting the whole team to sign a stick for me.
Years later, Sami and I are at the Real Sports bar in Toronto, I went up to Jeff O’Neill and I told him the story and he said he had to get a picture with me and tweet it out. He turned to and asked, ‘So, basically I can just tweet that I started your Olympic career?’ I thought he was kidding and said, ‘Yeah, for sure!’ So I said, ‘Do you mind if I grab a picture too?’ and he said, ‘Ah, fuck it, I’m lazy, just text me your number and I’ll text it to you.’
JOE PACK is a freelance writer based in Toronto and a rec-league rent-a-goalie.
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