Something terrible is about to happen. There, in the
upper-left-hand corner of the screen. Behind the goal and a step
to the left. The videotape is probably a copy of a copy of a
copy, as grainy as a Navajo sand painting. A hockey game. The
camera pans too fast, too slow, chasing knots of players back
and forth across the ice. Medium wide-angle coverage, very
likely shot from the press box, panning blue line to blue line,
blue line to crease, blue line to blue line. It looks like team
tape, overbright and jittery, something coaches use to show
players how a penalty kill broke down or to mock their
clay-footedness on a breakaway. The date--apr.17.1998--appears
across the bottom of the screen.
You've been told about the incident, so you know what to look
for, and where. You think you know how bad it's going to be. The
camera pans left and then rests, showing an area from the blue
line to the goal. A clumsy rush forms and dissolves, and a
blocked shot shakes the puck loose. It squibs into the corner,
left of the goal. Two men skate in on it. They look small, but
they aren't. The white jersey gets to the boards first; black
jersey vectors in a second later, delivering a cross-check to
the back, left elbow high. The puck slides past them and is
cleared up the ice. White jersey turns, gives black jersey a
shove, and they both glide toward the net. They are three feet
from each other, no more, the black jersey a step nearer the
goal. They pause for a second or two, the time it takes to read
from here to here. But the moment seems to stretch on and on,
elongated and made dense by the number of possibilities it
Then it happens. White jersey lifts his stick and swings it hard
at the head of the player in the black jersey. The long, flat
arc of the swing drives the heel of the stick into his face, and
he goes down. Goes down like an empty suit of clothes dropped to
the floor. Goes down and stays down. The player in white stands
over him as the camera pans away to the right. The tape abruptly
cuts to a shot of the scoreboard.
Several seconds later you remember to breathe again.
March 22, 1999
This is a sports story in which no one wins. Everyone involved
has already lost, and all that's left is the reckoning.
WHO YA GONNA BELIEVE?
From hockey officials, on the record: "I didn't see it."
From officials, off the record: "The worst thing I've ever seen."
On Friday, April 17, 1998, during an Ontario Hockey League
playoff game at the Compuware Sports Arena in Plymouth, Mich.,
19-year-old Jesse Boulerice (pronounced BOWL-er-iss) swung his
stick into the face of 19-year-old Andrew Long. That fact is not
in dispute. It is, after all, on videotape. Jesse was in white
jersey number 18; Andrew wore black jersey number 19. It was
early in the first period of the fourth game of a seven-game
series. Jesse's team, the Plymouth Whalers, was down three games
to none. Andrew's team, the Guelph Storm (pronounced GWELF), was
on the verge of advancing through the divisional eliminations
toward Canada's lesser grail, Major Junior hockey's Memorial Cup.
When Jesse swung his stick, he produced immediate consequences
for Andrew: a broken nose, multiple facial fractures, a Grade
III concussion accompanied by seizure, a contusion of the brain,
two black eyes and a gash in his upper lip the size of a
handlebar mustache. Had the stick landed a hand's width higher
or lower, Andrew might have been killed.
The consequences for Jesse, arriving more slowly but with a
grinding weight and gravity of their own, have been these: a
one-year suspension from the OHL and a suspension from the
American Hockey League, his next step up the professional hockey
ladder, that ended last Nov. 15. He has also been charged by the
Wayne County (Mich.) Prosecutors Office with a felony: assault
with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. A
conviction could carry a $5,000 fine and 10 years in prison.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. These
are the applied physics of violence. Arc and acceleration, cause
and effect. Swing a hockey stick hard enough, and you can bring
the world down on yourself.
A QUESTION OF FACT
On April 30, at the Toronto Marriott Hotel, the OHL held a
hearing on what it called the Jesse Boulerice/Andrew Long
Matter. The video was reviewed. Reports were taken from game
officials, coaches, the players and their agents. Jesse and
Andrew were interviewed separately and did not talk to each other.
The OHL's confidential 35-page report is largely what you'd
expect: witnesses explaining what they saw, agents and coaches
speaking about the character of their players and the
viciousness or the unintentional nature of the hit. A few
intriguing points emerge. The first is he had broken his right
hand several games before the Guelph series, and he was wearing
a playing cast on the night he swung that stick. The OHL report
says Jesse was on painkillers that night, but no conclusions are
drawn as to how that might have affected his behavior. Also
interesting are these questions to Jesse regarding what he said
as he was led off the ice that night.
Question: Do you recall the statement allegedly made by yourself
to Referee [Pat] Smola, "You didn't even see what happened"?
Answer: I knew what I did was wrong--I was upset--I was not sure
what else I should be saying.
Question: Do you recall the statement to linesman [Steve] Miller,
"but Smola did not see what I did"?
Answer: I knew what I did was wrong and I was not sure what I
should be saying or doing.
It could be argued that Jesse had checked to see where the
referee was looking before he hit Andrew. Prosecutors expect to
seize on this when the case goes to trial.
OTHER THINGS JESSE SAID ON APRIL 30
"When I went into the boards, my hand got crushed."
"I have been picturing the incident ever since."
"I never meant to hurt him like that."
SOME THINGS ANDREW SAID ON APRIL 30
"All I want to know is why."
"I don't understand why [he] would do that."
"I don't understand why."
WHAT IT ALL MEANS, PART I
So far the story unspools the way these stories always do: good
guy-bad guy, right-wrong, black-white. You don't have to read
past the headline to know what happened and form an opinion. It
is another tidy front-page morality play that teaches the
kiddies a valuable lesson in sportsmanship before working its
way backward through the newspaper until it evaporates
completely. Seen out of the corner of your eye among the NBA box
scores and the strip-joint ads and the PGA Tour money list, the
story is just another messy collision between sports and the
law, a not very memorable footnote to an age in which athletes
seem to spend as much time in court as on it.
But to understand any part of this story, you have to understand
all of it.
There is no analogue in the U.S. for the almost chromosomal role
hockey plays in Canada's national life. It is
omnipresent--everywhere and in everyone--at such a molecular
level that even Canadians who hate the game (and there are a
few) understand its nuances. In a nation with so much winter and
so much ice, hockey is an inevitability; it is as inexorable as
the weather. In Canada hockey is the manufacturer of good
character. It is myth and science. It is a kind of national
dream state. Baseball, the only fitting point of comparison in
America, has always been optional, no matter what George Will
says. Hockey is to Canada what capitalism is to America: a
Hence Major Junior hockey.
MAJOR JUNIOR. JUMBO SHRIMP
There are as many divisions in organized Canadian hockey as
there are diminutives in the language.
Before a Canadian is old enough to lace up his own skates, he
has a league to play in. (Yes, the sport is still mostly about
boys, although girls' and women's hockey is growing.) By the
time a boy is 10 or 11, it's time for him to start taking the
game seriously. His family should, too, because that's when it
gets ruthless. And expensive: Equipment. Gas. Registration fees.
Food and a room for those weekend tournaments. If you've got
more than one child playing the game, better buy a minivan
because the average hockey bag is now the size of a Lake Louise
summer cabin. And bring a book, because your kids are going to
be playing more than 70 games a year by the time they're 12. And
don't forget to set aside some cash for power-skating camp next
summer. Little Pierre and Gump Jr. and Sue had better attend; by
the time they're 13, if they're any good, they're already being
At the top of this food chain is Major Junior, last stop before
the pros. It is made up of 53 teams in three leagues: the
Western Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and
the Ontario Hockey League. Together, they make up the Canadian
Hockey League, which advertises itself as the largest hockey
league in the world. If it is not, it is at least the most
CHL teams are spread over eight Canadian provinces and four U.S.
states (Michigan, Washington, Pennsylvania and Oregon). A few
teams are in big markets such as Toronto, Ottawa, Seattle and
Calgary. (The Plymouth Whalers, for whom Jesse played, are a
suburban Detroit franchise.) The heart of the CHL beats loudest,
though, in small towns, places like Kamloops and Kitchener and
Kelowna; Lethbridge and Medicine Hat; Moose Jaw, Swift Current
and Victoriaville; Brampton, Belleville and Guelph.
Players between the ages of 16 and 20 are eligible, but the bulk
of the CHL is made up of kids 17, 18 and 19. These are most of
the best young players in North America. They are drafted (yes,
drafted) out of the regional or divisional minors at 15 or 16.
In western Canada they can be drafted at 14. That's why scouts
start tracking these kids in utero. According to CHL figures,
70% of the NHL's coaches and 65% of its players graduated from
the Major Junior system, including Gretzky, Lindros and Lemieux.
Young as they are, these kids may move thousands of miles to
join their new teams. Billeted with local families, they carry a
full high school schedule while playing more than 60 games a
year (not counting playoffs) in front of crowds that often
exceed the population of a team's home town. They practice
almost every day. For this they receive room and board and a
stipend of about 45 bucks a week. If they choose to continue
their schooling after the CHL, the teams provide for that, too.
CHL folks are very proud of the league's record in educating
players, and they resist no opportunity to define Major Junior
hockey as a largely educational enterprise.
Upside, players are being scouted by almost every team in the
NHL almost every night they play. Downside, it's tough to finish
that book report on Ivanhoe during a seven-hour overnight bus
Upside, every team has an educational counselor. Downside, it's
likely to have a boxing coach too.
Upside, players become local celebrities. Downside, they might
miss the prom because they've been traded.
Upside, players wear the best equipment money can buy. Downside,
they need it.
Upside, this is their best chance to make it to the NHL.
Downside, only one in hundreds ever does.
The CHL boasts season attendance of more than six million and
pumps nearly $200 million into the Canadian economy every year.
The league has more than 1,800 employees. It supervises more
than 1,900 games annually. It has a comprehensive new four-year
television package to broadcast games regionally and nationally.
Again, this is amateur hockey, not to be confused with
professional hockey. In pro hockey the pay's better. And there's
Any character-building system this elaborate and profitable
involving young people--children--is going to have critics.
Major Junior hockey has plenty. Every decade or so Canada
undertakes to reform its national game. Generally this involves
a series of scathing editorials in newspapers and some
self-loathing rhetoric in magazines. Canadians bemoan the state
of the grand old game for a few months, rending their garments
and tearing at their hair. Then the two-line pass rule is
modified, and everyone heaves a grateful sigh and shuts up.
Whereas in the past it was the quality of the game and the
players that engendered those cyclical reexaminations, now it is
the nature of the system in which the game is learned and played
that is coming under scrutiny. The Graham James sexual abuse
scandal in 1996 arrived just in time for one of hockey's 10-year
checkups, and the stakes went way up. For those who don't
remember, Graham James was a Major Junior coach convicted of
serial sexual assaults on Sheldon Kennedy, who later made it to
the NHL. (In the space of one week last October, James was
released to a halfway house on parole and Kennedy entered rehab
for substance abuse.)
The most immediate fallout from the James case was a hurried
investigation of the CHL by the CHL that was later criticized as
a whitewash. But the investigation--and the events that
precipitated it--stirred Canada to take a long look at every
aspect of the business of Major Junior hockey. Toronto's Globe
and Mail published a four-part series scalding the CHL for its
win-at-any-price philosophy. It referred to the players as
"slaves to a junior hockey monopoly that is run by a gang of
buccaneers who would do Blackbeard proud." The systematized
violence of junior hockey and the intractable code of silence
surrounding it were also roundly denounced. Its editorial pages
recommended scrapping the junior draft and remaking the entire
development system. In addition to being morally unsound and
Dickensian, it was, worse yet, not turning out very good hockey
players. (The number of Canadian players in the NHL has been
going down steadily, so Canada is losing gold medals and jobs to
players from Europe whose names read like bad Scrabble racks.)
The Globe and Mail also asserted that verbal, emotional and
physical abuse of players occurred because "the Canadian Hockey
League structure demanded that you keep your mouth shut and do
as you were told. Anyone who did otherwise--and to this day,
anyone who does otherwise--in Tier I junior hockey in Canada
risks never playing again. Period."
Laura Robinson's 1998 book, Crossing the Line--Violence and
Sexual Assault in Canada's National Sport, has also been brewing
up rancor with its delineation of drinking, brawling, hazing and
sexual assault throughout junior hockey. "Violence is the
vocabulary" of the game, Robinson says. In November, Maclean's,
Canada's leading newsweekly, ran a piece slugged "Thugs on Ice"
that looked hard at the manly traditions of goonism and the
Off the record you'll hear plenty of horror stories about a Lord
of the Flies hierarchy that prevails on and off the ice. The
entire system seems pressurized by a get-tough-or-get-out
Darwinism. And it is druidically secretive. "These kids are
terrified," says one leading agent who knows Canadian junior
hockey, "but they learn never to say anything to anyone about
it." Jesse Boulerice may be from upstate New York, but he is
entirely a product of this Canadian system.
Major Junior hockey still thrives because it is part of the
golden mythology of Canada. For generations it has been a way to
rise above a lifetime of bucking bales at the grain elevator in
Wakopa or Assiniboia or Cut Knife. It is the rural equivalent of
boxing or ghetto basketball, a ticket out. And it inspires as
much false hope. But even mythology changes when it has to.
Major Junior hockey is under a cloud right now, under the
microscope, under the gun. Any business with that many metaphors
ganging up on it is in trouble.
WHAT THOSE LAST 2,732 WORDS ADD UP TO
Andrew and Jesse still want more than anything else to play in
WHY FIGHTING IS STILL ALLOWED IN HOCKEY
It is by definition a violent sport. Apologists for the game say
that fighting acts as a safety valve, preventing other, more
serious expressions of frustration with sticks or skates.
"They're always saying that," says Kevin Young, a sports
sociologist at the University of Calgary, "but I'd like to see
the study that proves it. There isn't one."
When asked in a recent Internet poll by the OHL if fighting
should be banned from hockey, more than 85% of respondents said
no. Unscientific, but perhaps indicative.
Fighting is a leading cause of injury in the NHL. It is also a
CLICHES MAKE THE MAN...
Andrew is referred to as a "skills" player, a "finesse" player.
Jesse is regarded as a "physical" player, a player with "some
skills," a player "who sticks up for his teammates" (no pun
...AND NUMBERS DON'T LIE
In four seasons at Guelph, Andrew played in 189 regular-season
games. He scored 48 goals and had 92 assists. He accumulated 96
penalty minutes. In three seasons at Plymouth, Jesse played 150
games. He scored 32 goals and had 42 assists. He had 529 penalty
THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT EXPECT
Jesse turned down a chance to attend Brown to play in the OHL.
He played on two U.S. World Junior teams. He is a regular
churchgoer. His favorite television show is Jeopardy!
THINGS YOU'D NEVER EXPECT
Jesse and Andrew seem like nice young men with a lot in common.
Both are right-handed forwards. Both are polite in conversation.
No brag or swagger in them--like sitting next to the deacon's
son at a box social. Both are tall and move with the
space-creating assurance that characterizes professional
athletes. The two have similar features and share a smudged sort
of handsomeness. Despite his injuries, Andrew's face is still
the more smoothly engineered. Jesse's face is all broad angles
and worried planes. Pale in the sickroom way that only fictional
Victorian heroines and real-life hockey players are pale, each
young man has wavy hair; Andrew's is black, Jesse's brown.
Andrew has hazel eyes and a big, terrific smile. Jesse hasn't
smiled much lately. His eyes are blue. Jesse and Andrew were
born on the same day: Aug. 10, 1978.
Each has a steady girlfriend. Both enjoy video games. Jesse is
crazy about golf and plays whenever he can. Andrew enjoys golf
too and is starting to play more often. (They are much longer
off the tee than you are.) Each has one sibling and two parents
at home. Both young men were selected in the fifth round of the
1996 NHL draft. Andrew went 129th, to the Florida Panthers;
Jesse went four choices later, to the Philadelphia Flyers.
People speak highly of them, both as players and as young men.
They seem never to have been properly introduced.
They also have in common the fact that each, directly or
indirectly, may have shortened or destroyed the other's career.
Both suffer troubling thoughts about the future. And there must
be times, maybe before the morning skate, or after dinner, or
late at night, balanced on the dark edge of sleep, when they
hate each other with a purity and purpose you couldn't begin to
PLYMOUTH AND GUELPH
Plymouth, where Jesse played, is about 25 miles west of Detroit.
Downtown Plymouth is as small and neat as a hatbox, with gift
shops and bookstores and a restored Art Deco movie theater. The
Compuware Sports Arena is on the western edge of town. It is
nearly new, and the money that went into it shows. There is a
landscaped pond out front, and you can reach one of the arena's
entrances by a bridge that swans across the water. Inside there
are two rinks and a nice restaurant. The 4,300-seat rink where
the Whalers play is bright and open and has four suites. There
are a couple of brightly painted concession stands that look
like the kind you'd stop at for a four-dollar hot dog on the
Universal Studios tour.
The team draws a youngish crowd, enthusiastic, with plenty of
puck bunnies: high-school-age girls wearing cocktail-party
makeup. During breaks, the P.A. system plays the same deafening
rock-and-roll snippets you hear at big league games. The whole
thing is like a one-quarter-scale rendering of an NHL arena.
The Guelph Memorial Gardens in Ontario, where Andrew played, is
a half-century-old barn of a place, like a zeppelin hangar with
a rink in it. It is downtown, across from the Black Stallion
Saloon and Acker's Furniture. The training area is in the oldest
part of the building; one wall is whitewashed stone. (Players
must feel as if they're lifting weights in a root cellar.) Up in
the rafters, in the dark, is a banner from the 1951-52 Biltmore
Mad Hatters of the old Ontario Hockey Association. This rink is
the one where, some say, the phrase hat trick was born. The
banner may make the trip across the street to a proposed new
The crowd in Guelph is older than the one in Plymouth: lots of
former players, guys thick through the hams and hunkers, with
graying crew cuts that look as if they were done with a belt
sander. One codger spends the night roaring like Lear whenever a
fight breaks out. He's as deaf as a post, but he knows what he
likes. Amid the cowbells and the great farting horns, the P.A.
plays the same denatured rock, but you can't hear it; the sound
system isn't very good, so the canned excitement dissipates into
the rafters like smoke.
NEWMARKET AND MOOERS
Newmarket, Ont., is a northern suburb of Toronto. The Longs have
lived there for 10 years, in a two-story brick house with blue
trim dropped onto rolling farmland. David and Brenda Long share
the house with Ryan, Andrew's older brother, and Rudy, a
schnauzer. Andrew's bedroom, at the top of the stairs to the
right, is pretty much as it was when he left home to play Major
Junior hockey. There is a bunk bed along one wall, and next to
it are shelves that hold many of the plaques and trophies he has
accumulated. He was on skates for the first time when he was four.
David and Brenda are in their early 50s. Brenda works part time
in publishing, and David is the president of several
professional associations. David is a good-looking man, gone a
bit gray at the temples. Brenda is a blonde, pretty woman who
gets animated when she talks about what happened to Andrew.
David grew up in the same neighborhood as Ken Dryden, a Hall of
Fame goalie for the Montreal Canadiens and now the president and
general manager of the Maple Leafs. They used to play a little
hockey together and are still friendly.
Sitting in their kitchen, you begin to understand what all of
this has done to them. "Andrew was nearly killed," says Brenda,
"and Boulerice gets to go right on skating? It's not fair." The
kitchen table is covered with newspaper clips and Internet
downloads about the incident. David and Brenda both look tired.
There have been a lot of interviews and phone calls and
conversations since the assault last April. It's late. "I've
never seen anything like this," David says. "He took two hands
and swung his stick into Andrew's face."
Do they want to see Jesse go to jail? Brenda answers. "No," she
says, as though measuring the word, "but somebody should take his
hockey away from him for at least a year."
On the big-screen TV in the den, David plays the video of that
night. He has seen it many times. He talks until the moment
Andrew gets hit; then he is silent. A few seconds later he says,
"I'll never get used to that." Brenda is still in the kitchen.
Brenda still hasn't seen the tape. She can't bring herself to
It's late when you leave, when you've heard all their stories
about the distant tournaments and the driving and the many
successes and the rare failures. About how happy and jokey a kid
Andrew is, and about the grind of trying to get organized hockey
to pay attention to what was done to him.
Mooers is in the northernmost corner of New York State, only 40
miles south of Montreal. It is farther north than Toronto and
Guelph and Plymouth. Like lots of rural towns, Mooers is just a
few tattered businesses laid out at a crossroads--the A&L Cafe
and Monette's Furniture and Dragoon Farm Equipment. The
Boulerices have lived outside Mooers for 19 years, in a trim
white farmhouse. It's pretty country, dotted with dairy farms.
You can see the Adirondacks rolling away to the southwest.
Mike and Lisette Boulerice share the house with Marie, Jesse's
younger sister. Jesse's bedroom, at the top of the stairs to the
right, is much as it was when he moved to Plymouth to play Major
Junior hockey. There's a low bed along one wall and a dresser
and a few jerseys hanging in the corner. Leaning on their stocks
next to the dresser are two shotguns that Mike and Jesse use
when they go bird hunting. There are no trophies or medals;
those are across the hall in a little attic space. There is also
a letter in there from some local schoolkids saying that Jesse
is their favorite hockey player.
Mike and Lisette are in their 40s. They celebrated their 23rd
anniversary on Valentine's Day. Lisette works for a commodities
company that handles grain. Mike works for the highway
department, doing roadwork and plowing snow. He takes extra work
doing construction and welding when he has time. The Boulerices
used to run the 148-acre farm as a dairy operation, with 60
cows, but they had to sell out a few years ago. "You can't go 15
years just breaking even every year," Mike explains. They kept
Lisette is a pretty blonde who still has Quebec French in her
voice. Mike has curly brown hair. He is meaty through the chest
and shoulders, like most farmers. He gets agitated when he talks
about their son's impending trial but doesn't always have the
words to express his feelings.
Sitting in their kitchen, you begin to understand what all this
has done to them. "We think it was a terrible thing," says Mike,
"but this kid has had no trouble with the law whatever." Mike
and Lisette both look tired. There has been a lot of bad press
about all this and a lot of talk around town. "You really find
out who your friends are," Mike says. Lisette says she has tried
to talk to Jesse about that night, "but he doesn't say much,
just keeps it all inside."
What would they say to the Longs if they had the chance? Mike
knits up his face and says, "We're sorry, I guess--we're just
so.... I wish we could just get in a room and talk to them...."
"How sorry we are," adds Lisette.
It is nearly midnight. You've heard all the stories: Jesse
driving a tractor when he was eight, putting in a full workday
like a hired man. How he started hockey late, at 10, and
practiced out front shooting into a goal Mike welded up himself;
about what a good kid he was and is, and how nobody here can
make sense of this. How hard he worked to overcome his late
start. How tough he had to make himself.
You walk out into a night so dark you can't see the keys in your
hand to unlock the car, and you remember what Mike said about
driving back from the arraignment in Plymouth: "You cry all the
way home. Nine hours. Then you get home, and you cry some more."
THE TIME LINE, PART I
Jesse's stick was most likely traveling between 50 and 75 mph
when the heel of it slammed into Andrew's face. It probably
crashed into that little groove that runs from your nose to your
upper lip. Doctors and dictionaries call it the philtrum. The
blade of the stick bowed Andrew's face shield back into his
nose, cutting him, but the shield didn't shatter. Remarkably,
neither did Andrew's teeth, although he wasn't wearing a
mouthpiece. The blow fractured his nose and his right cheek and
a small bone tucked away inside his sinuses. It opened three
cuts under his nose, the longest of which ran laterally and was
the length of a tall man's little finger. The force of the blow
may have slammed Andrew's brain into the front of his skull,
because the contusion that the doctors found on the brain was
just behind the forehead. Or the bruise may have occurred when
Andrew fell and the back of his head hit the ice, his brain
sloshing forward in his skull on the rebound. He was knocked
Shane Mabey, the Guelph Storm trainer, got to Andrew first. "I
knew he was in serious trouble," Mabey says. "When I got back
there behind the net, he was curled up in the fetal position and
in seizure." After kneeling to assess Andrew's condition, Mabey
jumped up and beckoned team doctors onto the ice. The paramedics
in attendance were taken under the arms by players, lifted and
literally skated out from the bench.
Getting knocked cold slows bleeding, so until Andrew regained
consciousness, it was mostly a matter of making sure that he was
breathing and that there was no spinal injury. When he came to,
though, the bleeding from the broken nose and the facial
lacerations started in earnest. "I had to have my equipment guy
wipe my face off three times, because every time Andrew breathed
out he was blowing a lot of blood," says Mabey. "I had blood all
over me. He was sort of blowing it out like a whale. Two feet in
Head trauma is often characterized by disorientation and
agitation. Andrew experienced plenty of both for the next 20
minutes. "He didn't really know what we were trying to do for
him," says Mabey. "We had to hold him down to work on him." Six
men couldn't keep Andrew still enough to get an oxygen mask on
him or start an IV. He was screaming and swearing in the
sold-out, now silent arena. "He was yelling 'f---' a lot," says
By this time the refs had skated Jesse off the ice with a match
penalty for attempting to injure another player. He went to the
A fan who witnessed the incident and wrote a letter offering to
testify in any case that might proceed from it said, "Parents
were grabbing the many young children to remove them from the
sight." Several Guelph players admit to having cried on the bench
that night, no small thing in what is often described as the
toughest league in hockey. "We knew it was bad when the coach
went out on the ice," one player said. "Coach never goes out on
Andrew remembers only shards of this.
Andrew's parents were at home in Newmarket. In their bedroom they
listened to all this being described on the radio.
THE TIME LINE, PART II
It took several minutes to get Andrew stabilized and restrained
on a backboard, to put a cervical collar around his neck and
wheel him off the ice. By the time Mabey saw him put in the
ambulance, play had resumed. The trainer went into the Plymouth
dressing room to clean up. "I looked around and saw that Jesse
was sitting beside me," Mabey says. "He was in his underwear. He
was crying. My clothes were all covered in blood. I remember him
saying he didn't mean to hurt him."
With lights and siren it was a 12-minute ride down to St. Joseph
Mercy Hospital in Ypsilanti. Andrew arrived there Friday night
around 8:30. Mabey got there around 11:30 and spent the night.
When Mabey arrived, Andrew's parents had been called and told
what to expect, and Andrew had been stitched and scanned and
tested and was out of immediate danger.
Jesse left the arena, perhaps on the advice of the Whalers'
staff, and went back to his billet. He changed clothes and met
up with his teammates a few hours later for what had become a
somber season-ending party. (Plymouth had lost the game and was
done for the year.) Jesse was still upset. According to Robert
Esche, a Whalers goalie and Jesse's best friend, "He felt really
bad about it. It's not like he planned it or anything."
Andrew's parents arrived the next morning, and Jesse was still
asking his coach if he could go to the hospital to apologize to
Andrew. He was told not to, that the Longs were too upset. He
called Andrew instead. That didn't go well. Neither of them
remembers exactly what was said, but it wasn't enough.
By Sunday the 19th, Andrew was ready to be released. His
performance on the neurological observation flow sheets and
Glasgow Coma Scale tests was nearly normal, and CAT scans
revealed that the bruising to his brain had stabilized. He was
told not to play any contact sports for three months and to have
his own doctors monitor his condition. His parents took him home
to Canada, where he spent a lot of time on the couch watching TV
and eating pasta one strand at a time. The long-term prognosis
Andrew visited his teammates a few times as they made their
postseason run at the championship. He cracked some jokes in the
locker room, led stretching exercises and saw how his mates all
touched his jersey, which hung by the door, for inspiration on
their way out to the ice. While watching them play, however,
Andrew got very worried. "The game was so fast, so confusing, I
couldn't really follow it," he says. "It didn't seem like I'd
ever played it."
There is a newspaper photo from an appearance Andrew made in
Guelph about a week after he was hit. The crowd has just given
him a standing ovation. He is smiling as best he can, but the
face in the picture looks like a pillowcase full of doorknobs.
On May 6, 1998, the OHL, saying that Jesse Boulerice had "used
his stick in a most alarming and unacceptable fashion,"
suspended him for one year. It meant that he could not return to
the league, which he was unlikely to do in any case, since he
would move up to the American Hockey League at the start of the
following season. It was the most the OHL could do under the
circumstances. The OHL has refused further comment on the
On May 17 the Guelph Storm lost in the 80th Annual Memorial Cup
Tournament to the Portland Winter Hawks, 4-3 in overtime.
According to former Storm coach George Burnett, Andrew, one of
the team's leading scorers and playmakers, might have made the
That same week AHL president, CEO and treasurer David Andrews
ruled that Jesse would be suspended for the first month of the
AHL season. Though the AHL and OHL are not affiliated, Andrews
has been severely criticized for not honoring the junior league's
one-year penalty. The assault "didn't happen in our league,"
Andrews has said, adding that there was a potential civil
liability if his league interfered with Jesse's right to earn a
living. "Under the circumstances, I'm comfortable with the
decision." The AHL is the primary minor league for the NHL. The
NHL has never formally commented on the Boulerice-Long matter.
During the last week of May, David Long called the Plymouth
Township police department for instructions on how to file a
criminal complaint. On June 4 Andrew Long filed a formal assault
complaint against Jesse Boulerice. On July 6 a warrant for
Jesse's arrest was issued by the Wayne County Prosecutors
Office. On July 14 Jesse, accompanied by his parents,
surrendered himself to Plymouth Township police. He was
fingerprinted, and his mug shot was taken. Later that afternoon
he was arraigned in 35th District Court and released on a
$10,000 personal bond.
Over the summer Jesse was allowed to attend the Flyers' training
camp. In the fall he joined their AHL affiliate, the
Philadelphia Phantoms. He practiced with the team but was
ineligible for game play until Nov. 15.
Andrew's rehabilitation continued over the summer. He was able
to cycle and work out, but he began skating again only in July.
He played some shinny games, practiced with friends in Guelph
and felt well enough to go to the Panthers' training camp in
late summer. He joined their AHL affiliate, the Beast of New
Haven, in the fall.
On Aug. 17, five months to the day after he was hit in the face
with that stick, Andrew took the stand in a preliminary hearing
in Detroit to determine if the case would be brought to trial.
Jesse and several of his Plymouth teammates were there, too, but
they were not called to testify. Andrew identified Jesse as the
man who hit him and testified that Jesse had called him the day
after to apologize. The court's decision at the end of the
hearing: "It is a question of fact that the crime was committed
and probable cause exists to believe this Defendant committed
the crime. He will be bound over."
A defense motion to dismiss the charges has been denied, and a
trial could begin as early as this summer. Jesse has options
that would avert a jury trial: alternative programs that allow
for a lengthy probation but no jail time. But they would require
a guilty plea, which is unacceptable to Jesse on principle and
would increase his exposure in a civil lawsuit, even though the
Longs express no interest in filing one. "This isn't about
money" has been their assertion throughout.
Precedents in the criminal matter are hard to come by. Eleven
years ago Minnesota North Stars winger Dino Ciccarelli spent a
day in jail as part of a plea bargain for whacking Toronto Maple
Leafs defenseman Luke Richardson in the neck with his stick. In
1969 Wayne Maki and Ted Green of the St. Louis Blues and the
Boston Bruins, respectively, were both charged with assault when
they went at each other with their sticks. Both were acquitted.
Sports and the law coexist uncomfortably in situations like this,
the rules of one having little do with the rules of the other.
All that's required for a hung jury is one juror who watches the
tape and thinks, It's just part of the game.
JESSE AND ANDREW
Trying to talk to Jesse about all this is frustrating. He is a
quiet young man by nature, and his attorneys are present to make
sure he stays that way. Questions about the incident are
The programs list him at 6'2", 200 pounds, and he's every bit of
that. He has huge hands--not much scarring on the knuckles
yet--that he folds and unfolds while he talks. He freely admits
to having made himself tough to get ahead in the game, but he is
surprised how far all this has gone: "I never thought I'd be in
trouble with the law for playing hockey." He sounds genuinely
sorry that he hurt Andrew but seems determined to view it as an
isolated incident, an aberration. Has the experience changed him
or changed the way he plays the game? "No," he says, honest
enough to give his real answer.
When Jesse skates hard, he is all ass and elbows, effort and
angles. Off the puck, sizing up the play, he is as
expressionless as a guy waiting for a bus. He is tough to get
out of the crease, goes into corners as if he's got a lifetime
gift certificate for chiropractic therapy and skates much bigger
than he is. Splitting time between the Phantoms and the New
Orleans Brass of the East Coast Hockey League, Jesse has amassed
120 penalty minutes in 36 games. The Flyers consider him to be
one of their top prospects.
Andrew hasn't played much for the Beast of New Haven. Because
it's affiliated with both the Panthers and the Carolina
Hurricanes, the Beast roster is large for an AHL team, and ice
time is scarce for first-year players. He has been loaned out
twice to the Miami Matadors of the ECHL to get more ice time.
Andrew remains a very upright, fluid skater. At 6'3" and 190
pounds, he is nearly willowy compared with some of the bruisers
he skates against. He seems to be aware of everything in the
offensive zone and sends passes where they need to be before you
even see the opening for them. Good wrist shot, good slap shot,
good nose for the goal. He is a playmaker and has, as they say,
all the tools.
The game he's had to play against himself has been the toughest
part. "I almost talk to myself about it, just kind of convince
myself that stuff like that can't happen again," he says of the
Boulerice incident. "And I'm not worried about it happening
again--it's just that...sometimes I ask myself, What if I take a
big hit tonight? I try to say to myself, You gotta do it,
because I want to play in the NHL. If I'm scared out there, I'm
not going to make it."
Andrew's only ongoing medical concern is his concussion, so he
wears a helmet with a little extra padding. It was his third
concussion, and he's only 20 years old. When New York Rangers
forward Pat LaFontaine retired last season because doctors said
he couldn't risk another major concussion, he'd had five. He was
33 years old. The Panthers have been patient with Andrew and
foresee no special problems in his development as an NHL player.
Does Andrew want to see Jesse go to jail? "I don't care to see
him go to jail," he says. "What I really, really want--and I
talked to the prosecutor about this--is for there to be a
precedent, some sort of serious probation, and for him never to
be able to lift his stick, or do something even remotely close
to that on the ice. Anything even close to that, like an
'attempt to injure' penalty, and he's gone. Never play again.
Playing in this game and not being able to bring his stick up
when guys are coming at him would be punishment enough."
WHAT IT ALL MEANS, PART II
This is a sports story in which nobody wins. The final reckoning
won't fit in a box on the sports page or add up clean in the
mathematics of a nightly highlight show.
Stories like this drag too many questions behind them. What was
turning in the heart and mind of Jesse Boulerice on the night of
April 17? Was there criminal intent? Or was it simply iron-man
hockey? Does the tape show Jesse sliding his hands up the stick?
Did he shift his weight to get a lumberjack's leverage on the
swing? And how do you differentiate this act, other than by its
terrifying result, from 1,000 other unseen moments in that same
game, the many small, subtle acts of enthusiastic violence that
hockey prizes? What is most surprising about the Jesse
Boulerice-Andrew Long matter is not that it happened, but that
it doesn't happen more often.
And when it does happen, who bears responsibility? What about
the hockey factories that tirelessly promote themselves as
"quality organizations" and "builders of character"? If what
they manufacture short circuits, should they not be held
accountable? They're always eager to talk in the euphemisms of
risk, of "role players" skating close to "the edge." But when
they lose a kid, when the edge crumbles and he falls, you won't
hear a word. The code of silence won't allow it, and locker-room
signage is sparse on the topic of regret. Players spend years in
junior hockey practicing to do things right. How much time is
spent learning to do the right thing? Is Jesse Boulerice, then,
a criminal or simply the product of his elite education?
And what about us, you and me, fat and happy as a couple of
whorehouse bedbugs up in the seats in our souvenir jerseys,
spilling our beer and screaming for brain matter whenever two
guys drop the gloves? How much responsibility do we bear?
Hall of Famer Ken Dryden knows better than most: "We love to
turn up the temperature, in part because it means that we go off
into territory we've never been as players, and it's exciting to
be where you've never been. The problem is, where you've never
been may be where you shouldn't be.
"Whether it's the motivation of the coach, the chanting of the
crowd, the taunting of the crowd, the rhythm of the music inside
the arena--all of those things are intended to pitch the
emotions higher and higher and higher...and then, when something
really dumb happens, we sort of step back and say, 'You fool,
how could you allow that to happen?' Then we shake our heads and
And something terrible has happened.
JESSE'S STICK WAS TRAVELING BETWEEN 50 AND 75 MPH WHEN IT
SLAMMED INTO ANDREW'S FACE
JESSE GOES INTO THE CORNER AS IF HE'S GOT A LIFETIME
CERTIFICATE FOR CHIROPRACTIC CARE
A WEEK AFTER THE HIT, ANDREW'S FACE LOOKED LIKE A PILLOWCASE
FULL OF DOORKNOBS
THERE MUST BE TIMES WHEN THEY HATE EACH OTHER WITH A PURITY YOU
COULDN'T BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND
YOU HEAR PLENTY OF HORROR STORIES ABOUT A "LORD OF THE FLIES"
HIERARCHY THAT PREVAILS ON AND OFF THE ICE
"I HAD BLOOD ALL OVER ME," MABEY SAYS. "HE WAS BLOWING IT OUT
LIKE A WHALE, TWO FEET IN THE AIR"
IS JESSE A CRIMINAL OR SIMPLY THE PRODUCT OF HIS
ELITE EDUCATION IN HOCKEY?
PLAYERS SPEND YEARS PRACTICING TO DO THINGS RIGHT. HOW MUCH TIME
IS SPENT LEARNING TO DO THE RIGHT THING?