The money that the Ottawa Senators and the Florida Panthers were
offering free agent Denis Hamel last summer was identical: If he
made the NHL club in 2003-04, he would be paid $500,000; if he
played in the minors, where he had spent all but 130 games of his
six-year pro career, his salary would be $75,000. On the one
hand, the Senators were Stanley Cup contenders, but breaking into
their lineup would be a dizzying prospect for a 26-year-old left
wing who hadn't played in one NHL postseason game. On the other
hand, the youthful Panthers didn't appear to have playoff
potential, but they represented a better chance for a plugger
with decent hands to get off the buses and into six figures.
The deciding factor for Hamel was the chance to play on the same
team with Ray Emery, a 21-year-old goalie for Ottawa's American
Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y. "I had to talk to
him," Hamel says of wanting to make amends for an incident last
season. "It wasn't something I wanted to live with all my life."
Hamel had spoken to Emery only once before, on Dec. 14, 2002,
although it was hardly face-to-face. Hamel, then with the
Rochester Americans of the AHL, was behind the goalie's crease.
Emery recalls Hamel saying, "We're going to light you up, you
f------ nigger," but concedes he might be paraphrasing because
only the n word seared itself into his memory. Hamel doesn't
recall the exact words either.
Emery, a prize prospect who was born to a white mother and a
black father, told only a few teammates about the slur, but
Hamel's words ate at him. The two players did not have contact
again until their teams next met, on March 5, 2003. As the game
ended, Emery went against his upbringing--his mother, Sharlene,
had constantly told Ray to ignore people who called him
names--and jumped Hamel from behind. For the mugging Emery, who
had been suspended six games earlier in the season for firing the
puck at a referee, earned a three-game ban. Also, Ottawa asked
him to take anger-management counseling.
Hamel, who initially denied making a racist comment, got off with
a guilty conscience. But a couple of days after the brawl he
phoned Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, a
former apartment mate in Rochester who is black. Hamel began, "I
don't know if you heard, but...," and then told his story,
admitting that he had made the racist remark. Grand-Pierre
laughed. "He knows that's not my style," Hamel says. "He told me
not to worry but to make sure that I talked to Emery the next
time I saw him."
On July 6, 2003, Hamel signed with Ottawa. Emery decided he could
play alongside Hamel, but he would not seek him out. Emery didn't
have to. During Ottawa's first day of informal skating before
training camp, Hamel approached Emery and stuck out his hand.
Hamel said he was sorry. Emery said, O.K., no problem. They
chatted for 15 minutes. They have not discussed the incident
Hamel and Emery sit five lockers apart in the dressing room of
the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton,
teammates inching closer to being friends. They have yet to grab
a beer together alone, but they have gone out in a group and
enjoyed each other's company. Respect and success can sandpaper
the roughest of edges--at week's end Hamel was in the top 20 in
AHL scoring (20 points) and Emery had a fine 2.37 goals-against
average--but it appears they share more than expectations. They
have similar personalities.
"We're kind of the same person," Emery says. "I can see he's got
a mean streak, and he's one of the hardest workers on the team. I
relate to that. And there's nothing I like more than getting
under someone's skin."
Hall of Infamy
Denis Hamel's racist taunting of Ray Emery last season was the
most recent such incident in hockey that became public knowledge.
Here are three others.
March 7, 2003
INCIDENT: Former NHL goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, owner-general
manager-coach of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds junior team,
uses a racial slur while talking about Trevor Daley, one of his
FALLOUT: Vanbiesbrouck resigns as G.M. and coach.
December 27, 1999
INCIDENT: Ottawa forward Vaclav Prospal uses an ethnic slur in
a confrontation with Montreal defenseman Patrice Brisebois.
FALLOUT: The NHL orders Prospal to undergo counseling.
April 3, 1999
INCIDENT: San Jose defenseman Bryan Marchment makes a racist
comment to Vancouver wing Donald Brashear.
FALLOUT: The NHL suspends Marchment for one game.