Gaineys no strangers to glory - and grief
Wave sweeps Laura, 25, into Atlantic
RED FISHER, The Gazette
Published: Monday, December 11, 2006
Only the mothers and fathers among us can even begin to imagine the horror, the torture, the grief that Bob Gainey is going through now. Parents aren't supposed to lose a child. There is no pain greater than this, and nobody, not Gainey, not anyone, should be confronted with it.
The story of a 25-year-old Canadian woman being washed over the side of a Lunenburg, N.S.-based tall ship by a rogue wave around 9:30 on Friday night appeared on this newspaper's Page A6 yesterday. Important stories normally are carried closer to the front page. The woman was not identified, so the story was scanned and the page turned. It didn't involve anyone you know.
Yesterday, it involved someone everybody knows when the Canadiens confirmed that Gainey's daughter Laura had been identified as the missing woman. The report left me breathless. How could this happen? Why?
I have known and been close to Gainey for more than three decades. I still remember the day he joined the Canadiens family.
"Who did the Canadiens take in the draft?" I asked a colleague at the Montreal Star on this June afternoon in 1973.
"A kid named Gainey ... Bob Gainey."
"They say he was a pretty good defensive player with the Peterborough juniors."
"Never heard of him," I said.
"I guess (Canadiens GM Sam) Pollock did," was the reply.
Pollock's strength as a GM was that he always put his personal stamp on draft choices. Pick the right player and he could be a franchise leader. Choose the wrong one, and it could set back a team for several years. Pollock would listen to his scouts, but the buck and the puck always stopped with him.
Reaching out for Gainey largely because of his defensive credentials might have been the best decision Pollock made in his years with a team that always has relied heavily on offence. His selection was a surprise to everyone - but Sam knew.
Pollock was in Halifax to watch his first-round choice in the exhibition season's first game. The Boston Bruins were the opposition. The Canadiens were the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Bruins had won in 1971-72, but were still very much the Big Bad Bruins.
Bobby Orr was on the ice to start the game. So was Peterborough alumnus Gainey. Orr jumped on a loose puck in his zone and then, in the classic Orr skating style, slipped beyond one man and then another. On the opposite side of the ice, rookie Gainey gathered his legs beneath him, picked up speed with each stride and crashed into hockey's best player.
Orr went down in a heap, blinking into the lights as Gainey skated away. In his seat, no more than 20 feet away from the collision of the rookie and the legend, Pollock smiled thinly.
Nobody ever has been more right about a player. Gainey's first NHL bodycheck was an omen of things to come in his 16-season career, eight as team captain. He made defence and punishing bodychecks fashionable among NHL forwards. He controlled games. He was as much of a winner and a game-breaker as any of his contemporaries who enjoyed 50-goal seasons.
No defensive forward in the league came within a rink-length of him when he was a runaway winner of the first four Selke trophies. He was simply the very best at what he did.
"You watched the way Gainey worked," Larry Robinson once told me, "and you had to go out there and try to work the way he did. There was no other way," he said.
In his years in hockey, glory has not been a stranger in the Gainey household. Neither has grief.
I have never met Laura Gainey, but I know a lot about her, starting with a call her father received about 16 years ago.
It was after a pre-game skate, and the youngest of his three daughters was on the line. Colleen, who was only 5 at the time, was crying. She had been kept home from school because she wasn't feeling well.
"We'll have a nice nap together," Bob's wife, Cathy, had promised her daughter. "You'll feel lots better. I'll be with you in a minute."
Seconds later, Colleen heard a crash, and when the child rushed toward the noise, she found her mother unconscious on the bathroom floor.
Now, a terrified Colleen wailed over the telephone: "Daddy! Daddy! Mommy is on the floor in the bathroom. She's not moving ... she's on the floor. What do I do, Daddy?"
The news was as bad as it gets: a brain tumour. Malignant. Cathy's only slim hope for survival was massive surgery, followed by five weeks of radiation, five days a week.
Five years later, after more major surgery, after too many weeks of chemotherapy and discomfort and tears, Cathy Gainey was taken away from her family. She was only 39.
The depression that preceded and followed her mother's death put Colleen into a clinic for a month. Laura, who was 14, plummeted into the ugly, mind-bending culture of hash, marijuana, acid and speed. She was only a teenager, but in its own clawing, gnawing way, in her mind these terrible drugs were the only way out.
"What she was doing was burying feelings of anger and depression," Gainey told me in a gripping, one-on-one interview on one of his visits from Dallas. "Anger over her mother's illness. Isolation. Abandonment. The kids, I think, take something like what happened to Cathy ... as being deserted. They know on a conscious level that their mother didn't ... wouldn't desert them, that the last thing in the world she'd want to do is leave them.
"Laura bottled up some of the emotions. Others, she acted out in the wrong way. She started to cover the pain by dropping out on drugs for a few hours at a time, and that slowly increased until it was almost constant."
There was denial, Bob told me. He would bring up the subject, and then there would be more denial.
More anger. More drugs.
Laura, the teenager, eventually won the fight of her young life. She was a volunteer on the Picton Castle, whose captain described her as a "a well-loved crew member, very dedicated, very hard-working and very passionate about being on the ship."
Gainey is strong. He is brave. He played through more pain, I think, than any athlete I have ever known. How, though, does he get through this? How does any parent?
He is a private person who picks his friends carefully and always has made it a point to do the same with words when he's not completely comfortable with people he doesn't know well. But few people I know have a better way with words when the occasion demands it.
One such occasion came in the form of a letter he wrote to me while he was still with the Dallas Stars. A mutual friend, a noted agent in Boston named Bob Woolf, had died suddenly. Gainey happened upon the column I had written about our friend's death.
"Every now and again, something reminds me that this letter is in my head and really should be written," Gainey wrote. "My working relationship with Bob lasted four to five years, but my friendship with him was ongoing until his death. The things I learned from him will last my lifetime. I may have told you in the past of how I met him and how our relationship and friendship progressed," he added. "What is more important were the things I learned from him. Honesty, integrity, humility.
"So, with his passing, I felt a disappointment in not having expressed these feelings to him during one of my visits to his office in Boston," Gainey wrote.
His handwritten letter continued: "You are another person who has had an effect on my life. And rather than write this letter to your wife or children 'someday' - as I did with Anne Woolf - I decided to write it to you.
"This is where this letter becomes more difficult to write.