Saturday, December 7, 2013

BourbonBottleBookends Meets a Legend

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Darren McCarty, Hockeytown's # 25

What do you say when you finally meet one of your all-time idols? Darren McCarty caught me by surprise when he walked up to me from behind. I fumbled for words, my eyes wide as saucers, when I turned around to see the Detroit legend in front of me. "Hello, Mr. McCarty," I somehow managed. "Darren, please," he responded as he shook my hand. 

Enforcer. Tough Guy. Goon. Call him what you will; Detroit's fan-favorite fighter and Steve Yzerman's on-ice bodyguard during the pinnacle of the Red Wings dynastic years, Darren McCarty recently released his memoir My Last Fight. The book is written in the same vein as part-hockey, part-coming clean with demons memoir Tough Guy by Bob Probert - the enforcer that preceded McCarty in Hockeytown. McCarty's memoir recounts Number Twenty-Five's highs as a Stanley Cup champion and his lows in the midst of a battle with drugs and alcoholism.

McCarty was supposed to be signing books at my place of employment this week. I was holding out a longshot hope that I might get my copy signed; I certainly did not expect to meet one of my childhood heroes. I was standing in an office performing some unremembered workplace task. I heard the office door creak open and I glanced over my shoulder. And there he was, face and hands worn ragged from years making a living with his fists.

And what can you say to someone you've never met but nonetheless has meant so much more than you could ever express? 

There was no way to convey that March 26th of 1997, the night when McCarty sought vengeance on Colorado's Claude Lemieux and pummeled him into the ice, is one of the few dates I will always remember from my childhood. Or that his breakaway, game-winning, Stanley Cup-clinching goal in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals against Philadelphia in June of that same year is a moment I've sometimes remembered as the defining moment of my childhood. Or that I spent countless college hours rewatching the 1997 Red Wings video in some misguided attempt to recapture that innocence of childhood. Or that his willingness to publicly discuss his substance abuse - My Last Fight is a reference to the biggest fight of his life: the one with his demons - along with several other NHL stars' willingness to do the same (Brian McGrattan - praying for a memoir from him someday, Red Wing Jordin Tootoo, the late and aforementioned Bob Probert, and old-time Bruins bad boy Derek Sanderson, among others) helped me to address my own demons. Or that his candid story provides me a much-needed steady stream of motivation in that ever-trying road of sobriety. 

But realistically, "Hello Mr. McCarty" was all I could say, even if it were premeditated. And it's probably best kept that way. Childhood heroes are best remembered with a hue of mystique. 

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