Tuesday, June 10

The Natural

"Bryan Fogarty could skate faster, shoot harder and pass crisper drunk than the rest of us could sober."
- Mats Sundin

The death of Luc Bourdon got me thinking about one of my favorite hockey players - Bryan Fogarty. With today (June 11th) being his birthday it seemed like a perfect time to recollect. I'm sure some of you know the story by now. For those of you who don't, I urge you to read this fantastic collection of stories and quotes about him. Hell, even if you know the story, you should read it. They are, all at once, jaw-dropping, sad, and amazing (like the Sundin quote above).

This isn't intended to be a depressing martyr piece, rather an appreciation for a rare talent. So here's a quick synopsis:

Wayne Gretzky was born in Brantford, Ontario - home of Bryan Fogarty.

You see where I'm going here? Fogarty was drafted 9th overall by the Quebec Nordiques, with their first of two #1 picks in the 1987 draft. Six picks later they took Joe Sakic.

In his final year in the OHL, Fogarty destroyed Bobby Orr's junior scoring records for a defenceman, (47-108-155) and was named CHL Player of the Year. The following year, he was in the NHL and his problems with alcohol and a social anxiety disorder began to surface. Within three years, the NHL career of a "can't miss" talent was coming to an end. After being traded to Pittsburgh in 1992, Fogarty's off ice troubles with alcohol continued. His pure skill and potential meant there was always a team willing to take a chance on him. But after the 1994-95 season, he would be out of the NHL permanently. Between 1992 and 2001 he bounced around the fringe leagues of the world with stops in (get ready): Cleveland, Atlanta (IHL), Las Vegas, Kansas City, Montreal (NHL), Minnesota (IHL), Detroit (IHL), Davos, Milan, Hannover, Indianapolis, Baton Rouge, St. John's, Knoxville, Huntsville, and Elmira.

I still remember the last time I saw Bryan Fogarty play. It was New Years' Eve, 1993. One of the regional sports networks here in Los Angeles was showing Las Vegas Thunder games, because the Thunder had signed a big, 17-year-old Czech kid, who was being touted as the #1 overall pick in the draft...Radek Bonk. As intriguing as that was, I was watching to see Bryan Fogarty. I remember telling my friends that we couldn't leave to go out drinking (ahem, ironic) until after the game was over.

In the first period, Fogarty carried the puck deep into the attacking zone, drew two defenders to him, and fed a perfect pass to the slot, where a wide-open Bonk scored. The announcers and fans praised the 17-year-old "whiz kid," as I shook my head...in appreciation of Bryan Fogarty. The vision and skill never left him. It made my night.

Fogarty continued to play hockey for another 7 years, but less than a year after leaving the game, he was gone. While on vacation with a friend, Fogarty was found dead in his hotel room after a night of drinking. The official cause of death was an enlarged heart.

His hockey career and the nature of his death serve as a reminder. With all the great memories these players give us, and the heroic status we heap upon them, we sometimes forget that they are just ordinary men, albeit with extraordinary talent. I feel priveleged to have seen Bryan Fogarty play hockey. He was a special player - and that's how I'll remember him.