The Roanoker - September/October 2014 - 47
ROANOKE, THE FAMILY TOWN? YES, IT'S TRUE
When you and your dad's collective dream doesn't come
true, there's a choice to be made. When Dad naturally and
thoroughly makes the right one, a son not only flourishes
but also never forgets.
WHEN I WAS 11 YEARS OLD, in 1995,
I still thought the bottoms of everyone's feet
were razor sharp and required lacing. Although not a particularly popular sport in
the U.S., ice hockey is the true raison d'etre
where my father Pierre was born and raised
- Montreal, Canada.
Seconds into the game, my shift was called.
"Bryan, Michael, Go!" yelled Pierre, Pee-Wee
coach extraordinaire. I bent my knees, hopped
over the boards as the puck was pushed into
our zone. I was the closest. My skates dug into
the ice, leaving small crevasses that failed to
slow oncoming traffic. The opponent came
barreling at me, creating a fusion of sorts - a
union that left its impression on me long after
the soreness subsided.
I limped back to the bench clutching my
shoulder in pain. I looked up at my dad
behind the bench. He knew. The man who
had helped bring hockey to Roanoke knew
from the second I reached the boards that
my dream of becoming a professional hockey player
would be short-lived.
Although I did have skills when it came to hockey,
my mind couldn't be farther from that of a professional
athlete. Just no drive and killer instinct. My dad, an
ex-pro himself, understood this and never forced his
dream of playing in the NHL on me.
But several years later I did skate under the bright
Roanoke Civic Center lights. My name was announced
before every game as I shot out of the players' entrance
and onto the ice, a spotlight tracking me from the rafters as I waved to 5,000 fans and took my place on the
blue line awaiting the national anthem.
No, I never actually played hockey for the Roanoke
Express, but hey, I was Loco the Rail Yard Dog - the
I remember standing just outside the locker room
on my first night in full dog costume with the Loco
head resting under my arm. Daniel Berthiaume, the
Express goaltender, sat with full pads on a foldout
chair to my right just prior to game time and chatted
in French with my dad.
At about my age, some 20 years earlier, Pierre had
skated in the same arena while playing for the Roanoke Valley Rebels. I wish that I could have seen him
play live, but we do have some of the best home videos
imaginable - black-and-white films of my dad streaking up and down the ice without a helmet, blonde locks
flowing like a shaggy howitzer missile programmed for
the opponents' destruction.
It was time. The Civic Center went black. I put my
mascot head on and walked through the corridor and
up the stairs waiting to skate into the spotlight that was
focused on the ice entrance.
"You're gonna do great," my dad said as he patted my
shoulder, calming my nerves. It wasn't the scenario my
dad pictured when I was younger - his son entering the
ice as a dog rather than a player - but a great father's
support is unwavering, even when his son decides to
change species to make a little extra money. On that
night and on every day since, he provided unyielding
support in whatever I chose to do.I
Bryan (left on "ice" and
right as mascot long ago)
and Pierre (right, left) have
a bond beyond hockey.