The great return of Donald Brashear

The Marquis de Jonquière bus arrives in front of the old Colisée de Laval at the scheduled time, two hours before the match. In the parking lot, dozens of supporters are already there, cans of beer in hand, waiting for the big comeback: that of Donald Brashear.

He arrives with the others and gets off the bus, dragging his equipment to the locker room, taking care to lower his head to avoid the low beams. For a player who has already experienced the big leagues, this little Friday evening in Laval will be much more modest: there is no sauna or spa in this locker room from another era, and the state of the showers does not give I don’t feel like taking a shower.

The Colosseum is almost full, and there is a great evening atmosphere in the place; a vague smell of fried squid envelops the entrance, and the little ones shooters sold behind the counters are very popular, a sure sign that something could be going on.


Donald Brashear upon his arrival at the Colisée de Laval

But Donald Brashear just came to play hockey.

There are good players in the league now. There are guys who have talent. I played here the year of the NHL lockout 20 years ago, it was way worse than that. It’s certain that sometimes, in the stands, it’s not chic, the language is ordinary. But what do you want me to do?

Donald Brashear

This return, he chose to do in this league, the North American Hockey League. In 2004, the time to stay in shape, Brashear played 47 games in this circuit, collecting 260 penalty minutes in the process.


Donald Brashear (right) in the North American Hockey League in 2004

But that was before, and the Brashear of now is no longer the Brashear of old, he said insistently.

“When the Marquis called me last summer, that was my first question: are you calling me to go fight? I told them to let it go if that was it. I’m not going there to fight, I’ve been doing that all my life. »

Since the start of this season, he has entered the fight only twice. “When it happens, it’s because I’m the one who decides. In the heat of the moment, sometimes nature returns quite quickly…”

Donald Brashear is not the first player to attempt a return to the game. But his return to him is still a little different.

Almost everyone knows his story. For starters, there was a rather memorable start to his career with the Canadian, thanks in part to an altercation with coach Mario Tremblay during practice in 1996. Then there was a stint with the Canucks in Vancouver , then a form of consecration with the Flyers in Philadelphia, where his style of play made him a crowd favorite. He concluded his NHL career after stops with the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers, with a total of 1025 games played, and 2634 penalty minutes. As of today, he is at 15e rank of the most punished players in league history.


Mario Tremblay and Donald Brashear with the Canadian

But all that no longer interests him. At 52, he says he no longer has a taste for slaps on the face.

Before saying yes to the Marquis, there were other teams in the league who called me, but it was always the same thing: we would like you to join… But I’m not in there anymore. In the NHL, I was paid to do that, and even then, I didn’t like it.

Donald Brashear

“Over time, hitting a guy and then seeing the head go from one side to the other, seeing the blood, it becomes less funny. In the NHL, at some point, you fit the mold, because that’s what you’re asked to do. But for me, playing hockey wasn’t that. When I was young, playing hockey was about scoring goals, passing, playing physical, yes, but never to fight. A battle is not worth a goal or an assist, it does not put points on the board. »

The discussion turns to the subject of the missing, those who did the same work as him and who had to pay the price: Derek Boogaard, Bob Probert and other Rick Rypien… Brashear cannot quantify the number of concussions he was able to endure, but he considers himself lucky, affirming that all these fights in 16 years of life in the NHL have not affected him with any significant after-effects.


Donald Brashear (left) during a fight against Colton Orr in 2009

“I’m still playing, so you could say I was spared… At the time, we weren’t too aware of the dangers. Guys like me, we lived with that pressure, the pressure of always having to fight for a position the following season. Most of the guys were signing short-term contracts, so it was quite stressful. »

In addition to a return to hockey, Donald Brashear wants a return to a more normal life. When he has been talked about in recent years, it has often not been for the right reasons. His troubles, both legal and financial, are well documented.

According to the specialized site CapFriendly, he would have accumulated earnings of some $17 million during his career in the NHL. But then, what is he doing here, in this dilapidated arena and on this bus?

Bob Desjardins, coach and general manager of the Marquis, believes he has the answer. “He’s here because he wants to be here,” he says. On average, guys make $500 a week. I have lawyers in the club, an actuary, plumbers, school teachers, guys studying. We have Alex Picard, who was the eighth pick the year Ovechkin was drafted (2004). The guys are there because they want to play hockey and Donald, at 52, doesn’t look crazy. He knows the game. »


Bob Desjardins, coach and general manager of the Marquis de Jonquière

Brashear says he doesn’t like to talk about money, but he also says he’s not here for that.

“I participate in events in Philadelphia, I have my veteran’s pension with the NHL, and I work 10 hours a week in a hockey school in Quebec… If I were in a bad situation financially, I would work quite a bit more than That. Everyone asks me that question and the answer is that I like playing hockey. I like competition. That’s why I still play. I never talk about my financial statements because that’s not what’s important in life. The important thing is to feel good. »

At the moment of the first throw, the Coliseum begins to heat up. There isn’t a single empty bench left, and the latecomers have to mass standing at the top, along the metal railings.

In all, 3,029 spectators are here this Friday evening, the biggest crowd of the season for a Pétroliers match in Laval. Last season, the club attracted barely 1,000 spectators per game on average.

Bob Desjardins is not surprised.

It’s pretty much the same everywhere we go… When I called Donald last summer to ask him to join us, there were people in the league who asked me where I was going with that . There, every time we play on the road, there are people who call me to find out if Donald is going to be there.

Bob Desjardins


Donald Brashear

And how long is he going to be there, exactly? The question provokes a little silence, because the person concerned is not sure of the answer. “As long as I’m able to…if it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be here.” »

At the end of the evening, around 11 p.m., the Marquis bus leaves the arena parking lot. According to the most optimistic forecasts, it will be around 4:30 a.m. by the time we return home.

You have to like it, and Donald Brashear repeats that he likes it, while knowing that one day, “the end will eventually come”. But while waiting for this end, there will be other moments like this where, for one evening, he will be who he always wanted to be.


Leave a Comment