WENDAKE, Quebec — The line reaches across the lobby to the glass door entrance 15 minutes before warmups for a hockey game in a low-level pro league just north of Quebec City. We pay $12 a ticket at a table next to the Wendake Sports Complex pro shop, where a game-worn Black Jack No. 87 jersey carries the name of the league’s most famous player: BRASHEAR.
He played in 1,025 NHL games and amassed 2,635 penalty minutes during his 17-year career. He earned more than $16 million as one of the league’s most feared enforcers for the Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers.
He is now almost 52 years old and we are here to see the famous fighter go another round.
Donald Brashear is the marquee attraction. He is the Wendake Black Jack captain. He appears in most of the team’s online promotions. Brashear is the only player who doesn’t wear a helmet during warmups. His bald head shimmers under the rafter lights. From the stands, he looks almost exactly as he did when he retired from the NHL 13 years ago. A salt-and-pepper beard and slight lines around his eyes are all that betray his age. He is 6-feet-3 but seems at least a foot taller than any other player. He is much broader through the shoulders, but trim through his frame — without the average-joe paunch that several of his counterparts carry as they weave through a pregame routine.
Brashear skates in swift strides, casually gliding then accelerating, dangling a puck with his stick, and flicking a light shot at the Black Jack goaltender. He smiles and laughs with teammates. He taps their shin pads with his stick. Brashear looks joyful — like a man, blessed with remarkable athleticism who is fortunate to still play the game he found safety and comfort in as a boy, escaping the turmoil of his childhood.