New England Hockey Journal - August 2016 - 40
THE GOALIE GURU
Brion O'Connor is a Boston-based writer and owner of Inspired Ink Communications. He is also a longtime
hockey coach and player, specializing in goaltending instruction. Learn more at TheGoalieGuru.com.
Requiem for an athlete
our indulgence, please.
Writing has always been
cathartic, and I'm hoping
my craft can work its magic this evening.
It is approaching midnight, on the eve
of July 4. I'm home, but can't sleep. The
long holiday weekend was a tough one.
Earlier today, my wife, daughters and I
had to put down our beloved yellow Labrador retriever, Trudell.
Longtime readers of this
column might remember
True (the nickname I always felt most comfortable
with). I wrote about her a
few years back, as an example of the perfect goaltender - remarkably quick,
agile and focused.
True celebrated her 10th
birthday earlier this year.
I realize that's 70 in "dog
years," but this dog was still an absolute
stud. Her narrow head and lean build
was a testament to her lineage as a fullon American field Labrador retriever.
True was bred to retrieve waterfowl, even
in the most inhospitable environments.
Her father, Zeb, was my father-inlaw's prized retriever, and he enjoyed
needling me that True, as a family pet,
was "a waste of a great hunting dog." I always laughed, knowing he was right. In
her prime, True was 65 pounds of quicktwitch muscle, sinew and gray matter
hard-wired to fetch.
But even in her "golden years," she
continued to personify the qualities that
make Labs such phenomenal
pets. Good-natured, kind, exuberant. But what really set
True apart was her boundless
capacity for fun. When True
saw me grab my lacrosse stick
and tennis ball, her response
was unadulterated joy. Her
ears picked up, her tail wagged
uncontrollably, her entire body
would shake with anticipation.
At that moment, she was
absolutely locked onto the
ball, a pure athlete waiting to pounce.
She was the perfect goaltender - coiled,
confident and unfazed by any outside
emotions or distractions.
But True, as I would learn, was more
than a natural goaltender. She was the
Joe-Moe Knows Poster.indd 2
40 NEw ENGLAND HOCKEY JOURNAL August 2016
True, in a
ideal teammate. Though she wasn't a
"cuddly" pet, she lived and breathed
whatever mood filled our house. If we
were happy and celebrating, True had to
be in the middle of it. Unsuspecting visitors would get smothered with slobbering kisses. If we were upset, True would
mope. She embodied our family atmosphere, yet rarely failed to lift our spirits.
Late March, True started showing
signs that something was amiss. Her exceptional endurance began to ebb. She
was hesitant to jump into the back of the
family wagon after a run at the beach,
and even struggled to hop onto our bed
(her favorite napping spot). Like her father, True developed laryngeal paralysis,
making breathing difficult.
Starting in May, True's condition deteriorated rapidly. Her decline happened so
fast, we couldn't get ahead of it. Our local
vet was visibly stunned when he saw her,
just six short weeks after her annual physical. She was stumbling badly, her hindquarters barely able to support her weight.
We had X-rays taken, and were told
that True, orthopedically speaking, was
flawless. After consulting with four different veterinarians, the consensus appeared to be that True was suffering
from some kind of neurological problem.
It could have been the result of a tumor
on her spine, or brain, or caused by a
stroke. We tried steroid supplements,
with minimal benefit.
The only option at that point was more
expensive testing, which would only tell
us what type of more expensive surgery
needed to be done. For an aging pet who
already was suffering from laryngeal paralysis, it simply didn't make sense. Our vets
concurred. Lauri and I resigned ourselves
to helping make True as comfortable as
possible for however long she was with us.
Over the last two weeks of June, it
was clear True's time was coming. She
held on for a final visit from my mother-in-law, the woman who weaned her
as a puppy. On Sunday, Lauri made the
courageous decision that True shouldn't
have to deal with her declining health
any longer. We drove to a clinic in North
Andover, our girls cradling their "knucklehound" in the back seat.
We would return home to our small
cottage that afternoon, knowing it would
seem far too big without True. There
would be reminders waiting for us, of
course. Tennis balls in the backyard, the
water/food dish in the kitchen, couches
and carpets covered with her fine blonde
fur. I'd miss her appearing out of nowhere
every time I opened a peanut butter jar, or
a package of cheese. Daily rituals, including her trembling delight at meal times,
and our slow walks around the neighborhood (when she had to sniff every blade
of grass), would change forever.
Now, though, we were only concerned
for True's well being. More than anything,
we didn't want her to be in pain. Her tail
still thumped vigorously against the floor
every time a new person came into the
room, a sure sign of her indomitable spirit.
But part of True was clearly resigned.
She had fought the good fight. She put
her faith in our decision, just as she always had. She trusted us, unequivocally.
She seemed perfectly at peace, even as
the technician put the catheter into her
front leg. The veterinarian then came in,
assured us that we were doing the right
thing, and explained the process. True,
she promised, would not suffer.
A minute later, our beloved True
was gone. Her incredibly strong heart
stopped beating, her labored breathing
stilled. My wife, and our two daughters,
took turns lying beside her, sobbing.
The love this dog engendered was truly
breathtaking. My girls then left, leaving
me alone with my True.
I leaned in close, looking into those
deep, milky brown eyes that no longer
could see me. I apologized to her for
being a less-than-perfect owner, for being short tempered at times, for being
impatient when her boundless energy
prompted her to run off.
Stroking her soft coat, I thanked True
for the lessons she taught me, lessons
about how to love without conditions, without boundaries of any kind. She taught me
about joy - the joy of simple pleasures, joy
of physical exertion, and joy of camaraderie, of just "being there." I knew I had to
leave True's body behind, but I would take
the lessons she taught with me.
Then, with a heavy heart and swollen eyes, I said my final goodbyes to this
wonderful athlete, to this perfect teammate. True.
3/4/16 11:05 AM
Free digital subscription at hockeyjournal.com/free
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of New England Hockey Journal - August 2016
NEHJ August 2016
Our Starting Lineup
Around the Region
Bruins Beat: Ryan Donato
NHL New England
NHL New England Digital Directory
BONUS: Comm Ave Charity Classic gallery
NEHJ Skate Guide: Brand Loyalty
NEHJ Skate Guide: Sharpening 101
NEHJ Skate Guide: Buyer's Guide
Prep/High School Guide
NEHJ TV EPISODES
The Goalie Guru
The Hockey Mom
Summer Camp Directory
Hangin' Out With …
New England Hockey Journal - August 2016
If you would like to try to load the digital publication without using Flash Player detection, please click here.