Diane's Playoff Diary, 5/27/00:
Two Kinds of Elimination


The morning of Game 6, that 2-1 loss which forced a final deciding game in the Western Conference, I received an e-mail from Guy Villeneuve. Guy maintains the website of the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, and had been researching some old issues of Le Quotidien when he found a small, obscure article from 1977.

The article recounted that after Guy Carbonneau’s difficulties the season before with constantly dislocating his shoulders, he had consulted a physician. This doctor informed the 17-year-old Saguenéen that his condition meant no choice but to quit playing hockey.

Happily, a second physician suggested surgery might be the cure, and after a successful procedure and long recovery, Guy returned to play for the team the following season.

But what if he had not consulted a second doctor?

I am reminded of the science fiction plot device when one explores an alternative timeline. 23 years sans Carbo…do you think that wouldn’t have made a difference in a few lives? I think of the Canadiens in 1986, trying to win the Cup without the key offensive contributions of their talented young checking center. Or later in 1993, trying to contain Wayne Gretzky without Guy’s wily defensive skills. I’m wondering how differently the Dallas Stars might have developed without Carbonneau’s leadership and courage and heart, and if they would have survived last year to win that Cup of their own.

And I ponder the less obvious things: How Guy shaped the way those around him played hockey and also how they thought of themselves and the game. Young players like Blake Sloan, mature players like Mike Modano, who learned by his example. So many these days compare the Stars to the Canadiens of the past in terms of their spirit. How much of that transformation was enriched by the presence of #21?

Finally, there is the impact Guy has made on the lives of those who watch hockey. I have met so many people who tell me his example is a constant inspiration to them in their various walks of life. Of course I have no further to look than myself. Before Guy even consulted that doctor in Chicoutimi, I had begun to seek the hero he would one day become. Even if he had retired in 1997 instead of 1977, I would never have found that hero.

Tonight the Stars will either be eliminated or move on to the Stanley Cup finals. It is the first and perhaps final game we have faced when we can say, this could be Carbo’s last. Tonight could be the fork in the road, two alternate timelines with and without Guy Carbonneau. They are shorter alternate timelines of course—probably only a year—nevertheless, how can you value even a year of this man’s career? Was there ever a year he spent on the ice when he didn’t matter, when he didn’t impact more than one crucial game, or touch and change more than one life?

Three things comfort me as I contemplate the possibility of Guy’s imminent departure from the game. First, it will be his own choice, and he has earned that right many times over. Second, I have no doubt that he will continue to do magic and touch the lives of others through whatever he chooses to do next.

And one last thing comforts me: I’m still saying Dallas in seven. Which will mean at least four more nights of Carbonneau hockey.