Thursday, September 19, 2002
By by Eric Adelson
Bryan Fogarty lived 32 full years, but only found one kindred spirit.
That was John Kordic.
On the ice, the two could not have been more different. Fogarty was blonde with a happy outlook and an easy smile -- soft in touch and in stride. It was said that when Fogarty skated all alone in a rink, the sound his skates made on the ice was a barely audible hiss. He broke all of Bobby Orr's junior hockey records. He could make any play from anywhere.
If misery loves company, then Kordic was perfect for Fogarty.
Kordic was harder, much harder. His hair and his glare were dark and foreboding. His rage was always at the ready. He could make a bigger man buckle with one throw of his fist. He spent nearly a thousand minutes in the penalty box. He was one of the most feared men in NHL history.
But Kordic and Fogarty needed hockey more than hockey needed them. For both, the sport dangled the possibility of approval they could not find elsewhere. Fogarty grew up terrified of criticism. He would pull Niagara Falls Thunder coach Bill Laforge aside in the locker room and ask him in a whisper if his teammates hated him. When Laforge calmed him down, Fogarty began worrying that teammates would hate him for whispering with the coach. Kordic would pummel a man in a fight and then rush to coach Jacques Demers after the game to ask how he did. Kordic knew he beat his opponent badly, but he needed someone to at least nod in pride. Kordic's father Ivan hated that his son had become a goon. Even after big wins, Kordic could be found bawling in his locker after hearing his dad's scolding voice over the phone.
Neither Fogarty nor Kordic ever found acceptance in the NHL. Both found drugs and alcohol instead. And then they found each other.
Fogarty and Kordic met in a rehab center. They liked each other immediately. Kordic was the kind of person Fogarty gravitated to -- rambunctious, funny, and seemingly brave. Fogarty was an audience for Kordic -- a guy who loved to go out and listen to all his stories. Each had the demeanor that the other wanted for himself.
When Quebec picked up Kordic in 1991, coach Pierre Page had the idea of rooming him with Fogarty. Both seemed committed to healing. Both knew they were down to their last chance at making it in the NHL. Perhaps, Page thought, they could help each other. And, for a time, they did.
The two were tested constantly for cocaine and alcohol. For months in the fall and winter of '91, Fogarty and Kordic stayed clean, watched each other's backs, and became closer friends. They spoke often about their struggles and their hopes. For Fogarty, friendship with Kordic became a cause. It was a way to finally contribute to the worst team in hockey. It compensated for his inconsistent performance on the ice. It gave him a sense of worth. Fogarty even got in the habit of cooking for Kordic.
Fogarty was his own worst critic.
In January, something in Kordic snapped. The drug use returned, along with severe bouts of paranoia. One morning, Fogarty made pancakes for his buddy. Kordic wolfed them down and then growled at Fogarty: "Nothing like dying on a full stomach! Today is a beautiful day to die."
Fogarty was terrified. He called friends to ask their advice, but it was too late. Quebec officials caught Kordic using drugs -- steroids caused his weight to fluctuate as much as 15 pounds in one week -- and split up the roommates. Soon after, Kordic was cut from the team.
Seven months later, in August of 1992, Kordic showed up at a Quebec motel with bruises on his face and hands. He could hardly breathe as he pulled out $100 in cash to pay for a room in advance. He stomped up to room 205 and began making frantic phone calls to the front desk. He started destroying furniture. Hotel employees knocked on his door, and found Kordic surrounded by syringes and bottles of steroids. Kordic vengefully accused the hotel staff members of planting drugs in his suitcase. The police were called. It took nine officers to restrain the 6'2", 238-pound man. They tied his feet with rope. An ambulance was summoned. On the way to the hospital, Kordic suffered a massive and fatal heart attack. He was 27.
Fogarty was one of Kordic's last, best friends. He blamed himself for Kordic's death. He felt that after failing at hockey, he had failed at friendship. And watching Kordic finally succumb to drugs and alcohol rattled Fogarty to the core. When asked about Kordic's death, Fogarty grew somber and said, "It could have been me. I keep reminding myself I'm like him. It scares me."