By all accounts, Sheldon Souray is a warrior. On the ice, he has battled through a career-threatening wrist injury to become an NHL All-Star. Off the ice, he has repaired his damaged reputation, which stemmed from a well-publicized marital breakup.
In this edition of Facing Off, the bruising defenseman discusses which team is the biggest Cup threat come June, why his marriage to a Baywatch babe didn't have a Hollywood ending and how the Canadiens dealt with Jose Theodore's failed drug test.
Question from David Amber: As a kid, did you know you were destined to play in the NHL?
Answer from Sheldon Souray: I was always a kid that made the coaches go crazy. They called it laziness, but it wasn't that. I was just interested in a lot of things. I wasn't a kid who only wanted to play hockey and thought one day I'll play in the NHL, I didn't think like that. I was the kid who liked to goof around with his buddies and hockey was a way to do that. I wasn't so driven, but I always enjoyed playing, I just liked being the class clown back then.
Q: You have a tattoo of a Metis Indian chief on your right arm. What does your heritage mean to you?
A: It's important because there aren't a lot of prominent role models coming from the native communities, and the fact I play in the NHL gives me the platform to do something for these kids. It's great 'cause the kids can see that even being from a small community that still they can do it. If I could do it, they can do it. It's a fun message to pass along.
Q: How close-knit are the NHL players of native descent?
A: I think Native people in general are a tight group. When I was a teenager, I would drive kids from my community to a native hockey school in Lloydminster, Alberta, where Gino Odjick and some other NHL players were instructors. A few years later, I made the NHL and I started being an instructor. It was fun to be a counselor under the likes of Gino and Sandy McCarthy and Chris Simon and then an instructor with them. I learned a lot from those guys.
Q: Did you have to deal with any racism growing up as a minority in hockey?
A: I did. I never felt sorry for myself about it. I always just thought the people were ignorant. I had an assistant coach in junior A call me a "dumb Indian" and tell me I would never make it anywhere. That's the one thing that stuck out in my mind, and if I see that guy today, I would still like to crack him over the head.
Q: What did you do when your [junior] coach said something like that?
A: I just said "whatever," I told my dad about it and he confronted the guy and told the coach what he did was wrong. I don't even know if the coach realized what he did was wrong, he was that ignorant. Bottom line is, I look at where I am today, and clearly anyone who tried to put me down did the opposite, it always motivated me.
Q: What do you think of a guy like Sean Avery, who has been in trouble for allegedly saying racially charged things on the ice?
A: I think that here's a guy who loves to grab the headlines. Here's a guy who is a very borderline NHL player, I think, to begin with. He does a lot of stuff, but I think it's for shock value.
Q: Is he not liked around the league?
A: I don't know. I can only speak for what I have seen on the ice. I think maybe he's a guy that you don't mind when he's on your team, and when you play against him, he's a little [expletive] disturber.
A: Scotty Stevens, I mean this was my idol growing up, so to have a chance to play with him and learn from him was amazing. He taught me about hockey, but more importantly, he showed me what kind of work ethic and professionalism it takes to survive in this league. And Daneyko is a great story. Here is a guy on a limited amount of skill, who plays for just one team his whole career, and is about to get his number retired by a first-class organization, so that's unbelievable.
Q: You missed the entire 2002-03 season with a wrist injury. What do you remember about injuring the wrist?
A: It happened in the first period of a game against the Panthers, I went into the corner awkwardly and I was reaching for the puck and I was tied up with a guy and another guy came flying in and sort of sandwiched my hand. I remember that night having dinner and my hand was so sore, I was sure I had broken my wrist. Two days later, I got [an X-ray] and there was no break. For the next month, I played and it was tough, the wrist was like mashed potatoes. After a while, I just couldn't do it anymore, so I got another X-ray done and the wrist was broken.
Q: So, you played for a full month with a broken wrist?
A: Yeah. I even played two more games after we knew it was broken because they thought I couldn't damage it anymore than it already was.
Q: So, how do you go from a near career-ending wrist injury to having one of the hardest shots in the NHL?
A: I've always had a good shot. I never had a role in New Jersey to be offensive and use my shot, but during that season I missed, I knew I could maybe be that guy in Montreal. I kept hearing fans and the media say, "I think the Habs could use a physical defenseman, a guy on the power play," and I started thinking I can do these things. Everyone was writing me off anyway, so I thought I might as well give it what I got and be that guy for the team.
Q: What's the fastest shot you've had that's been registered on a radar gun?
A: During a skills competition in New Jersey, they clocked me at 103.1 mph.
Q: Right now in the NHL, who has the hardest shot?
Q: You have a 2-year-old daughter Valentina. What's the coolest part of being a dad?
A: Can you really pick just one thing? When I see that little girl, see her smiling, I'm like "Wow, that's me." She's at that age where she can say, "I love you," or talk on the phone, it's pretty unbelievable, makes you feel pretty good.
Q: But what happens if she grows up to be a Maple Leafs or Bruins fan?
A: You know, they say you love your kids unconditionally, we all have our faults [laughs]. That's what I tell my dad, he's from Toronto. He always loved the Leafs. Still today, when we play the Leafs, he sits on his hands a bit.
Q: You have joint custody of your daughter. How difficult has it been to have the breakup of your marriage to [former Baywatch star] Angelica Bridges played out in such a public forum?
A: The whole thing has been exaggerated, that's the most disheartening thing. It's tough, but it makes you a better person. I learned that in the grand scale of things, hockey is just a small part of my life, it's a really good part of my life, I'm very blessed to be doing what I'm doing, but your family is most important. Also, I learned that people are quick to build you up, and even quicker to pull you down.
Q: You were basically living out every guy's dream, married to a Baywatch babe. Did it ever seem kind of weird to be living that life?
A: I never looked at it like that, because if you knew someone like Tom Cruise, and he was your buddy and you guys hang out and get beers, it would be no big deal, but people on the street would be saying, "Wow, oh my God, look at that, it's Tom Cruise." I was unaffected by it. It never meant much to me that she was an actress or model.
Q: Were you a Baywatch fan?
A: No, I never even knew she was on the show until one of my buddies told me who she was. Then I thought maybe she could introduce me to Carmen Electra [laughs]. Just kidding. We got along right away. We were friends for a long time before anything happened.
Q: Despite the messy breakup, do you see a time when you could be friends again?
A: Yeah, sure. We already are. Things couldn't have gotten any worse from where they were. Time has healed some of those things. But the most important thing is we have a daughter together, so we will be connected for the rest of our lives.
Q: After the marriage had fallen apart, she made an assault accusation against you [no charges were ever filed]. Have you forgiven her for that?
A: I guess everyone does things for different reasons. It's hard to forgive, it's one of the toughest things to do, but if you're ever going to move on and take a step forward in your life, it's something that has to be done. You know, I'm never going to win husband of the year, so it's not just a one-way street. But at the end of the day, there are a lot of things you have to work on to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Q: Which team right now should be considered the Stanley Cup favorite?
A: I'd say Detroit. They have the experience, and they know how to get there. They just seem like they're built for it, so I'll say them.
Q: Who deserves to win the Hart Trophy for MVP?
A: I'll say Jaromir Jagr. He's been outstanding. [Alexander] Ovechkin has probably been the most outstanding player, but his team isn't in the playoffs, so it's hard to say he's the most valuable to his team. I look at Jagr and he keeps breaking records and it just looks like he's the old Jagr again and the most valuable to his team.
Q: As a defenseman, who is the toughest player in the league to handle one on one?
A: He's big. He's strong. He's fast. He's got crazy moves. There is nothing that he doesn't do. He's sick.
Q: What was your reaction when you found out that Jose Theodore tested positive for a banned substance?
A: I think anyone that has seen Jose in the shower knows this guy has not been lifting weights in the gym, so you figure there's an explanation for it. For Jose, the heat he has taken this year, it just seems like it was a snowball he couldn't quite stop. The story comes out and the media in Montreal runs with it, but the guys on the team never thought that he was doing anything illegal. We knew there was an explanation, so the guys weren't too worried about it.
Q: Right before the Olympics, when the Rick Tocchet story broke, some people were saying there must be a huge gambling problem in the NHL. How would you describe the level of gambling by players in the NHL?
A: I would bet you $100 not even half the players gamble [laughs]. Honestly, I never heard about any gambling stuff with NHL players before this whole story. This is my 12th year around the league. I would never assume there was or is a problem. It's probably an isolated incident. I only know the guys and teams I've been around, so I can only speak to that.
Q: In 2003, Access Hollywood named you the sexiest man in the NHL. How do you get that distinction?
A: I played in New Jersey, so I spent some time in New York. I was young and single and it opened some doors for me. I did a few things for the "E Channel." I did a few magazine spreads and it just became one of those things where my name came up because I was out there doing things that got attention. I was having fun, I wasn't just concentrating on hockey, although Lou [Lamoriello] is the last guy who would want to hear that [laughs].
Q: A few years ago, you appeared in an episode of "One Life to Live" with some other NHL players (Kevin Weekes, Jeremy Roenick, Scott Gomez, Chris Therien). What do you remember most about that experience?
A: We played ourselves, it was small time, but when you tell people about it, they think it is really interesting.
Q: Roenick and Gomez had speaking roles. What happened to you?
A: I was in the background. I was like if Scotty Gomez can do it, I mean c'mon, that's an insult [laughs].
Q: When your hockey career is over, are we going to see you as an actor or model?
A: I don't think so. I have a lot of fun, it's great to branch out and do other things, but right now, I'm just hoping I can play a lot more years in the NHL and after that just coast a bit. Maybe be a reporter for ESPN [laughs].
David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.