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NHL enforcer battling drug abuse

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NHL enforcer battling drug abuse

From Comcast SportsNet Friday, September 9, 2011

VOORHEES, N.J. (AP) -- As rain washed over him, Todd Fedoruk stumbled on the streets of Tampa in his latest haze, this one ignited by a concoction of booze and cocaine.

His secret, reckless lifestyle had fueled his transformation from NHL enforcer to a junkie hooked on cocaine and marijuana that threw his life and career into jeopardy. Fedoruk had been in this dark place before, believing he beat his addiction the first time with the same steely will he needed to scrape with the baddest bullies in the league to earn his keep in the NHL.

Yet here he was, back socializing with the wrong crowds, patronizing the seedy part of towns, hustling for whatever type of drugs he could abuse. On a rainy pre-dawn trip after the 2010 season, a disgraced Fedoruk had nowhere to hide.

"I didn't want to drive anywhere because I was loaded," he said. "I couldn't stay in the house because I was paranoid. All the insanity came back.

"I knew everything was coming to an end. I didn't care about hockey anymore. I didn't care about my family. I was struck with this feeling of, how the hell did I get back here after everything I've been though? How the hell did I get back in this position again?"

He needed help. Drug addiction was not a disease he could fight alone.

Sitting in an NHL locker room, drinking a cup of coffee, Fedoruk now believes he's one of the lucky ones. In a summer that has the NHL reeling from three chilling deaths of noted tough guys, Fedoruk is alive to share his story.

"A lot of guys in my role," he said, "kind of carry these demons around with them."

Guys like Derek Boogaard.

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The first time Fedoruk met Boogaard, they were teenage prospects in Regina, Saskatchewan. Fedoruk, four years older, saw a kid who couldn't skate, couldn't fight a lick, yet had already grown into his 200-plus-pound frame that would serve him well as one of the league's top instigators.

Boogaard and Fedoruk would meet up again in the NHL under more unruly circumstances.

The first time they brawled in 2005 -- Boogaard with Minnesota and Fedoruk with Anaheim -- it resembled the scene out of one of those cartoon dust clouds. Each player got in shots, jerseys were yanked over heads, and helmets went flying before the officials broke it up.

On Oct. 27, 2006, they had the rematch. Boogaard threw a couple of jabs at Fedoruk's face during what at first appeared just a replay between two men who made a living as guardians of the game.

Boogaard, though, ended the fight like it was Tyson-Spinks when he dropped Fedoruk with a punishing right hand. Fedoruk clutched his face and dropped to his knees before quickly popping back up and skating back to the locker room. Boogaard raised his arm in victory as he skated to the penalty box and an appreciative Wild crowd roared in approval.

Fedoruk needed five plates on the right side of his face to recover from the beating and missed 18 games. He returned to the lineup in December and kept fighting -- even after removing his face shield. Faces can always be repaired. Reputations as a soft player are harder to overcome in the rough-and-tumble NHL.

Even with titanium plates in his face, Fedoruk wasn't about to fall off the wagon. He had been clean for nearly six years and had been scared straight when his first organization, the Philadelphia Flyers, ordered him to rehabilitation.

It wasn't until Fedoruk found himself playing for Minnesota -- and formed an unlikely alliance -- that the sober ship started to steer off course.

The Wild claimed Fedoruk off waivers in 2007 and assigned him a conjoined stall with Boogaard. Boogaard dressed to the immediate right of his one-time victim. Fedoruk eased tension in the locker room among his new teammates with humor.

"I said I didn't feel comfortable with him on my right side. I asked if he wanted to switch stalls," Fedoruk said. "He chuckled and he laughed at it. It was kind of an icebreaker."

The pairing also started a budding friendship.

Boogaard apologized repeatedly to his friend through the years for the attack and the duo became late-night running buddies. They were roommates and vacationed together. They forged a bond based on a common background, common goals -- and a shared knack of self-destructive behavior.

Boogaard carried those demons Fedoruk described and partied hard. Fedoruk went harder. He relapsed during the 2006-07 season and plummeted deeper into the abyss of addiction each year, hitting a peak in Minnesota, even as he knew Boogaard was battling his own personal troubles.

"I don't think we were good for each other," Fedoruk said. "We had a common 'misery loves company' type of relationship. I remember always talking to him about being careful.

"But it was the pot calling the kettle black because I was messed up, too."

As Fedoruk bounced from Phoenix to Tampa Bay, he stayed in touch with Boogaard. He heard Boogaard was in rehabilitation and reached out to his troubled friend, hoping he could offer the type of advice he was longing for through his own journey.

It was too late. Fedoruk talked to Boogaard's brother, but that was as close as he got to Boogey.

Boogaard was found dead in May due to an accidental mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone. His death gave Fedoruk the kind of scare he wouldn't get on his loneliest, drug-addled nights. It could have been him.

"I was doing," Fedoruk said, "the exact same things."

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With his blond hair, blue eyes and good-natured personality, Fedoruk could pass as the All-American boy if you didn't know he was from western Canada. Fedoruk was raised in Redwater, Alberta, a small farming community where hockey was the only way for him to escape boredom. He beams as he talks about skating down roads to three rinks created in empty lots for the neighborhood kids. How fathers competed to create the best rink -- his dad affixed lights to metal poles -- so kids could stay outside and play hockey through the winter chill all night long.

As he got older, there were more hazardous ways to pass the time than with a stick and puck.

He remembers being 14 or 15 years old, hanging with a group of older teens when he got drunk for the first time. A shy kid, Fedoruk was suddenly the center of attention. His social fears and anxieties evaporated one sip at a time. His idea of an alcoholic was some bum under a bridge with a brown bag in his hands, not a blossoming hockey star with his eyes on the NHL.

"What booze did for me at that age, I fell in love with it instantly," Fedoruk said. "What I felt that night stayed with me forever. I had found a new friend. And it was alcohol."

He could have used a more pious sidekick. Fedoruk's drinking increased and he spent a night in jail at 19 because of a bar fight directly related to his alcohol consumption.

Fedoruk moved on to harder partying and later nights. His drinking morphed from casual fun to an addiction. That didn't prevent him from getting drafted. The Flyers made him a seventh-round pick in the 1997 draft.

What drinking did was halt his promotion to the NHL. He was out of control at 20 when the Flyers gave him an ultimatum: Get help or he'd be sent packing.

Fedoruk did what he could to salvage his career and got clean. He checked in to Marworth in Waverly, Pa., for alcohol and chemical dependency treatment. He was admitted for a 28-day stay, but was let out after only 17 days.

Fedoruk always felt like he didn't fit in and was socially awkward around people. At Marworth, he found answers and ways to cope that didn't involve hitting the bottle.

For almost six years, he found a new friend in sobriety. He was promoted to Philadelphia and played 53 games as a rookie. He played four seasons with the Flyers, then won a championship with their AHL team during the lockout.

His best years, personally and professionally, were sober. Fedoruk met his wife -- they wed after a Flyers practice -- and had their first had child when he was clean.

He was traded to Anaheim and had the gritty forward career year in 2005-06 with 23 points in 76 games.

And he never refused a fight.

Fedoruk underwent surgery in November 2003 after a fight with Eric Cairns of the New York Islanders left him with a broken face. He was clobbered by New York Rangers enforcer Colton Orr in 2007, caught with a hard right against his reconstructed left cheek that sent him down and out on his back. Surgeons implanted a small, permanent titanium plate in Fedoruk's upper cheekbone to stabilize the orbital structure.

Fedoruk couldn't maintain his straight-and-sober lifestyle for much longer.

He was just a young, rich athlete having a good time in a sport where alcohol is about as ingrained as nets and pads. That's not milk champions swig out of the Stanley Cup.

Eventually, his run of good fortunate collapsed again.

"I always told myself, as long as you're not doing coke," he said, "it's not going to be that bad."

But there was more coke.

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Fedoruk says he lived three lifestyles.

One as a brawling hockey player who upheld a code of conduct, one as a devoted family man, and one as a relapsed drug addict who secretly prowled the streets for his next big score. There was no trigger point, no defining incident that sent his life spiraling back out of control. He simply says he lost focus on the big picture of how to maintain his sobriety.

He wanted to be the life of the party.

"I was loud, somewhat obnoxious," he said. "It was always, let's go, let's keep it going. It was 6 a.m. and I was looking for people to wake up and keep going."

Fedoruk insisted fighting and years of absorbing blows was not the sole reason he returned to drugs. He had money and some fame and couldn't handle the fine line between needing a weekend binge and falling into the deep end of addiction.

"I wanted that oblivion. That's what I craved, that escape," he said. "With being sober, everything is real. You've got to deal with (stuff)."

He's had to cope with the offseason deaths of Boogaard and enforcers Wade Belak and Rick Rypien. Belak hanged himself and Rypien was discovered at his home in Alberta after a call was answered for a "sudden and non-suspicious" death.

Like Fedoruk, all three prided themselves on answering the bell for the next fight.

"Could the pressure of fighting make you want to pick up? Yeah, I think that can be a trigger," Fedoruk said. "I think it is a trigger. For me, it was. You just want to forget about having to fight the guy. You line up against a guy like Boogey, God rest his soul, but he's 267. He's a big man. You think about that a week before you fight him."

After some soul searching in April 2010 following the rainy Tampa meltdown, Fedoruk felt worthless and turned to rehabilitation for a second time. In this stint, he completed a 28-day intensive outpatient program at Turning Point of Tampa.

Fedoruk calls April 26, 2010 his sobriety date -- and a not a day too soon.

"Everything you put in front of me," he said, "I did."

Even with cocaine in his system, Fedoruk said he never failed a drug test. He also said he never took hard drugs with other NHL players.

Fedoruk entered the NHLNHL Players' Association Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, which he knows helped save him. He truly believed the league cared about the physical and mental health of its players.

His wife, who could have bolted so many times, stuck by him. Fedoruk took a self-imposed sabbatical from the game last season and put his health and family life in order. The couple celebrated the birth of their third child, and his break made him realize how much he wanted to play again.

Fedoruk had 97 points and 1,050 penalty minutes in 545 NHL games with six teams over nine seasons. His agent let teams know Fedoruk was primed for a comeback and he signed a tryout contract with the Vancouver Canucks in August.

Assistant general manager Laurence Gilman said the Canucks did their homework and had a candid conversation with Fedoruk about his ordeal. The Canucks found a player who loved the game and had his priorities in order.

"We felt it was worth it to give this person an opportunity," Gilman said. "If he comes to camp and performs well, and fits in with our group, he'll have every opportunity to make our team."

If Fedoruk makes the roster, he'll keep throwing punches if that's what it takes stay in the league.

"If he plays here," Gilman said, "we expect him to play in the same manner."

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In the weeks leading into mid-September training camp, the 32-year-old Fedoruk frequently trained at the Flyers' practice facility in Voorhees, N.J. Drug abuse or not, a year off for any reason can be fatal to a 30-something athlete, and Fedoruk needs all the work he can to make a team fresh off a run to the Stanley Cup finals.

He knows questions about his hockey abilities are a distant second to ones about maintaining his sobriety. Fedoruk calls it a "healthy fear" that he could relapse and vows to take the necessary steps to prevent one in Vancouver.

He wanted to share his story before camp because he's tired of keeping secrets, and to maybe help the next Fedoruk -- and prevent the next Boogaard.

"There is help out there. There is a way out," Fedoruk said. "It's just getting to the point where you can say, all right, I give up. I'm done. I don't want to fight this fight anymore."

He keeps a close circle of sober friends now and, while not becoming an overbearing born-again, more frequently attends church.

His confidence and a healthy lifestyle have been restored and he understands the daily maintenance needed to live the rest of his life without succumbing again to drugs.

"I don't want to relapse again," he said, "I know that much."

Drilling further down on Matt Nagy after Bears OT loss to Miami Dolphins

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Drilling further down on Matt Nagy after Bears OT loss to Miami Dolphins

The 31-28 overtime Bears loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday had myriad authors on the Chicago side of the ledger. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky correctly assessed the defeat as a team loss, which is pretty much the case in any NFL loss, but particularly so in this case.

“Growing pains” only goes so far in explaining the variety of problems that befell all three Bears phases in the heat of south Florida. And while devastating mistakes are inevitable for young, inexperienced head coaches and players, it falls to those coaches and players to demonstrate that Sunday in Hard Rock Stadium was an anomaly.

Because after five 2018 games, it is not clear that the Miami missteps are indeed exceptions, on the parts of players or coaches, both in fact. Regardless of whether the fault lies with offense or defense (special teams get a pass; Sunday should never come down to Cody Parkey needing to make a field goal from 53 yards).

The Bears have gone into four 2018 fourth quarters with leads and lost two of those games. The late-game defensive collapses at Green Bay and Miami should suffice to put a sock in mentions of the ’85 Bears defense and the ’18 iteration in the same conversation.

And the fact that the Bears offense has not scored more than 7 points in any of the five 2018 fourth quarters says that more than just the defense lacks a consistent finishing kick.

Coaching not to lose?

There is a fourth “phase,” and not the one (fans) that Lovie Smith once cited. It is coaching, which is intricately interwoven with each of the three main units but is its own phase. How well this fourth phase performed in Miami is a matter of some hazy perspectives.

“I’m a big boy; I can handle criticism,” Nagy said Monday. “You talking about the 53-yard field goal? No, I’m fine with that. I have no issue at all with the criticism. That’s where people are? That’s their own opinion. I felt good with what we did and, shoot, we’re all in this thing together and I trust our guys.”

Beginning with relative minutiae: Two flags were thrown (one declined) in Miami for illegal formations, in both cases for leaving the right tackle uncovered. A delay-of-game penalty on a second-and-3 at the Miami 44, led to a punt when the offense only made up seven of the resulting eight yards. That sloppiness pointed to issues on the sideline rather than in the huddle.

On multiple occasions coach Matt Nagy strongly defended Trubisky during training camp when interceptions occurred, the coach considering those acceptable temporary losses in the greater quest for his quarterback learning to stay aggressive in learning his limits and capabilities.

Yet in more than one situation Sunday, it was Nagy who dialed back the aggressive edge that he’s spoken of seeking to install in his quarterback and team. It left at least a small question as to whether Nagy lacked confidence in himself or his quarterback or his team to deliver in a critical moment.

Did Nagy second-guess himself the morning after? “Nope.”

Shaky confidence?

Whether the Bears were properly prepared coming into Sunday was an issue. A team on a three-game high came out of an off week with its poorest first-half performance of the season.

But it is what happened, or didn’t happen, later that warrants the some scrutiny.

As in: Nagy’s playcalling with the game there for the winning – the overtime possession starting from the Chicago 20, needing only a field goal for a win.

The point is not second-guessing a specific call or calls, but rather what may be at work with Nagy’s overall thinking and propensities.

After a short, high-percentage throw to Trey Burton on first down, Nagy called five straight runs. The first two, runs of 19 and 15 yards by Jordan Howard, worked. Howard went out for a two-snap break, then was back for a final run on third-and-4, which failed, leaving the ball at the Miami 35, Nagy’s minimum for attempting a field goal.

Beyond the obvious conservatism, the overall put the Bears in position of not only needing to convert a 53-yard field goal, but also leaving the Dolphins with field position at their 43 if the kick missed, which it did, although NFL kickers convert from 50-plus yards at a rate approaching 62 percent.

“To me, that 35-yard line [was the minimum], a 53-yard field goal, I have ultimate trust in [kicker Cody Parkey] making that,” Nagy said. “But at the same time, every yard that you get brings the percentage up a little bit.

“We just hit a [19]-yard run, we just hit a 15-yard run, and then we had a couple more runs right behind that. That’s just the decision we ended up making. Now, [if] he makes that kick and we’re good. He doesn’t and it’s ‘could you get a little bit closer?’ It would have helped, but at the same time I think Cody would be the first to tell you that he knows he can make that.”

One problem: Were Nagy’s defense playing at the level it had in the three previous games, he could be excused for trusting his defense to deliver a stop even with the Miami starting point. But the Dolphins had pushed the defense backwards for 344 total yards over the prior six possessions. There should have been no reasonable expectation that the defense, which already had driven backward 74 yards before a fumble on the first overtime possession, would suddenly rise up for a stop.

Nagy’s tactics also hint a lack of convinced confidence that his quarterback and offense could pull off an aggressive, under-control possession at that point. Exactly what Nagy is likely to stay in-house. His offense had scored touchdowns on four of its first five possessions of the second half, when the Bears never punted.

But Trubisky had thrown an inexplicable interception from the Miami 13 and Tarik Cohen had lost a fumble at the Chicago 45 on the fourth-quarter possessions on either side of the final Bears touchdown. So by the time the overtime possession arrived, Nagy had seen turnovers by all three principle members of his backfield – Cohen, Howard and Trubisky.

Whatever his reasoning, Nagy flashed defensive in the face of questions on his calls – “You go ahead, you throw it and then [media] are here asking me why you took a sack” – a response loosely suggests that Nagy either cares what people think (unlikely) or that he was mad at himself and/or his players (more likely).

That Nagy alluded to Trubisky taking a sack recalls sacks that the quarterback has taken that cost his team yardage before a missed field goal (Arizona) and other sacks incurred trying to force a play. Nagy sidestepped a question as to whether he would play that situation differently at such time as when Trubisky and his offense are more mature.

An erudite non-answer answer.

Fatigue factor

Running back Tarik Cohen mentioned his own failure to deal sufficiently with fatigue in Sunday’s second half, mentioned it in connection with his lost fourth-quarter fumble. Whether fatigue being allowed to reach a red-line level falls on coaches or player is debatable; players owe coaches honest self-assessments, and coaches had balanced snaps reasonably well for Cohen (34) and Howard (36) for the game.

Cohen is a young player. Nagy and most of his staff are young, and heat-management is not usually at the top of game-planning sheets. The last time (1994) the Bears played a day game in Miami, Cohen was still a year away from being born and Howard was two weeks old. Trips to Tampa the past three years don’t qualify for carryover conditioning; besides, one of the three was in December, a second in November.

But in the absence of player restraint/moderation/discretion/whatever in the face of in-game physical decline, it falls to Bears staff to monitor conditioning. The clear fall-off by the defense was more than apparent in the form of ebbing effort, missed tackles and generally flagging performance.

“I want to say that I’m not sure that our training staff and sports science staff could have done a better job in that situation,” Nagy said. “It was absolutely phenomenal. They were unbelievable, with how they handled the hydration and the cramping with our players. It was unreal. And so, that’s a credit to them for being prepared and getting our guys right.

“That was a long game. And when you play an extra period, or extra quarter in that heat, that’s a lot. For our guys to do that, that’s another part of the challenge that they battled through and that was everybody collectively — not just the players, but our staff as well.”

Sox Drawer Q&A: Is this the White Sox 'Jon Lester' offseason?

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Sox Drawer Q&A: Is this the White Sox 'Jon Lester' offseason?

Back for another round of questions here in the Sox Drawer. Let's go.

Q: Do you believe this is the Sox "Lester" offseason where they make a large investment in a player for the future? Or are we still one year away from seeing this? — @BCurley3

CG: That's a question many White Sox fans are wondering about. And by the "Lester" signing, I assume you are referring to the likes of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. I'd like to think that if the White Sox have a desire to sign a big-name free agent, they will make every attempt to do it now and not wait for the 2020 free agents, even if it's coming off a 100-loss season. As general manager Rick Hahn put it in his season-ending press conference, "You can't always control when certain players become available. You can say in 2020 or 2021 we expect to be this, and we know we are going to need X. You can't look at the projected free agent and say that player will be available, much less that player will be a White Sox when the time comes." It might turn out that the White Sox don't sign that marquee free agent this offseason, but going off what Hahn said, I believe they will go all-in when their targeted "Jon Lester" is available.

Q: If you had your choice, would the White Sox sign Manny Machado or Nolan Arenado? — @Dehhmac_

CG: I'll take either. Arenado gets the edge defensively. Machado has the advantage offensively. One stat about Arenado that gives me some pause is his career home/away splits. At Coors Field, he's slashing .320/.374/.609. Away from Coors Field, he's at .263/.318/.469. He's still a great player, but his numbers are inflated due to the higher elevation in Denver. If they don't sign him to a contract extension this winter, I'm curious to see if the Rockies listen to trade offers during the Winter Meetings like the Orioles did with Machado last year. The Rockies are much more competitive than the Orioles, so they might decide to go for it one more time with Arenado. If not, a crazy Winter Meetings just got crazier.

Q: I have long expected this to be the offseason when the Sox start signing free agents. However, lately, I've heard about possible big-name trade potentials. Do you expect trades this early in the rebuild or mainly acquisition through free agency? — @ToddHertz

CG: At some point, the White Sox will probably dip into their farm system to acquire major league upgrades where they see fit. Because there were so many injuries to prospects last season, I'm not sure they've seen enough to know exactly what they have to make those kind trades just yet. However, the one position in the minors where they seem very deep right now is in the outfield. That could be an area they could subtract from to add elsewhere. I think the White Sox timed their rebuild very well with free agency. Last year's lackluster free-agent class was a great time to be on the sidelines. The next two winters will have much better talent available. The White Sox don't have much on the books and will be in a good financial position to make upgrades.

Q: After Eloy comes up in April who's the next guy in waiting and when does he come up? —  @franknacchio19

CG: With two open spots in the rotation, we could see a few prospects compete for starting jobs in spring training. Jordan Guerrero, Jordan Stephens and Spencer Adams are possibilities. All three of them finished the season at Charlotte and could be close to knocking on the door. The next big name after that would seemingly be Dylan Cease, who if he continues to pitch like he did this past season will probably be on the Michael Kopech timeline to the majors, and Kopech came up in August.

Q: If the rumors are true and the Diamondbacks dismantle their roster, which player on their roster makes sense for this White Sox team long term? —  @mr_zablocki

Q: Who would you hypothetically trade for Goldshmidt? — @DaRealScaletta​​​​​​​

CG: Looking at the Diamondbacks' roster, there aren't many natural fits with the White Sox rebuild. Where's the All-Star third baseman on a rebuilding team with a four-year, team-friendly contract? I like Zack Greinke, but he's going to be 35-years-old and has three years and $104 million left on his contract. A 27-year-old Robbie Ray would be solid, but he's under team control for only two more years. Paul Goldschmidt is an all-world first baseman with three Gold Gloves, but he's a free agent after next season. Depending on what the White Sox do with Jose Abreu, who also has one year left on his contract, maybe they go after Goldschmidt next offseason if they don't re-sign Abreu.

Q: Tell a Yolmer story. — @NJBooth20

CG: Yolmer was wearing this cool T-shirt in the clubhouse this past season. On the front, it said "play hard" with a photo of him making Mickey Mouse ears. On the back it said "have fun," and there's the photo of him pouring Gatorade all over himself. I asked him if I could have one of those T-shirts. He said, "50 dollars." I countered with, "How about 30?" With perfect comedic timing, Yolmer came back with, "Make it 10." He might not be the best bargainer in the world, but Yolmer Sanchez is definitely one of the funniest people around.

Q: Why did Nagy run the ball on 3rd and 4?? — @rypie182​​​​​​​

CG: Not sure.

Q: Can I leave a voicemail? Too drunk to tweet. — @HurriKayne26​​​​​​​

CG: Rough Bears game.

Q: Who will be the biggest surprise and/or the greatest improvement for next season's team? — @nicklicious33​​​​​​​

CG: Good question. If he's able to come back, I can think of one person in particular who would be quite an incredible surprise in 2019. That's Danny Farquhar. At home in California recovering from his near-death brain aneurysm, Farquhar is training with the hopes of pitching in the majors again, possibly as soon as 2019. I wouldn't put it past him. He's a special person who has been defying the odds since that horrific night in April. It would be great to see!

Thanks again for all of your questions. We'll do it again next week.