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Wesley Tribute Part 2: Aches, Pains, Triumph

by David Droschak / Carolina Hurricanes
Glen Wesley chuckled when I asked how many defensive partners he played with during his 20 years in the National Hockey League.

“Sometimes I played with three or four a game, so I wouldn’t have the slightest idea,” he said.

Wesley

The fact that Wesley lasted two decades in a league where the physical demands – especially at his position – are inconceivable to most, and the skill level and decision-making is scrutinized ad nauseam by coaches armed with the latest video tools, is a testament to his will, determination and true grit. 

“Pretty impressive,” general manager Jim Rutherford said when asked about Wesley’s 1,457 career games, which ranks 16th all-time in NHL history. “To play that number of games over and over again, to play the same way every night is remarkable. And you knew every night what you were going to get from Glen Wesley.”

Fourteen different times Wesley played at least 70 games in a season and he logged 169 more postseason games. But the most remarkable of those seasons came in 2000-01, when Wesley had one of the most gruesome injuries in league history.

It was March 4, 2001, in the second period of a 6-3 win at Chicago when Wesley was cruising up the right boards, on his off wing, as a penalty was about to expire.

“Steve Dubinsky was just trying to rub me out and just in that instant they opened up the penalty box door as I was going by and my face literally stopped my whole body,” Wesley recalled. “I just remember going down and I stuck my tongue out and I knew instantly that my jaw was broken. I saw the pool of blood on the ice and I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.

“It was an afternoon game and I didn’t have surgery until 1 a.m. so I was still wide open halfway down my cheek for hours because I asked them not to stitch me up, because I wanted the oral surgeon to do it all one shot and make sure it was done right. The next thing I knew I woke up the next morning and I was completely wired shut.”

When Wesley flew back to Raleigh a day later with trainer Stu Lempke the damage was significant – 75 stitches from the top of the defenseman’s ear halfway down his cheekbone and an L-shaped cracked jaw, which required the insertion of a plate, and more stitches.

Most assumed that Wesley’s season – maybe his career – was over. In a remarkable recovery, Wesley missed just 11 games – less than a month – before returning to play the final six regular-season games and the playoffs against the New Jersey Devils.

“I should have a memory of him raising the Cup but my memory of him is running into that penalty box in Chicago and how bad that injury was,” coach Paul Maurice said. “I remember the first day Glen came back and he played great. I thought to myself that most people would have been tentative after having your face broken the way he did and he came out and played a helluva game. I thought that was a real statement about his character.”

In the offseason after the 1999-2000 season, Wesley also faced a career-threatening injury with two herniated discs, which resulted in his decision to have neck surgery.  

“I tried rehabbing it for a month, but I had no feeling in my fingers and hands and burning down my shoulder plates,” he said. “If I wanted to play I didn’t have a choice.”

Wesley consulted with teammate Gary Roberts, who had similar surgery that saved his career. Roberts told Wesley to have the surgery done from the front, and not the back as he had, to speed up recovery time. That’s what Glen did and he was ready to start the next season.

“They made a seven-inch incision and went right in beside my vocal cord,” Wesley said. “Gary was a big influence in me having that surgery.”

Off the ice, Wesley was a team spokesman for the worst of team tragedies – the death of defenseman Steve Chiasson, who was killed in an auto accident the night the Canes returned to Raleigh after being eliminated from the 1999 playoffs by Boston. 

Wesley joined Rutherford the next morning to break the news to the media that his defensive partner and good friend was gone.

“A lot of guys have never been through something like that,” Wesley said. “He was a great friend and a good teammate and came to work and played hard and was a great family man. The toughest thing I’ve ever had to do was come in and do a press conference for something like that. It really puts life in perspective of how one day you’re with him and the next day he’s gone. That reality hit home to everybody and it was a very difficult time for a lot of us, dealing differently with the loss of Steve.”

The bumps and bruises, sorrows and health scares all seemed worth it in 2006 when Wesley was able to hoist the Stanley Cup over his head. For the red head, it was a poignant moment for the face of the franchise for so many years.

After getting the Cup first, captain Rod Brind’Amour handed it off to Wesley.

“You just knew where that (Cup) was going next,” said Brind’Amour.

Brind’Amour sat next to Wesley on the team plane, but there was never any negative thoughts returning from Edmonton for a Game 7 in Raleigh.

“We obviously were in the same situation, but we never, ever brought up what happens if we don’t win, or what if we do,” Brind’Amour said. “We both knew what was a stake and the tension, but there wasn’t any panic. Glen was like a calming influence that we’ll be OK.”

Where Wesley displayed one of sport’s prized trophies during his 24-hour possession showed the deepness, the caring spirit of the man we’ve come to know as “Wes.”

Wesley, his wife Barb and three children often passed Camp Lejeune on the way to the family beach house in Emerald Isle. So, Wesley and his wife decided to bring the Cup to the Marines.

“Why not take it to them for what they’ve done for us, for our freedom and the fighting that is still going on?” Wesley said. “We take their protection for granted sometimes. I never realized or wanted the type of press I got that day, but when I showed up there must have been 10-11 cameras there and walking in and being with the wounded warriors, it was a special day for all of us, just to take our kids along and show them the reality of what is going on. It was a great life lesson for all of us.”

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