For as long as I’ve been in professional hockey, I have had the privilege to participate in one of the most emotionally charged nights of the year: cancer awareness night. With “Hockey N’ Hope” approaching quickly, I’d like to share with you the man that I fight for every year on this special night: my late uncle, Jean-Guy Tetrault.
Jean-Guy and his memory are with me everywhere I go. I idolized him for the countless contributions he made to my life, my family, my career, and our home community of La Broquerie, Manitoba. He lived a fulfilled life of 72 years, until cancer took him from us on January 1, 2017. I was in my first year on the Rush coaching staff, just an assistant at the time of his passing. His loss was devastating to my family, and to me. The cancer started with his prostate, but eventually turned into bone cancer. I don’t recall many of the specifics of his fight with cancer, but I do know it was a long battle with this disease.
My uncle Jean-Guy is one of the main reasons, outside of my dad, that I became a hockey player and why I continued to play professionally. He taught all of La Broquerie how to play hockey! Everyone respected his knowledge and instruction of the game. For me, he taught me two of my staples that propelled me to a 15-year career of nearly 1,000 games: power skating, and my earth-shattering hip check.
Jean-Guy was a tough player, but he stressed that the most important part to playing hockey was skating. Those were my earliest hockey memories of my uncle. Every Monday night, he taught power skating to our whole community. His most frequent students were children from ages 6-16. There were no sticks, just skating. We worked on edge work, stops and starts…it was an intense hour of work. Look at the game today, and how much it’s changed. It’s all about skating now, no more clutching and grabbing like back in the old days. So many kids back then thought they could just pick up a stick and dazzle around everyone on the ice, but we all know that’s not the case. In that sense, teaching skating the way he did, he was way ahead of his time.
Those Monday nights were also where I learned how to hip check. He taught us was to watch the opposing forward’s head. If it was down looking for the puck, he said we needed to time it just right, put our butt into it with all of our strength, and BOOM! I used to HAMMER other skaters. Just search YouTube.
“Head is down, lay him out!” he’d yell in French. “Be sure to time your hit right boys! They’ll never want to handle the puck in your zone again!”
He played junior hockey when he was younger with the Flin Flon Bombers, and after that, he came back home and played senior hockey with the La Broquerie Habs until about his late 30’s, early 40’s. Even though he was much older than my dad, they played senior hockey together for several years. My father looked so highly upon my uncle. They were stall mates in the dressing room, and just as close off the ice as they were on it.
And my goodness, was he ever a character on the ice.
When he played, he reminded me so much of Reggie Dunlop from the movie “Slapshot”. He had this crazy perm hair style that was so funny to look at. He always had the room laughing, and had people enjoying life. He had those vintage suits that he wore around as well. When he passed away, the CBC French stations showcased re-runs of his interviews and old footage of when he played. It was a nice tribute that touched our hearts. He was very well spoken, and his character showed in everything he did and in everyone he talked to.
When I started advancing through the sport, I was always so happy to have Jean-Guy watch. When I played junior hockey, I worked construction with him in the summers. We spent just about every day of the week together working, driving to and from jobs, and we talked about everything. When we first had these talks, they mostly centered around hockey. By the end of the summer, however, they turned into conversations about life, and how to live to the fullest. He never minced his words either. I’ll never forget those moments we shared. We had a lot of fun together.
One of my proudest moments, also one of the funniest, came when I was playing professionally. I was so proud to have him come to my games and see everything he taught me about the game play out in front of him. In the 2011-12 CHL season, I was named the Captain of the Wichita Thunder. One home game, Jean-Guy, my dad, and all my uncles came down to watch in a van from Manitoba, and my uncles from Quebec met them there. There were about 9,000 people at the game, and the Thunder organization let my family drop the puck. Being the Captain, I took the ceremonial draw, and man was that such a great time. My uncle hammed it up. He dropped the puck, started blowing kisses to the crowd, waving to everyone, and he really got them going. My dad, on the other hand, was so emotional that he didn’t drop the puck. I nudged him at center ice and said “Uhhh, Dad? Drop the puck, we’ve got a game to play!” I still look back on that night and laugh.
Like I said earlier, I didn’t know too many details surrounding Jean-Guy’s fight against cancer, other than it started with prostate cancer, then developed into bone cancer. It was a long fight over many years, and it was very tough to watch. He suffered tremendously. My uncle was really tough though, and he never let it get to him. There was one time during his battle that I believe it was a double knee surgery he had, and he refused to use his walker or cane. He toughed it out and walked everywhere. That was just Jean-Guy.
Another thing I noticed about his fight is that he never complained. I’m sure he was in great pain, had to battle adverse reactions to treatment, and was most likely in constant discomfort. He loved everyone else around him so much that it served as a pain reliever of sorts. You’d never know he was sick, of course, until he neared the end.
He taught me about more than just how to skate and pulverize oncoming forwards with a hip check. Jean-Guy taught me, as both a person and hockey player, that you have to work hard and not complain. Work hard every day that you’re alive. Jean-Guy absolutely hated laziness. If he ever thought my siblings and I were slacking off, we’d never hear the end of it from him.
Another lesson I’ve taken with me from him is how he approached and treated others. Jean-Guy treated everyone equal, and he was so great to children in need, especially those that were handicapped or mentally challenged. He gave so much time and love to those kids, and made them feel like they were on top of the world. I try to do my best to emulate my uncle in situations like that. Jean-Guy’s example is why our annual “Tip-A-Player” event with the Special Olympics athletes is one of my ultimate favorite public appearances of the season.
Finally, he taught me to enjoy life, and enjoy every day you’re alive. I’ve mentioned it a few times already, but he was the life of the party. He always had people laughing and feeling great. He never took a person, or a day in his life for granted. I miss him every day.
We all have friends and family that suffer or have suffered from cancer. If you’re reading this, and you know a loved one battling cancer, or are battling cancer yourself, fight like hell every day, and treasure each day and each person. Live your lives to the fullest, and I guarantee with a life fully lived and appreciated, that will always beat cancer, no matter what.
Jean-Guy, I miss you more than you know. When I’m on the bench on Saturday for “Hockey N’ Hope” Night, I’ll be thinking of our time spent together, and everything you taught me about life and our great sport.
Je t’aime Jean-Guy!