In his book, 'Crossing the Line: The Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original’, Derek Sanderson, who played for five NHL teams throughout his career – including the Bruins and the Blues – shares his hockey highs and lows and moments that would eventually see him homeless and living on the street.
Photo: The Bruins' Derek Sanderson, By Boston Globe
Of his time in Boston, Sanderson writes, "I’d been living the life. I was a single guy playing for the most popular hockey team on the planet, beautiful women all around me. The image I projected was that I was this crazy playboy, and I believed my own hype, but the truth was that I was just an insecure kid from Niagara Falls, Ontario.”
Derek Sanderson faced a number of personal challenges throughout his career, some typical of a pro-athlete.
To begin with, Sanderson fears flying. This is a problem for anyone who has to travel for work. Sanderson turned to therapy for a fruitless solution that included taking Valium. The drug mellowed him before a flight, but it made him, “groggy and irritable” and interfered with his performance.
While the doctor took him off the Valium, Sanderson still needed something to calm his nerves before a flight. That something was a couple shots of Scotch, until a couple shots was no longer enough. Eventually, he would fly hammered and would have to be, in his words, "poured off the plane on the other end.” That was the start of Derek Sanderson's drinking problem, something that teammate, Bobby Orr, spoke with him about on a few occasions. At the time, Sanderson was in denial.
Photo: Hockey Players Relaxing in Dressing Room, By Bettmann
From alcohol, Sanderson turned to barbiturates to deal with another challenge facing athletes; pain. The drugs, including prednisone and cocaine, helped his hips but hurt his future. By the late 70s, Sanderson found himself on what he would call a three-year binge that took him to Rangers territory.
"I had no money and no place to sleep,” writes Sanderson of arriving in NYC. "The clothes I was wearing — the only clothes I had — weren’t appropriate for a miserable New York night.”
He continues, "I trudged over to Central Park. The cold and rain made the night miserable, but I knew I just needed a place where I could close my eyes and drift away from my problems for a few hours. I grabbed a discarded New York Times and stretched out on a damp bench, pulling the newspaper over me like a blanket to keep dry and as warm as possible."
Of his time in New York, Sanderson talks of living under a bridge, eating out of dumpsters and panhandling.
"I had family and friends,
but I was too embarrassed
to ask anyone I knew for help.”
Sanderson continues, "My ego simply wouldn’t let me. But I realized that I needed help. I was anonymous for the first time in my life. My hair was really long and unwashed, I hadn’t shaved for a while, and my clothes were filthy. People walked by and didn’t recognize me. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if they did.”
'Crossing the Line: The Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original’ is co-written by Kevin Shea, a “hockey archeologist” and award winning author of 17 hockey books.
Former Bruin Derek Sanderson on his demons
By Derek Sanderson with Kevin Shea