I somehow hadn’t heard the senseless, tragic story of NHL player Brian Spencer and his father Roy until author Brian Cronin recounted their almost cartoonishly sad lives today in a relatively brief blog entry at LATimes.com. (The word “unbelievable” is probably the most overused word in our culture, but in this particular instance, it most certainly applies.)
(Canadians: Sadder life story than Terry Fox? Call it even.)
Future NHL player Brian Spencer grew up in rural British Columbia, son of hopelessly alcoholic father Roy. I know, you’ve heard this story before.
Spencer’s father, Roy Spencer, was a stern man. A skilled mechanic, he was the one who instilled in Brian the attitude and drive that would serve Brian in the NHL. On the other hand, he also most likely taught him anger and a weakness for alcohol. By his mid-teens, Brian was already a heavy drinker and had spent time in reform school. However, he was still a talented hockey player, so he had a way out of Fort St. James. One of the proudest days of his father’s life was when Brian was drafted. As it turned out, Roy was perhaps a bit too proud.
Brian was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in ‘69, and made the roster as a fulltime player for the ‘70-71 season. On Dec. 12, 1970, the Leafs-Boston Bruins game was aired nationally on Hockey Night In Canada. Unfortunately though for Roy Spencer, he was deprived of seeing his son play when the local B.C. outlet elected to air the Vancouver-Oakland Seals game instead.
Okay, now here’s the part you haven’t heard:
Roy Spencer was displeased, to say the least. And as he was drunk at the time, his decision-making skills were not at their highest. The irate Spencer drove 70 miles the nearest CBC broadcast station in Prince George, British Columbia (that the nearest station was 70 miles away should give you a good idea of how remote Fort St. James is). Once there, he entered the station with his shotgun and demanded that they air his son’s hockey game.
The station actually complied with his order (as, well, wouldn’t you?). However, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police encountered Spencer and a shoot-out ensued. While Brian Spencer’s Maple Leafs were defeating the Chicago Blackhawks halfway across the country, his father was shot dead by the police.
Too bizarre to be true, eh? Actually, it absolutely happened and is noted on the Hockey Hall of Fame’s website.
It gets worse.
After an unremarkable 10-year career in the NHL with four teams, Brian Spencer, by now an angry alcoholic like dad Roy, soon was struggling with life outside professional sports.
A year out of hockey, Spencer was already down to his last $400 when he moved to Florida to try to rebuild his life as a mechanic.
That was the high point of his post-NHL life.
He was arrested for drunk driving five times between 1982 and 1985! He likely got involved in drugs at this time, as well. In 1987, he was arrested for murder! In the early 1980s, Spencer dated a young woman Diane De Lena who worked as a prostitute. In December of 1982, a man she spent the night with, Michael Dalfo, was found murdered.
The police figured Spencer for the crime (he was a violent guy, after all) but they could not find any evidence to arrest him. Over four after the murder of Dalfo, the police gave De Lena immunity from prosecution if she agreed to testify that Spncer murdered Dalfo. She agreed and Spencer was arrested and charged with murder. He was found not guilty in November of 1987.
However, his victory would be short-lived. In June of 1988, after a night of heavy drinking with a friend (and a purchase of some cocaine), Spencer was shot dead in his pick-up truck. The police suspect a drug deal gone wrong, but I suppose we’ll never know for sure. Spencer was 38 years old.
First thing I felt after reading this story was a sort of helpless, inexplicable sorrow.
Second thing was knowing that there absolutely, positively had to have been a cheesy, made-for-Canadian-TV movie produced about the Spencers.
My instincts proved correct: The 1993 television drama was called Gross Misconduct and nominated for four Gemini awards. (Canadian TV’s most prestigious honor … *clears throat*)
One guess what company commissioned the film: The CBC. (You had to ask?)