Hockey family helps Peterson cope

Updated: April 26, 2004, 9:07 PM ET
By John Buccigross | Special to ESPN.com

The earth rotates and revolves like Martin St. Louis after an ephedra smoothie and, most of the time, most of us are just along for the ride.

We sail along somewhat impervious and detached as life makes its D-to-D passes from being easy, hard, boring, overwhelming, destructive and challenging. Athletics are a sanctuary because it is the best of life in a nice, neat package. One can escape and experiment with an array of emotions, with friends and strangers, in a manageable time frame and with a scoreboard to tell us who is best. Also, someone brings you beer. Life's scoreboard doesn't reach a final score until we are drooling on our flannel shirts mumbling Wang Chung songs in 2058.

Former Arizona Cardinal defensive back Pat Tillman's death last week impacted those in the sports world for many reasons. His sheer bravery was at the top of list. Turning down millions another. Reacting to a sense of duty. Whatever your political beliefs -- or opinion of war -- those aspects alone move us. Tillman's death also moved us because while we hear of the American death toll on a daily basis, we don't know the fallen's stories or faces well enough to have an emotional connection. And we get lost in our sports, watching ESPN way more than MSNBC. With every death there is a sense of why, but Tillman's death brought all the 9/11 feelings back. Innocence lost. A time of tension. Our lives of relative leisure have an intruder.

SHOT OF THE WEEK
Every week, we will present an NHL photo and I'll provide a caption. E-mail me your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state) and next week we will use the best ones and provide a new photo.

LAST WEEK:
Referee Rob Schick was sure to call a penalty, as soon as he remembered the signal for illegal nosehair trimming.

"Hold on ... wait a tick ... I KNEW it!! These are MY skates!!! Give 'em back! Give 'em BAAAACCCCKKKK!!!"
-- Wendy Cunningham

"Mmmmmmm ... filet of sole."
-- Jason C, San Jose, Calif.

"There's a fight that needs quellin'. Who cares, Clark's jellin'!"
- Michael Mayer, Pittsburgh, Pa.

"If the skate fits ... you must acquit."
-- Richard Trionfo, Brandon, Fla.

"Boy, I'll say one thing for that Chris Clark, his skates are always April fresh."
-- Allen Forkner

"This little piggy went to market. This little piggy stayed home. This little piggy had roast beef. This little piggy had none. This little piggy cried "Wee! Wee! Wee!" all the way home."
-- Kyle Weismann-Yee, Portland, Ore.

"Uncle! Uncle!"
-- Bob Carswell, N.Y., N.Y.

THIS WEEK:

Colorado's Peter Forsberg to San Jose's Scott Hannan:
"Ah ... we're like grown men, right? Cool. Just checking."
Because our country is the earth's richest, our general population rather healthy and our life pretty easy, a lot of us can ramble through and not be touched by much for long stretches of time. Brent Peterson, Nashville Predators assistant coach, probably had such a life. The former Detroit Red Wings first-round pick (1978) played 11 NHL seasons with Detroit, Buffalo, Vancouver and Hartford. He appeared in 620 NHL games, collecting 213 points (72g-141a) and 484 penalty minutes. Peterson was known as one of the NHL's top defensive forwards and penalty killers.

After his playing days, he spent two seasons as an assistant coach with the Hartford Whalers before serving as head coach of the Western Hockey League's Portland Winter Hawks for seven seasons, posting a 201-138-20 record. During the 1997-98 season, the Winter Hawks were a league-best 53-14-5 and captured the WHL championship and the Memorial Cup. With the Winter Hawks, Peterson helped develop NHL first-round picks Adam Deadmarsh, Jason Wiemer and Brenden Morrow.

Peterson just completed his sixth season as a member of the Predators' coaching staff and his first since his promotion to associate coach on June 19, 2003. He is a good golfer, and has a wife and three children. Last summer, he was considered for NHL head coaching jobs and I even wrote he might become the next coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Life was good for Brent Peterson. Or so it appeared.

Two weeks ago, Peterson revealed that he has Parkinson's disease. He has had it for over a year, but only a small circle of people knew. Suddenly, a life of relative ease was not so smooth. Life for 46-year-old Brent Peterson is now tapered with worry and concern. Will his drugs pokecheck Parkinson's? Can he continue working? Support his wife? Himself? His hopes and dreams? Can a cure be found to ensure more years of a worthy life?

Work, hockey and the Nashville Predators hockey family have made Brent Peterson's Parkinson's almost an afterthought this past year. The intoxication of a playoff race, and the family atmosphere from the players he coaches and the organization he works for were, in the end, way more potent than any medication he is on.

Athletes are easy targets for jealousy. They make tons of money, they get the girl, they buy cars with cash, they see the world, and their fame is a ticket to endless perks and passions. In the end, what fans should be most envious of is the atmosphere of work in which these players dwell. In most cases, a professional sports team, specifically hockey, and its employees are closer than any group of employees in any profession. The values of teamwork, sacrifice, duty and pain make the Nashville Predators and teams like it the perfect place for Brent Peterson to be. In an instant, he was loved and touched. His disease an afterthought to the man. Yes, it's true. Brent Peterson is blessed.

No. 1: What is Parkinson's disease?
Peterson:
Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition affecting movements such as walking, talking and writing. It is named after Dr. James Parkinson, a doctor who first identified Parkinson's as a specific condition. There is no cure.

Brent Peterson
Parkinson's doesn't prevent Brent Peterson (right) from working with players on the ice.
No. 2: When did you find out you had Parkinson's disease?
Peterson:
A couple of years ago, my wife noticed that my arm didn't swing when I walked and I had some problems with my right hand. I let it go for a year and didn't do anything about it. Then last summer, I went to a couple of doctors and they both told me I had Parkinson's disease. They put me on medication to help slow it and control it. So far, it's been pretty good. I'm functioning normally, and my golf handicap hasn't gone up.

No. 3: What are the factors in getting the disease? Why did you get it, and why don't I have it?
Peterson:
Nobody really knows. There are all kinds of theories about pesticides on golf courses and concussions, but they don't really know. If they did, they could get to the root of the problem. It's not hereditary. There are different cases of Parkinson's. Some people have the shakes while others might just have stiff limbs. I don't have shakes. I am in the early stages, but I'm pretty much able to do everything I need to do.

No. 4: How does Parkinson's affect your everyday life?
Peterson:
My arm doesn't swing. I notice when I scratch my head, or try to tuck my shirt in, or type on the computer my right hand just doesn't function as it should. The last couple of years, being so busy, I don't really think about it. It doesn't affect me passing the puck or working with the guys after practice. My hand doesn't work 100 percent and I move a little slower at times, but it doesn't really affect me. I'm on a new drug that has come out, and it's been great with no side effects.

No. 5: Tell me about your conversation with Michael J. Fox?
Peterson:
Cam Neely is a good friend and when Cam found out, he made sure Michael J. Fox got a hold of me just the other day. We talked for about 45 minutes. He told me about his experiences and how initially he kept it quiet, how he handled it, how he felt he should have handled it. The biggest thing he said to me was that for years he was scared to go out in public. Whether it was skiing or playing hockey, he was afraid what people might think because he couldn't do them as well. Now, he said he is much more at ease with himself and the disease. He uses humor, and that's what I've been trying to do, make jokes and laugh about it because you know you'll go crazy worrying and fretting about what could happen 10 years down the line. But talking to Michael was great and we are going to talk again.

No. 6: How has treatment improved and what is the level of hope for a cure?
Peterson:
On his own, Michael has raised like $45 million. He told me they've come up with new treatments and new drugs. Every year they have new treatments. That's why I think the way the medication has worked for me and slowed down the symptoms, that if I can get through five, 10, 15 years, there'll be new breakthroughs all the time and maybe, someday, a cure.

No. 7: How can hockey fans help?
Peterson:
They can go to Michaeljfox.org and make a donation.

No. 8: Explain the support from the hockey community.
Peterson:
The support has been unbelievable. I've gotten calls from dear friends, and e-mails from Portland, Oregon, where I coached the junior team there. I got e-mails from season ticket holders there and they say, "I'm a season ticket holder and I have Parkinson's. We can get through this together." ... (Brent pauses while he collects himself) ... It's been unbelievable getting e-mails from people I don't even know, as well as all the players I've played with and coaches I've played for and coached with. And the Predators have been unbelievable. It was a tough thing to tell the players because my biggest fear was that they would look at me differently. But the players were great and supportive saying we were a family and they would help me get through it. My goal is still to be an NHL head coach, and the support I'm getting here makes me believe I still can.

John,
I'm really disappointed with your pick of Montreal over the Bruins. The B's had the fewest losses in the Eastern Conference this year. Andrew Raycroft is better than Jose Theodore, the B's defense is improved and they are far more explosive with the additions of Sergei Gonchar and especially Michael Nylander to solidify the second line. Shame on you, John.

Brian Reynolds

Johnny Boy --
I always read your columns and think you are great on TV, but MONTREAL IN SIX??!?! I cannot even believe I read that. Can we bet a case of Bleu on this?!? You didn't give me enough of an explanation in your piece, so before writing you off as just another Melrose, I will give you a chance to explain (if you find a moment).

Thanks,
Matt

The previous two e-mails were received after I made my round-one predictions. My psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, prescribed I publish them to help my plummeting self-esteem and low sense of self-worth.


Bucci --
What's your take on the recent calls by the Beantown media for Joe Thornton to lose the "C"?? Further, based on that was reported during Game 7, what do you think of Nick Boynton's response when asked about the article?? Kind of sounds like a Leafs-esque rift in the room, doesn't it??

Bill Wyce Philly

There have been many styles of captains in hockey history. Jean Beliveau is different than Bob Clarke, John Bucyk is different than Wayne Gretzky, Joe Sakic is different than Derian Hatcher, Reg Dunlop is different than Mike Eruzione, and Patrick Marleau is different than Joe Thornton. Is Patrick Marleau an inspirational leader? Is he Messier-like in times of crisis? No, but he is San Jose's best player and that's better than any speech. As Benjamin Franklin said, "Well done is better than well said." Joe Thornton has six goals in 35 playoff games. That is embarrassing and lame. But I'll bet any amount of money with anyone that in his next 35 playoff games, he'll have 15-20. Joe Thornton has played for five coaches. He plays for an organization that has a proven inability and/or a disinterest in building a Stanley Cup-winning team. They make two trade deadline deals this year and they are hailed as "changed." And to deflect blame for still being an incomplete team, the 24-year captain, who would be a top-three pick in a leaguewide fantasy draft, gets railed. The leadership problem in Boston is not on the ice.


Hey John!
I know this won't make your column, but I had to share this story because you, of all people, would understand it. See, I never EVER wear my Steve Yzerman sweater on Wings' game days. Why you ask? Because it's a jinx. Every time I wear it, they lose. Well, I thought to myself, that's rubbish. Plus, I live in London, across the flipping Atlantic Ocean, so there is no way the jinx can continue. Oh, was I wrong! I wore my sweater for Game 1 against Calgary (and got into a great argument about why Los Angeles has two hockey teams but no football teams, and also why the Wings will always be better than the Ducks) and what did the Wings do? They went out and lost to the bloody Flames. Looks like I'm a liability even on this side of the pond. Fabulous. Thanks for listening. Just so you know, I am missing NHL2Night more now than I ever have in my life. Missing playoff hockey has to be the second worst thing about living in the UK, after missing my family.

Hilary
Wings fan in London


John,
Great story about those indelible hockey experiences that bond family and sport. Who wudda thunk, especially for a game that features fighting? I remember my grandfather snoozing on the love seat in front of the RCA on Thanksgiving Day, TV38, Bruins on the ice. I didn't know the rules of the game back then, but I loved asking him how the Bruins were doing and seeing the sparkle in his eyes as he talked about the game that he -- alone, in a house full of people -- seemed to love. The season's almost over, so how about one last name suggestion. My friends, the Pennellas, are having a baby boy in a little more than a month. They're Redskins fans but it's gotta be a hockey name. Maybe someday he'll play for the Orlando Seals.

Thanks!
Michael Mathaisel
Orlando, Fla.

John Patrick Pennella. J.P. Pennella. I like the sound of that. Scoring Winger.


Hey, what up Bucci?
Some of the bands you mention in your weekly column are pretty good. However, you may need to branch out a bit. Here are some bands I think you will enjoy judging from the "usual suspects" of bands you typically list: Switch Foot, The Get Up Kids, Sunny Day Real Estate (lead singer-Jermey Enoch, pronounced E-nock), Hoobastank, and Pillar. Also, kudos on your last column (the text messaging one) "What Jermey Enoch is to Sunny Day Real Estate, Pavel Datsyuk is to the Detroit Red Wings!"

Later,
Eric Hall
Buffalo, N.Y.


John --
I received the children's book "Number 4, Bobby Orr," by Mike Leonetti for my birthday recently, and read it to my 2-year-old daughter Chloe that night. Since then she has insisted we read the book every night before bed. She proudly tells everyone that her favorite player is Booby Orr and that he wears No. 4 and plays defense for the Boston Bruins (she thinks he still plays). The book has generated an early interest in hockey that I hope grows into a full-blown love of the game. I plan on sharing this book and Leonetti's two other hockey books with our twin boys when they are older, as well. If you do not have these books, I highly recommend you find them and share them with your children.

Robert M. Blondin
Windsor, Ontario


John,
I will never forget the days of Peter Puck on Chicago channel 44. Tony O. making me want to play just like him and Maggy crushing a guy twice his size to welcome him to the stadium. How come linesmen don't use the glass to lift themselves off the ice anymore? I will teach my kids the game as my dad did me. However, my kids won't be able to see my beloved Blackhawks' home games on TV. Thanks Mr. Wirtz.

Rock n' Roll,
Paul Gerwen

The linesmen don't climb up on the glass anymore because the glass is now 10 feet high. I miss linesmen jumping on the glass too. I miss the old Apple Pies from McDonald's. The ones that were really unhealthy. I miss sno-cones from the '70s. You can't find a good sno-cone nowadays. The ice is too hard. I miss the sound of wood sticks making crisp passes. I miss my Big Wheel.

John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

John Buccigross | email

SportsCenter anchor
John Buccigross joined ESPN as an anchor in October 1996. He currently can be seen as an anchor on "SportsCenter." Buccigross frequently contributes to ESPN.com during the season.