He played sometimes at night this year on a frozen inlet of the Charles River in suburban Auburndale, Mass., called the Cove. No pads. Just a hockey stick. Just a pair of hockey gloves. Just a pair of skates. Weren't the Boston Bruins, his team, supposed to be playing a game a dozen or so miles downriver at the Garden? No, that had to be some other night. Craig Janney was back on natural ice. Just for fun.
He would skate with friends and strangers under the lights there. Pickup hockey. Pond hockey. There would be no blue lines, no red lines, no boards and no buzz of attention. This was the best. He would go where he wanted to go and do what he wanted to do. The puck was his.
"You are the best right wing I ever played with," he would shout to Mike Mullowney.
"Better than Cam Neely?" Mullowney would ask.
Mullowney is 50 years old and a stockbroker and the father of one of Janney's friends. Mullowney would skate to a position somewhere to the side of the goalie and put his stick on the ice and wait. Janney would move past one player, cut around another, surprise a third. The puck would never leave his stick. It was attached to the stick by some mysterious force that traveled through the blade and up the shaft and through the gloves to...to his hands. How about those hands? Control, control, control. His hands would control the game. His hands would control the night. Janney would make a pass at last. Mullowney would simply move his stick.
Who couldn't score the goal?
"The best right wing I ever played with," Janney would shout.
"Better than Cam Neely?"