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Two-way streets

Brother went astray, but Metropolit made hockey his avenue out

Email|Print| Text size + By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / January 22, 2008

Odds? Dreams? Not in his world. Glen Metropolit grew up in government-subsidized housing in downtown Toronto, and no one in Cabbage Town lived the dream or measured the chances of one day playing in the NHL.

All that was for other kids. The kids with a permanent home. The kids usually with both a mom and a dad, and their first pair of skates bronzed and stored in a memento box. The kids who got shuttled in the family SUV from one game to the next, knowing that the home they left in the morning would be the same they returned to at night, and the next-door neighbor wouldn't be on the prowl for the next hit of crack cocaine.

Life in the Regent Park section of Cabbage Town was without certainty or luxury, especially for Metropolit, who grew up with only pennies in his pocket and little more than the hockey stick and ball he carried in his hands.

"He took that stick and ball with him everywhere," his mother recalled. "He'd be on the couch, and there were times I'd be, 'OK, Glen, enough . . . put that stuff down!' "

Today a key component of the Bruins' offense, the 33-year-old Metropolit has carved a pro hockey career out of less than ice shavings. He grew up poor, never knew his biological father, spent portions of his early childhood with relatives and in foster homes, and only began to inch up the hockey ladder in his late teens when a neighborhood pal suggested he try out for the Richmond Hill (Ontario) Junior B squad. He made it, on the last cut, and has spent the last 15 or so years skating one stride ahead of the next cut.

He may have found a home these days in Boston. Maybe. In a life that never has guaranteed him much more than a tryout - which is all he arrived here with in September's training camp - Metropolit has learned to take nothing for granted.

"I've always believed in myself, and I've always loved the game," he said after a recent practice in Wilmington. "And we like it here. A lot.

"It's been good so far. And no matter what, hey, I feel blessed. I'm playing a kid's game for a living, right? But you never really feel good unless you win, and the way the business works, you've got to win to stick around."

As a boy, hockey kept Metropolit busy, and away from some of the sinister temptations of the projects. His younger brother was not as athletic, or as engaged, or as fortunate.

Troy Metropolit, now 30, in February 2000 began serving a 14-year sentence for his part in a carjacking and subsequent kidnapping and torturing of a Toronto lawyer and his wife. The sentencing judge labeled the acts of Metropolit and his two accomplices as "gratuitous and subhuman violence." Some three months ago, the younger Metropolit also was charged with first-degree murder, accused of killing inmate Marlan Assinewai, 24, in 2003 at the Millhaven prison in Bath, Ontario.

According to Linda Lafferty, mother to Glen and Troy, no trial date has been set for the latest charges against her younger son. For Glen and his mother, it is yet another troubling chapter in Troy's life - one that began turning to crime about the same time Glen began to ratchet up his hockey career. Glen got into hockey, while Troy got into trouble, and lots of it.

Hooked on hockey

All it ever took to discipline Glen, said his mother, was the threat of withholding hockey from his life. Rarely did he cause her a problem, she said, but when he did, he would snap in line immediately if she said he couldn't watch the next Maple Leafs game on TV or would have to stay home, missing his team's next practice.

"Always a great kid . . . sweet, easy, and kind," said Lafferty, who nowadays is a bus driver for the Toronto Transit Commission. "Not many times was I hard on him. I never had to worry about him doing his homework, being in on time, or being home for dinner. The love of hockey kept him in line. Kids, you have to find something like that to hold over them."

Troy was different, difficult. His father, Bruce Metropolit, was often absent from the boys' life, in part because of jail stretches of his own, reportedly for breaking and entering. Three years old when Bruce and Linda had Troy, Glen was adopted by Bruce and given his family name. According to Glen, Bruce Metropolit still lives in Toronto, but the two have not spoken in years.

When Glen was 7 years old, his mother signed him up for hockey and skating lessons at nearby Moss Park, the local outdoor rink where many of the Regent Park kids first pulled on skates.

"Glen loved it," she recalled. "His ankles were all bent out and everything, but he loved it. Right away."

Lafferty said she tried the same thing later with Troy, but he didn't want anything to do with it. According to Glen, his younger brother fired pucks at both nets, and frequently got into fights, sometimes with teammates.

"It just wasn't in him," said Glen. "Mums bought him the equipment, but . . . it just wasn't in him."

"The coach told me, 'I've never said this to a parent before, but I don't think he's ready for hockey,' " said Lafferty, now married to Adrian Lafferty, a carpenter, and living in Scarborough, Ontario. "But the coach didn't have to tell me. I could see it.

"I asked Troy, 'Do you want to try soccer or something?' And he said no. I just couldn't get him interested. He liked bikes. You know, motorbiking. Well, I couldn't afford that. It was out of the question. If I could have afforded one of those, I could have afforded an old car, you know, something to get us around, but . . ."

Glen, meanwhile, just kept playing. According to Lafferty, friends and family loved to go to his games as he progressed to different leagues and teams around Toronto. His games became their social events. To this day, she said, many of them have the NHL's Center Ice package on cable or satellite, specifically to see his games with the Bruins, and they'll sometimes gather at one home to watch.

"When we got the call that he made it to the NHL," said Lafferty, thinking back to when her son cracked the Washington Capitals roster in 1999-2000, "it's hard to explain how we all felt, but it was like we all went along with him."

Road with many turns

It was hardly a direct route for Metropolit, once the pride of the Lewis Street Blues, his street hockey team in Cabbage Town. He had no grand designs about his game, other than to play wherever and whenever he could, until Jeff Wilson, his pal from the projects, suggested he come along for the tryout with Richmond Hill.

"That sounded good to me," said Metropolit, who at the time was playing for Monarch Park High School. "Jeff was the real prospect, and I just tagged along."

Metropolit made it on the last cut, and the odyssey had begun. In two years with the OJHL's Richmond Riot, the clever pivot collected 65 goals and 98 assists in only 92 games. The following season, with an idea that he would like to play Division 1 college hockey in the United States, he took off for British Columbia to play for the Vernon Lakers, with an eye on being a college freshman the following fall, 1995.

"My first year [with Richmond] was great, and my second year was unbelievable," recalled Metropolit. "And I figured, 'Hey, I've got to get out of the city,' you know?

"Like me, all my buddies were 18 or 19 years old, and at that stage, a lot of guys were going out, and let's just say they weren't doing the right things with their lives. I had that confidence in me that I could do something, but I also knew that I had to get out of the city, or I could be getting into trouble, too."

Glen's mother was at the Toronto airport the day his flight left for Vancouver. She knew her son was making the right decision, but she was now a mother of three (daughter Nikki was born in 1984), and her eldest was packing up to play on the other side of the country.

"It was a great move for him," she recalled. "But it was also hard, and he had to think a long time on it before he went. I said, 'Do what your heart tells you.' And, oh, I cried at the airport. It was awful. I said, 'Don't pay any attention to me. I can't help myself. Just call me when you get there.' "

The Cabbage Hill kid developed his game even more in British Columbia, connecting for 43 goals and 117 points in 60 games with the Vernon Lakers. By the spring, he signed a letter of intent with Bowling Green, planning to enroll with the Class of 1999. But according to Metropolit, Bowling Green soon rescinded the offer because of a technicality over his grades. Not helping the situation, he said, was the NCAA's reinvigorated stance on grades and recruiting in light of transgressions by the University of Maine's hockey program during that era.

With Bowling Green gone, Metropolit scrambled, and it was a coach's recommendation in Vernon that led him to Nashville, and soon a pro contract with that city's ECHL Knights. The following season, he moved again, to the ECHL's Ice Pilots in Pensacola, Fla., where he met Michlyn Gazaway, the woman whom he later married.

"Glen didn't have the standard hockey pedigree - never drafted, all that," said Michlyn, who figures the couple has moved 56 times in the last 11 years, including his demotions and promotions in four seasons with the Capitals. "But he knew he was good enough to play in the NHL, and if it didn't work out, he would have played wherever.

"He's confident, even though he's had that confidence taken away from him so many times. And now, when I see people get all stressed out over something like, say, being a healthy scratch, I try to tell them, 'Look, it's a journey, and if you deserve it, it will come.' "

Divergent paths

After playing in the minors for four years, Metropolit signed with the Capitals as a free agent in the summer of '99, some six months after his brother and chief accomplice Lawrence DaSilva rammed their stolen car into the back of Schuyler "Skippy" Sigel's pricey Mercedes. When Sigel stepped out of his car, he was sprayed with mace, pistol whipped, tied up, and tossed in his car's trunk. Lynn Sigel was dragged to the back seat, and later, after the attackers invaded their home, she was forced to tell them the value of individual pieces of her jewelry while one of the assailants held a gun to her husband's head.

Sigel and his wife eventually escaped when one of their captors, a juvenile, fell asleep under the influence of drugs. Metropolit and DaSilva remained briefly at large, were captured separately, and were sentenced Feb. 17, 2000, slightly more than 13 months after the attack.

Glen talks to his incarcerated brother three or four times a year, typically when Troy phones his mother - he is allowed one call per month, for 30 or 60 minutes - and she patches them into a three-way conversation.

"He's my brother, and I'll always love him," said Glen. "But it's hard to talk to him. It's like, what is there to say? He's been in there for a long time now, and in some ways, it's like he's still a kid. He wants to know what I'm driving, what kind of radio I've got, things like that."

As for Troy's recent murder charge, Glen said, "It's unfortunate. I don't know what went down. Obviously, I know the charge, but I don't know what went down and we haven't talked about it. I hope he didn't do what they've charged him with."

Lafferty, whose daughter Nikki, 23, is married and has four children of her own, is at a loss to explain the different paths her children chose, especially the boys. When times were at their toughest, the boys were split, sent to separate foster homes.

"That was heartbreaking, it really was," she recalled. "They promised me the boys would stay together, and when they weren't, that was a real shocker. I was totally upset about that. Glen was 6, and Troy was 4, and that lasted for about six months. That was a very hard time in our life."

There may be no way, said Lafferty, to know what led Troy to his trouble, or why two sons can be so different.

"Sometimes you wonder, but there's no answer for that, really," she said. "They had different dads, so you wonder if that's it, but how do you know for sure?

"It's very troubling. It's a very hard time. But he's still our family, we love him and support him and hope for the best. I think all you can say is that some things work for some kids, but they don't work for others.

"And why - will anyone ever to be able to answer that?"

Meanwhile, Glen and Michlyn have three children, Alivia (5), Max (3), and Esther (1). Those old enough to vote - everyone but Esther - would like to stay in Boston a while. Glen's contract, for $500,000, expires at the end of this season. From the time he has been in pro hockey, said Michlyn, he never has had a deal that guaranteed him where he will play the next year. Which in part is what led him to play in Europe for three seasons (2003-06) before returning to the NHL last season - a year that began in Atlanta and ended in a trade to St. Louis.

But for all the moves, for all the uncertainties, Metropolit maintains a delightful sense of optimism and wit. He figures that it all goes back to his childhood.

"Hot summer nights, and cold winter days," he said, recalling a young life filled with hockey. "Hey, what else was there to do? It's not like anyone was going off to their summer cottages."

No doubt, he figured, other kids had more things. He had what he had, and that was fine.

"Even though my life was the way it was, well, it was my environment," he said. "I was happy. I didn't realize any different. I was always supported, always told to stick with it and believe in myself.

"Yeah, there were guys with moms and dads and cars, and deep down, I knew I was just as good as those guys, but I couldn't afford to play on those teams. So what? I found other places to play . . . ball hockey, boys and girls clubs, whatever, it didn't matter.

"True, we didn't have much, but Mums always did the best she could for us. I knew that. She tried really hard, and to be honest, there wasn't a lot of help for a woman alone trying to raise three kids.

"If we couldn't be together, she tried to make sure that we were with our grandmother, or maybe another relative, but it was always someone who loved us. I know that probably sounds cheesy, but that's the truth."

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com

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