Billy Tibbetts, who has been a bad guy at times in life, wants to be a Bruin. Beginning next week, he'll get that chance.
Invited to Boston's training camp as part of a team-approved promotion to be aired on NESN entitled ``Be A Bruin," the 31-year-old Tibbetts has earned the opportunity to make the Black and Gold roster beginning Thursday, when veterans report for their first formal on-ice workouts in Wilmington.
The promotion, which will air beginning in November, was conceived as a vehicle to allow dreamers of all shapes and sizes to make the NHL club. Ex-Bruins defenseman Brad Park conceived the idea months ago and brought it to Harry Sinden, then the club president. Park convinced Sinden of the concept-- one that Park acknowledges originally was meant to target amateurs, or lifetime pro hockey wannabes, for a shot at the big time.
However, Tibbetts, one of three ``Be A Bruin" invitees who will be in uniform Thursday, has already played for three NHL teams, and has played no fewer than 387 professional games in a career that began a dozen years ago in the East Coast Hockey League. He also has served nearly four years in Massachusetts county and state jails, stemming from a parole violation in the mid-1990s, after he was handed a suspended sentence for the rape of a girl under the age of 16.
``Some guys come with baggage," said Park, who, while noting Tibbetts's criminal past, remains a strong supporter of the 6-foot-1-inch, 210-pound forward who grew up in Scituate. ``And I mean, baggage? He can use two porters. He's also got every bit as much talent as most NHL players."
Peter Chiarelli, named the Bruins' general manger over the summer, when ``Be A Bruin" was already in production, confirmed yesterday that Tibbetts, as well as two other contestants, will have a chance to make the team.
``It is what it is," said Chiarelli. ``It's not a great [public relations] thing for us, but he'll be given a chance, like the rest of the candidates. This is something that Brad's group put in place, and we agreed to have it -- and we will."
Chiarelli added, ``Everyone deserves a chance, generally speaking."
The club, said Chiarelli, should have paid closer attention to the ``Be A Bruin" mission.
``His rap sheet aside," said Chiarelli, ``I think he doesn't fit in the spirit of what was intended."
Joel Feld, NESN's vice president of programming, confirmed last night that the network plans to air the series, which is scheduled to run in eight parts, Nov. 2 through Dec. 21, with plans to run repeats well into the new year.
``We will have an opportunity to screen the program prior to the broadcast," said Feld, hinting at the possibility that something could change NESN's plans. ``But right now, yeah, we certainly plan to put it on the air."
Tibbetts, at times emotional during a 2 1/2-hour interview yesterday at the Globe, repeatedly made a case that his rape conviction was a long time ago (1992), and that it was one in a series of regrettable mistakes that he made in a life he claims to have worked hard to leave behind.
``I've been my own worst enemy, I know that," he said. ``My mouth. My ego. My actions. It took me a long time to surrender . . . surrender to alcohol, to surrender will and control." He said he is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and has incorporated a deep spiritual element to his life.
``If you've got no higher power, man, then who do you answer to?" he said. ``You have to answer to somebody. I have a spiritual foundation now. I have some inner peace, and I want to play hockey -- where, and to what extent, remains to be seen."
Admitting that he often has ``self-sabotaged" opportunities to continue his pro career since his release from prison in 2000, Tibbetts said he believes he has the talent to land a job with the Bruins, provided he is judged on that and not on his past.
``I'm trying to get over all that stuff," said Tibbetts, who last played in the NHL with the Rangers in 2002-03. ``I know the media has made me out to be a monster, and in a lot of ways, that's the public perception of me. There's nothing I can do about that. I'm just hoping that people can empathize rather than ostracize."
Tibbetts, as in the past, quibbled with the depiction that what he did in 1992 was child rape, noting that he was 17 at the time, and did not know the girl with whom he engaged in oral sex that night at a Scituate keg party was a few months shy of her 16th birthday.
Some two years after receiving his suspended sentence for rape, Tibbetts violated the conditions of his parole when he shot a 19-year-old man with a BB gun at another party on the South Shore. According to Tibbetts, the victim was a drug dealer who was ``stalking" Tibbetts's then-girlfriend. News reports at the time said a BB penetrated the victim's side and lodged in his intestine. Tibbetts said yesterday that he doesn't believe the pellet broke through the victim's skin.
To this day, and for the rest of his life, said Tibbetts, he must register as a sex offender wherever he lives. Upon his release from jail, he lived with his parents in Scituate and worked briefly as an apprentice carpenter. He now lives in Quincy.
Nursing a hip injury following the 2005-06 season, which he spent with the Chicago Wolves and the Rockford (Ill.) IceHogs, Tibbetts said he initially had no interest in the ``Be A Bruin" promotion. He said his father, Joe, submitted his name, and he only came to tryouts, held in Marlborough over the summer, after receiving repeated requests from the show's producers.
``If people work with him, he could be a No. 2 center in the NHL," said Park. ``He's as strong as a bull, and he will go through a wall for you. Hey, he's trying to resurrect something here, and I give him credit for that. He'd love to put it all behind him. He made a mistake, did his time, and it's time to move on."
Dusty Demianiuk, a 6-2 defenseman from Franklin, with pro experience in the ECHL (Phoenix Roadrunners), also made the ``Be A Bruin" cut, as did Kevin Druce, a 22-year-old goalie with York University in Ontario.