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Hockey fans gather to hear ex-Bruin Derek Sanderson talk of triumphs, struggles

Posted by Laura Gomez  February 8, 2013 02:02 PM

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sanderson signs books.jpg
Michael Anderson/ Globe Correspondent
Derek Sanderson signs books on his appearance at the Boston Public Library this week.

Hockey fans growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s remember Derek Sanderson as a key member of the Boston Bruins’ 1970 and 1972 Stanley Cup winning seasons.

They also remember the Derek Sanderson who became a cult figure and celebrity in his playing days. He was considered the Joe Namath of hockey -- he wore flashy clothes, dated beautiful women, drove an expensive car, and was named one of America’s sexiest men by Cosmopolitan magazine.

What many people don’t remember was that “Turk,” as he was nicknamed, later struggled with alcohol addiction and substance abuse, to the point where he was sleeping on park benches.

On Tuesday night, Sanderson, who played with the Bruins from 1965-74, spoke to more than 40 people gathered at the Boston Public Library for the Author Talk Series, after the publication of his autobiography,“Crossing the Line: The Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original.” The book, which came out in October and was co-authored by Kevin Shea, chronicles the demons that Sanderson faced, his alcohol and substance-abuse addiction, and how his life spiraled out of control.

“I wrote this book because of fear,” Sanderson said in an interview before the talk. “Alcoholism helps you deal with fear, but you have to have the courage to face fear.”

Sanderson, now 66, said he has learned a lot about the challenges of overcoming addiction.

“It takes a long time to heal, and you have to work person-to-person to ask for forgiveness,” he said. “It isn’t easy. You have to make amends to those you love and hurt the most.”

At one point in his career, Sanderson was among the world's highest-paid athletes. But bad investments, coupled with his addiction to alcohol and drugs, led to him lose his savings and seek help from friends and family. He credits his parents, sister, and former teammates Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, among others, for helping him.

“If you ask for help, you have to take it,” Sanderson said. “You have to pay attention to people who are trying to help you.”

Sanderson’s story has drawn the interest of actor and filmmaker Edward Burns, who recently announced plans to turn Sanderson’s story into a movie, tentatively called “Turk.” Burns, who is producing the film, is slated to play Sanderson’s father.

For one night in Boston, Sanderson was the fan-magnet of old, drawing people of all ages to hear him speak and grab an autographed book.

“Derek was my boyhood idol,” said Tony DeVingo, 60, of Charlestown. “Whenever I played hockey as a kid, I imitated him, dressed like him, and even had a hairstyle like him.

"I grew up in a housing project, and his attitude made me tougher," DeVingo said. "It’s because of Derek that I learned how to stand up for myself.”

Rich Hallberg, 50, of Weymouth, said he was a big fan of Sanderson’s when he played and later when he was a broadcaster, paired with longtime Bruins’ play-by-play announcer Fred Cusick. Steve Wilson, 49, of Malden, in line next to Hallberg to get a copy of his book signed, said he respected Sanderson for cleaning up his life.

“I’m old enough to remember when the Bruins won the Stanley Cups,” Wilson said. “But I respect him for getting his life back together after sleeping under bridges for a while.”

An excited Elizabeth Carney-Novak, 69, of Boston, said she was a huge fan. She remembered going to Daisy Buchanan’s, a bar on Newbury Street where Bruins players used to hang out.

“I liked him because he played with heart and soul and spirit,” Carney-Novak said. “He’s also an inspiration to me, as I’ve dealt with addiction. I look up to him.”

Younger fans who know Sanderson only from watching YouTube videos or reading his Wikipedia page see him as an inspiration, too.

“The 1970s Big Bad Bruins changed the culture in Massachusetts,” said Kyle Clauss, 19, of Brookline. “More rinks were built because more kids wanted to play hockey.”

Derric Trudeau, 14, of Rockland, who said he plays hockey, came with his father so that he could meet Sanderson and get him to sign his book. Trudeau said he has already read it, and that he read Sanderson’s other book,“I’ve Got to Be Me,” as well.

“He’s my idol,” Trudeau said. “Every hockey jersey I have ever had has been his number 16. I base my own playing style after him.”

This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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