After the hit

The star teammate

  • By: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 24, 2012 - 11:14 PM

Grant Besse is living the hockey dream that he and Jack once shared.

The last buzzer of the Class 2A state high school hockey tournament sounded. Red Knights forward Grant Besse had just made history, scoring all five of his team's goals to win the title. He and his teammates piled onto the ice, hugging and screaming.

Besse basked in the happy pandemonium -- he was the star of the night -- but he was also eager to get back to the locker room. There, his paralyzed teammate was waiting to celebrate, too.

"I had my time throughout the game," Besse said later. "We were all just looking forward to getting off the ice and spending that time with him."

Besse was only a high school junior, but he was already living the hockey dream: Shining in the biggest high school game in the state, committed to playing college hockey at a Division I school, getting looks from NHL scouts.

But after Jack's injury, that dream didn't look quite the same.

Besse got to know Jack just a few months before tragedy struck. He was an experienced varsity player bringing a sophomore into the Red Knights fold, inviting Jack over to play Tiger Woods golf video games, driving him to Benilde football games.

Hockey was Jack's life, too, he saw.

After the accident, Besse and some of his teammates felt strange continuing to play.

"You kind of think about what he's going through" Besse said. "Not really focusing on the game."

But Besse in particular had a lot to shoot for. Just after Jack's accident, he verbally committed to play for the Wisconsin Badgers. After the tournament, his iPhone rang with calls from New York and Los Angeles: NHL scouts wanted to talk.

For Besse, it was all adding up: the years of predawn and postdusk practices, the summer camps, the leagues that had put him on the ice 12 months a year. The dream was coming into reach.

Besse's right skate blade hit the ice in mid-November, starting his senior year with the Red Knights. This season, when he's tired, he will think of how much Jack wants to be out there.

"I can probably guarantee you I wouldn't be taking it as well as he has," Besse said. "You can see how much of a fighter he is and how much heart he has. It makes you want to spend more time with him so maybe a little bit of that might rub off on you."

Besse finds himself grateful for simple things that are now difficult for Jack: taking notes in class, picking up a slice of pizza, changing channels on the TV remote.

He continues to drive Jack and other friends to movies or school events; now he straps Jack's wheelchair securely to an accessible van. They still play video games. Jack still beats him at Tiger Woods golf.

Besse understands, more than ever, that there is life outside of hockey, even if he makes the NHL someday.

"I wouldn't say it [hockey] is less important at all. I would say that other things have become more important," he said. "Hockey is still my life. It's what I love to do. But I've started to take more things more seriously.

"Winning the state tournament, it's a great memory and everything, but I would give that up any day to see Jack walk," Besse said. "I'd trade every second for it."

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