By Gare Joyce | Illustration by Rafa Alvarez
By Gare Joyce | Illustration by Rafa Alvarez
Brady Leavold was a gritty forward skating alongside future NHL stars until addiction unravelled his life. Now, after a journey that landed him in prison and on the streets, he's working to pick up the pieces.

T he Moose Jaw knuckleheads in the Crushed Can derisively chanting his name … the teenage girl on the other side of the glass carrying his child … a Gordie Howe hat trick … skating on Stamkos’s wing while strung out from last night’s blow … homesickness .. detox … the warm blanket feeling when untying the belt around his arm…

Brady Leavold’s mind pinballs bumper to bumper across years. Memories cascade, unsorted, random. He has lived his 32 years going from one impulse to the next. Though he’s trying to get past that, his mind can’t, not yet at least. He too rarely exercised self-control and his thoughts resist reining in.

Game 7 … rehab … the team bus across the Prairies … a machete in the back seat … dopesickness … sleeping in a teenage Jamie Benn’s bedroom wallpapered with posters of NHL stars … sleeping in an alley off East Hastings Street until a baseball bat cracked his skull … another teenage girl on the other side of the glass carrying his child …

“There was that time … did I tell you that story … that’s a story for another time,” he says, each time cueing an ecstatic moment on the ice or a squandered one, a hopeful time away from the arena too often followed by a crash. Sometimes he will travel back to talk about “a funny thing” that’s unimaginably tragic. “Funny thing, I was sitting in the ward snorting heroin with an old lady who had Stage 4 cancer,” he’ll say.

… slamming the penalty box door … the cell door slammed behind him … a frozen lake … signing his first pro contract at 20 … muling weed and coke from Van to Victoria at 21 … bulls—-ing a team doctor for oxys… a frozen lake … a 10-year-old boy with a mop of tousled dark hair kneeling in a team photo …

Are they even memories, though, when he struggles to organize them or just stories to the best of his recollection? He can’t undo the damage, can’t even take stock, not yet at least.

In addition to WHL stops with the Kelowna Rockets and Swift Current Broncos, Leavold would play for five other teams in five different leagues

I met Brady Leovold, age 19, in Swift Current, Sask., in December ’06. I had gone there to write a feature on the 20th anniversary of the bus crash that killed four members of the Broncos, a tragic story made all the more complicated by the role of Graham James, who would be later convicted of sexually abusing players, including a member of that Broncos team, Sheldon Kennedy.

I had gone there to talk to those who had been around in ’87, but I also wanted to get an idea of the life of a major-junior player 20 years later. I looked for an outgoing kid who was representative of the rank-and-file, rather than star who might only see Swift Current as a stop on the way to the NHL. Leavold, a 19-year-old from Port Coquitlam, B.C., fit the bill, the very portrait of the tough guy as a young man, with his thick face, shock-absorbent chin and reconstructed dental work.

Leavold seemed self-assured as we spoke over breakfast, not for a second self-conscious about a serious case of bedhead. I’d expected him to tell me about being a home-team hero if not a hometown one. Instead, Leavold talked about cold shoulders and cold stares at the local high school. “Walking through the halls, we’ll hear them cracking about us,” he told me. “They’ll say, ‘Nice jacket, Bronco.’ The guys will try to pick fights with us, because they have nothing to lose and they know that we’re finished here if we try to stick up for ourselves. I feel comfortable with the guys on the team, but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable with Swift Current. We’re here to play for the people, but truth is they want nothing to do with us.”

There’s always more than one side to a story. I wrote that players probably provoked some of the hard feelings: “Every team has its share of troubled kids and troublemakers.” Not for a second did I imagine that Brady Leavold was either. Not for a second did I imagine how far and how fast he would fall.

Neither did Dr. Max Offenberger, a sports psychologist who has worked decades in the NHL and major-junior ranks. Says Offenberger: “I didn’t keep my notes about Brady but I remember him, not that well. If there had been any [red flags] I would have kept the notes and spent more time with him. That team had a few kids with some big issues: depression, anxiety and stuff even worse. I always remember [when] I had to drill down and really engage a kid and keep tabs on him.”

Fourteen years later, Leavold has a ready explanation for how he skirted the psychologist’s radar. “I didn’t feel like I could really open up to Max. I thought if I talked, it would get back to the team. There might have been signs if I had told him everything.”

The proof that he was okay, Leavold thought, was that he could fool everyone. If the ref doesn’t see it, then it didn’t happen.

Brady Leavold grew up in a good home, or a pair of good homes, as befits a kid whose earliest memory of his parents is their divorce. He didn’t want for care or attention. To this day, he calls his father, Brian, a fireman who raised him and his older sister, “my biggest hero.” His mother, Susan, who worked at a golf club, lived a few minutes away, but it seemed natural that the siblings would live with their father, who was the daughter’s softball coach and behind the bench for Brady’s teams.

Those who knew him better, who knew his backstory, might have picked up on some red flags. A lot of kids act out when they don’t get their way, but rarely with the anger that Leavold showed. “I asked my father for a Christian-brand stick, my favorite stick, and he told me that money was too tight to get a new one,” Leavold says. “Then right before the game he gave me the stick as a surprise. But when I was playing with it, the curve was too big and I was real mad, so I threw it at him right on the bench — he was coaching and kids had to duck.”

Leavold was 10.

“I probably didn’t seem much different than other kids most of the time.”

At age 12, Leavold came home every day with blood on his face. He was being beaten up by his best friend. “We were bad kids,” he says. “We’d break windows, that sort of stuff. The one time we got into real trouble, there was a kid a couple of years younger but already bigger than us, and we held him down and beat him up real bad. The kid’s parents wanted us charged and the police went through the whole thing, telling us they were taking us down to get fingerprinted, before they dropped it.”

Leavold was, he says, never diagnosed with any psychological condition, not anxiety nor depression. “I was angry about my parents’ divorce,” he says. “Was I a happy little kid? I probably didn’t seem much different than other kids most of the time.”

He wasn’t pushed into the game. He was a rink rat who needed no encouragement. He couldn’t get to the arena fast enough. “I was hyper,” he says, “but when I look back at it, I was anxious too. I’d get wound up before games, all day, worse than when the games started.“

Yet when it came to a few under-15 showcases, those earliest auditions for the Western Hockey League, Leavold took a pass. Once, at the sight of much bigger players, he feigned illness to get out of games. He didn’t know how he’d compete against more experienced AAA kids. At that stage he didn’t know if he even wanted to play major-junior. He had no plan at all.

Through the many ups and downs of his life, Leavold has always felt at home and found solace on the ice

Because he passed up the requisite showcases, no WHL team selected him in the bantam draft. At 16, the Broncos invited him to their training camp and even threw him into the lineup early in the season. But with an older, established roster, the Broncos really had no room at the inn and he returned to Port Coquitlam to play midget and fill out. Though he had been uncertain about playing major-junior, his brief time in Swift Current sold him on the WHL. “I loved it,” he says. “Everything. The arena. The atmosphere in the rink. They had the best ice I had ever skated on.”

The next fall, Leovold, more physically ready, more confident, won a spot with the Broncos and established himself as a fearless, sometimes reckless and reliably hot-tempered right winger. He didn’t rank as an elite NHL prospect or land on Central Scouting’s list of players to watch, but in his rookie year he won over fans with virtues beyond skills. He was a feral energy-line player almost too eager to face-wash or drop the gloves; a pest hated in the other teams’ barns.

A first sign of trouble came early in his second season. “I had a girlfriend back home, so I asked for a trade to Vancouver or Everett,” Leavold says. “I got a call from [Everett coach] Kevin Constantine telling me he had traded for me. I handed the phone to a friend and told him, ‘Pretend you’re me and tell him I’m not going.’” To this day, he can’t offer an explanation as to why he chose to hand off the phone at a career-shaping moment — impulses can work that way — but his friend stepped in and played the part. The trade to Everett was voided and the Broncos let him go home to Port Coquitlam, where he wound up playing for the Burnaby Express in the BCHL on Kyle Turris’s wing. Even there, though, Leavold didn’t last the season. The Express tossed him in the spring for partying too hard, showing up for games after bingeing cocaine.

“I loved Swift Current. The arena. The atmosphere in the rink. They had the best ice I had ever skated on.”

He returned to the Broncos the next fall and when I spoke to him in December of 2006, he was neither the Broncos’ leading scorer nor the captain but doubtless a team leader, who’d rack up 35 points and 142 PIM in 55 games that season. Leavold was all-in on the hockey dream. “I didn’t do drugs or anything the whole time I was there,” he says. “When I went home, yeah, I partied a bit but I was all about hockey when I was [in Swift Current].”

As much as he liked being “one of the boys,” Leavold was uncomfortable in Swift Current, what he told me over breakfast that morning. What was going on behind the scenes, what he didn’t mention to me or to Offenberger was the fact he’d gotten a local 17-year-old pregnant. “That sort of thing the people in Swift don’t like and [team management] really doesn’t,” he says today. “I didn’t handle it well. I denied the child was mine [for years after]. I just walked away from her and the baby boy … didn’t talk to her again for years and years. I’m ashamed by that, but I was just scared. I didn’t man up.”

Soon, the fan favourite became a pariah — even the team’s play-by-play announcer called him “a problem child” on a team blog.

Leavold came back to Swift Current the next summer as an over-ager with the Broncos but the situation was toxic and unsustainable. In the second week of the season, coach and GM Dean Chynoweth took Leavold aside and told him he had been traded. “I thought it might be Seattle,” he says. “Turned out to be Kelowna.”

It seemed to him an unpromising situation — the Kelowna Rockets already had a full complement of over-age players. Leavold didn’t take the news well. “I checked in [at a hotel at the Calgary airport] and emptied the mini-bar,” he says. “I was so hungover the next morning. I missed my flight to Kelowna and had to get on the next one.”

It got worse on arrival. When Leavold reported to the team, he was fitted with new equipment and then told to go through a practice with the team’s 16- and 17-year-olds. He sobered up fast. “I remember going out there and three guys just blew me away,” he says, “Tyler Myers, who was too coordinated for a guy his size to be possible; Jamie Benn, who you knew would be a big-time NHL player; and Tyson Barrie, who was just ridiculously skilled, not the way any 16-year-old kid is supposed to be.”

Leavold had a sense that the young team was a year away from big things but he had only a year of eligibility to give. No matter, it gave him his best look at what it would take to get to the next level and what it would be like if he got there. “I remember we were in Regina at the Christmas break and Len [Barrie, who was a half-owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning] flew Tyson, Jamie and me in his private jet to Victoria,” Leavold says. “When we got back, I didn’t catch [the ferry to the mainland] so I stayed at Jamie’s place — I slept in his bedroom with all these posters of NHL players on the wall. And I thought, ‘This is a guy who’s going to be in the league.’ It all felt that close and I knew playing with these guys I was going to get seen [by scouts].”

“I thought, ‘This is a guy who’s going to be in the league.’ It all felt that close.”

His younger teammates saw him as perhaps the most influential player on the roster. Says Jesse Paradis, who was a 16-year-old that season: “Brady just had so much experience and wisdom to pass along … a perfect guy for someone like me to look up to as a player.”

Leavold had a good season by the usual measures. He finished second in team scoring and ended his junior career memorably, scoring six goals in a seven-game loss to Seattle in the first round. Behind the scenes, though, his life was skidding sideways. By this time, there was another girl in the stands carrying his baby. Leavold didn’t deny fatherhood this time, didn’t walk away from the teenager who would give birth to a girl.

Today he maintains he stayed clean in Kelowna, but he admits he was far from a straight-edge type. He continued to do cocaine and ecstasy when back home, partying in the off-season. Worse, when he got back to Port Coquitlam, he started using OxyContin prescribed for pain from a torn ACL. It gave him a rush that he would chase, harder and harder, for years.

An undrafted free agent, Leavold landed an invitation to Tampa Bay’s summer rookie camp after the ’08 draft, in small part based on Len Barrie’s recommendation. In the fall, he was brought in to play with Tampa Bay’s team in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament — in fact, the first time Steven Stamkos wore a Lightning sweater in a game, at that pre-season tournament, Leavold was skating on his wing. Maybe Stamkos and the coaches could tell that Leavold hadn’t even visited a gym all summer. They didn’t know that he had binged on coke the night before the opening game with another prospect.

Leavold had worked years to get a look as a pro but sabotaged his opportunity. Still, from what he saw on the ice with the Lightning, he felt like he could play at the next level someday. He just had to put in the work he had never done before, exercise some self-control and clean up. Unfortunately, he was heading in the wrong direction.

He had shown enough in the camp to land a spot on the Lightning’s affiliate in Norfolk, Va. There his drug use was compounded by a concussion from a fight against … was it Adirondack? Hershey? … and distractions away from the arena. At his request, Tampa Bay’s minor-league office assigned him to the East Coast Hockey League team closest to home: the Victoria Salmon Kings a now-defunct affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.

The Salmon Kings didn’t give Leavold much of an opportunity to showcase himself, but he made the least of it again. Back in B.C., his drug use intensified. He commuted to practices and games on the ferry from Vancouver, hauling weed and coke in his Jeep Cherokee for dealers he supplied. His girlfriend in Vancouver was by then pregnant with their second child and, despite his struggles with drugs, they made wedding plans.

Leavold ended up on the sidelines with a broken wrist and his weight shot up from 190 to 208 pounds. When he started skating with the team, he was given an ultimatum: He had two weeks to get back down to 190 or be fined or released. Leavold started two-a-day workouts with a trainer, started taking steroids, started purging his meals. He made the weight but was suffering withdrawal symptoms so intense he was vomiting constantly and didn’t sleep for days at a time. He was hardly primed to perform and seemed only a threat to himself.

Going just on fumes, he scored nine goals through the last three weeks of the season.

It had been cocaine that he had turned to initially but by the time he landed with the Salmon Kings, Leavold had made the jump to snorting OxyContin, almost unimaginable doses of the painkiller. One Percocet contains five milligrams of oxycodone, enough to make your body numb or put you into a deep, empty sleep. Leavold took 80-mg. oxys — each teal-blue pill the equivalent of 16 Percocets. “Being an athlete was probably the only thing that saved me,” he says. “The Vancouver police has a whole unit that just goes around, picking up the ODs.”

At the start of his second season with the Salmon Kings, he was too sick to play and failed his medical. He told the team doctors that his GP had diagnosed him with H1N1. By that point, when his chances to play at any higher level of the game were washing out, he was taking up to 15 80-mg. pills of OxyContin a day. He hoodwinked a team doctor to fill a prescription for these highest-dosage oxys and then went back later telling him he’d lost the vial. He went to a GP at a clinic and did the same thing.

“Being an athlete was probably the only thing that saved me. The Vancouver police has a whole unit that just goes around, picking up the ODs.”

Unaware of his drug use, a team in the Dutch league made him an offer and he snapped it up. “I thought that I could ween myself off [in Holland] but I was so dopesick, I couldn’t get off the floor,” he says.

Leavold lasted only two games with the Tilburg Trappers. “When I got there, I told them I couldn’t play at all but they made me dress,” he says. “I just stayed at the apartment a couple of players had — no bed, I just lied on the floor, unable to sleep. I played in the second one and the hockey was pretty good, but I didn’t want to be there and told them I had H1N1 and flew home.”

A cycle was well underway by the time Leavold came back from Holland: heavy drug use followed by detox followed by rehab and, inevitably, by retox. After one drug-fuelled psychotic episode when he shattered more than a dozen bones in his hand, he was checked into Royal Columbian Hospital’s psych ward in New Westminster, B.C. He spent months there and, at one point, was snorting heroin in the ward with a Stage 4 cancer patient.

Within hours of his release from a hospital or treatment centre, the first time he would see an old dealer, he’d be snorting oxys or heroin again, like he had never stopped. “I convinced myself every time that once wouldn’t hurt,” he says. “I could stop anytime I wanted to because I stopped for a while.”

He started going to AA and NA, always the youngest one in the room. He set a goal of going to 90 meetings in 90 days and wound up attending 110, taking the lead a lot of the time, bringing along a guy he had played against in the WHL. Then he relapsed again and apologized to his fiancée, now caring for their two kids — his daughter and son a year apart. He vowed to change and maybe she even believed him. The breaking point came when he arrived at a rehab centre in Kelowna drunk and strung out. When he called home, she told him the wedding was off. He was running out of last chances. “It was so humiliating,” he says. “I had to call my friends from the game, guys like Jamie Benn, and tell them that it was off.” That attempt at sobriety lasted four days.

Though he was out of hockey for more than a year, it still had a pull for him. In one trip to rehab, in November 2011, he befriended another athlete, Adam Braidwood, a former defensive end with the Edmonton Eskimos, and across eight weeks worked out with him every day. “He just had so much discipline like I never had,” Leavold says. “He kept on checking up on me [after the program], calling me on my cell.”

“I convinced myself every time that once wouldn’t hurt.”

After his release, Leavold stayed clean and worked nights in a demolition job at the Vancouver airport. He worked out and, when no team in the AHL, ECHL or Europe would return his call, he contacted former NHL veteran Terry Ruskowski, who at the time was coaching the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees in the Central Hockey League. “I didn’t want to go to the Central but Terry was going to give me a chance,” Leavold says. “He was straight with me — it was one strike and I was out. I was straight with him when I told him I was clean. I went to down there in January — I hadn’t been on skates in two years but I loved it. I loved the game again. And I stayed clean. No drugs. No liquor. Nothing. I’d go with the guys to bars and just drink ginger ale and then drive them home. I really thought I had turned everything around, that I could make a living at the game in Europe, maybe.”

Years later, Ruskowski would say that Leavold “could have been real effective pro, [but he] let what people said affect [him] too much.” By that time, his problems with drugs and the law were known around the Central league and mouths run in the minors a little more openly than they would in NHL.

Brian Levold had hoped that his son would go to a fire academy in Texas and come back in a year’s time on track to join him in the department. “We had talked about it and it seemed like he had turned the corner,” he says. At season’s end, Leavold went home and, predictably at this point, he was in a casino within six hours of landing, getting drunk and doing lines. Eighteen months of sobriety done and gone.

Leavold reached rock bottom thereafter. In the summer of 2012, he went from snorting heroin to the needle. His arms are marked with a junkie’s tracks. He wants to cover them up with tattoos but for now they serve as a reminder of his worst days.

One day that summer, he suspected his by-then former fiancée, who he still considered his girlfriend, was seeing someone else. Leavold grabbed a machete, called a taxi, stole the vehicle at blade-point and sped to the scene to confront the couple. “I just wanted to kill the guy,” he says. “No one was around when I got there.”

He abandoned the vehicle and the police couldn’t get a solid ID of the perp from the cab driver. Leavold managed to evade the dragnet and was never hauled in for questioning, though the case remained open.

Soon Leavold was homeless, living on East Hastings Street and supporting a $1,000-a-day habit through petty crimes and others more serious. He says liquor stores were a usual target and the biggest job he was part of netted $25,000. He said the worst was a risky holdup that went sideways and netted him $10 and a pack of smokes. Looking for an even more intense high, he switched from heroin to fentanyl, injecting every 30 minutes or so. “Heroin and fentanyl are like this warm blanket,” he says, “all the pain, anything you feel physically, emotionally, just goes away.”

“Heroin and fentanyl are like this warm blanket, all the pain, anything you feel physically, emotionally, just goes away.”

Looking for his son, Brian Leavold spent a year going down to East Hastings Street at night. “I had filed a bunch of missing-persons reports but I had to take it into my own hands,” he says. “I was lifting cardboard blankets off sleeping junkies trying to find Brady.”

Quality control on the street was nonexistent. Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine but if it wasn’t cut right it could be as much as 1,000 times more potent. Leavold long ago lost count of his ODs, but maybe the closest he came to death was when he was sleeping on the street and he woke up with a baseball bat crashing on his skull. When Leavold was taken to emergency, he was questioned by police officers about the incident but refused to finger the perp and, covered in blood, walked out of the hospital before he could be treated. “I wanted to find the guy and take care of it myself,” he says.

Police in Vancouver eventually put together that this junkie and small-time grifter was wanted for the armed theft of the taxi two years before. “It was hard watching the news and seeing your son on Crime Stoppers,” Brian says. Leavold was hauled in and held without bail. When his case finally reached a provincial court, he pleaded guilty to robbery and 10 other counts, including resisting arrest.

Familiar apologies and vows were made: “I’m just looking forward to starting my life over again,” he told the court. The judge described his offences as “unsophisticated heists” and suggested they might have been a cry for help: “You were bound to be caught, of course. Maybe you knew it, maybe it was a form of reaching out.” He was sentenced to 21 months. As B.C. Inmate No. 100518462, Leavold would divide his time in maximum security between prisons in Maple Ridge and Port Coquitlam, his hometown. “When I was a kid I looked at [the prison] and thought, ‘I don’t want to end up there.’ But that was exactly where I ended up, like I knew something,” he says.

Suiting up alongside a young Steven Stamkos — and battling with the likes of Justin Abdelkader — at a prospect tournament in 2008, Leavold turned up for the opening game having binged on cocaine the night before

When he was released in February 2017, Leavold wanted to get away from the wrong people he gravitated towards in Vancouver; get away from too much history. His ex-fiancée had cut him off from his daughter and son — the last time he talked to them was in February 2015, when he showed up at their school one lunchtime to delivery tardy Christmas gifts without telling their mother. She has blocked him on the phone and social media and did likewise for his kids. Ever since he has combed Facebook, just looking for glimpses of them.

Leovold had exhausted the patience of just about everyone who tried to support him in his attempts to clean up. His father was desperate to help and paid his airfare to Ontario, where he might be able to beat the odds and get a fresh start. Leavold went east and wound up in Orillia, about 90 minutes north of Toronto, working in construction, staying clean.

The optics held promise: He seemed to be as far away from Hastings Street as he could get. But in reality, the move to Ontario wasn’t a lasting fix. Nothing changed but the scenery. It didn’t take long to find the wrong people. He hit bottom again in November 2017.

Leavold was at a party when a fast new friend offered to sell him a 2006 Silverado for $500, all cash, payable immediately. “I was missing my kids,” Leavold says. “I thought if I buy this truck I can just start driving to Vancouver that night. That was the plan.”

Like a lot of his plans and best intentions, it didn’t work out.

“I just wanted to spare my family another embarrassment.”

With all his worldly possessions in a suitcase beside him, Leavold started for Vancouver. He didn’t even get out of Orillia. He realized the deal on the Silverado wasn’t worth the risk when he saw the flashing lights of a police cruiser in the rearview. He got a sweet price because the truck was freshly stolen.

Another impulse that passes for a decision: He took the cops on a high-speed chase. Getaways in $500 Sliverados tend not to work out. When he put the pedal to the metal, he looked at gas gauge: The needle was on “E.” He kept his foot down and drove straight into the median at Front Street and Old Barrie Road. “I crashed it on purpose,” he says. “I just wanted to kill myself.”

Leavold’s head snapped and everything went dark, but a few seconds later he realized that his suicide attempt had fallen short. What he thought was the end of his life was just the airbags going off.

Down to his last bad idea, he tried to get away from the police on foot. It might work in the movies but it’s not the best option when there’s three feet of snow on the ground. Face down on the ground being cuffed, he begged the police not to let the charges get into the newspapers. “I didn’t care what happened with me,” he says. “I just wanted to spare my family another embarrassment.” Not a word appeared.

He had hoped to get to Vancouver but got only as far as Central North Correctional Centre, a maximum-security prison in Penetanguishene. On his release in November of last year, the police in Orillia told prison officials they had something for Ontario Inmate No. 1001418648. Digging through his suitcase looking for drugs they’d found his game-worn Tampa Bay sweater from Traverse City. No. 70, his name stitched across the shoulders. “They told me they thought it might mean something to me,” he says.

Police in Orillia found Leavold's No. 70 jersey when digging through his suitcase looking for drugs

Leavold owns all of this now.

“Just my history would show that I’m a bad risk to relapse,” he says. “If I had been honest about things … to Max [Offenberger] or the teams I played for or the people who tried to help me, maybe things could have been different. Now, I’ll be honest because I know that people will support me.”

He says he’s been in a better place away from his well-established bad influences, away from the places that trigger bad memories.

Leavold has been living at a cottage owned by the parents of his current girlfriend — they met through a friend when Leavold was a guest of the province in Penetanguishene. They’re about a 15-minute drive from Bracebridge in the Muskoka region and a couple of months back, after an argument, he set out for the town on foot in the snow. Once there, history could have repeated itself. His Hasting Street impulses could have kicked in. They didn’t. He didn’t get to town. An impulse going back to childhood came over him instead.

“I can’t explain why but I had an urge to put on my skates again. I went out there for an hour and I can’t remember when I felt that good.”

On the way, he passed a lake, frozen solid, and stopped. From where he stood on the soft-shoulder, he could see the wind had blown snow clean off a big patch of the ice. It looked like a Zamboni had just rolled over it. “I can’t explain why but I had an urge to put on my skates again. I hadn’t laced them up in five years,” he says. “I went back and got my skates … I didn’t even have a stick, and I always hated skating without a stick. I hadn’t skated on natural ice since I was, maybe, 14 and here I was skating out on this lake with the light reflecting off the ice. I went out there for an hour and I can’t remember when I felt that good.”

Nor could he remember when he had last turned an anxious moment into something that wasn’t self-destructive. The next day he went back and skated longer.

A few weeks later another anxious moment led to what gives him purpose every day now. At the cottage, Leavold and his girlfriend had solitude in abundance at the best of times, so COVID-19 affected their day-to-day routine less than most. There’s no need to make an appointment to give him a call. “I’m out here doing nothing,” he says.

Living in lockdown in cottage country could lead to cabin fever, to a need to hear familiar voices. Then again, relationships he wished he could have kept going went cold when he was living on the streets or in jail. One Saturday night, he told his girlfriend that he wanted to do a podcast; not appear on a podcast he liked, he wanted it to be his own.

The next morning, he posted it online. You can find Hockey2Heroin/Road2Recovery in all the usual places. That first episode sounded like a spontaneous, unpolished cri de coeur. The next week he set about doing it daily. His father, retired from the fire department and now working as a scout for the Saskatoon Blades, bought a broadcast-quality microphone for him on Amazon. “He said he wanted to have me come on the show,” Brian says. “I don’t think he’d like some of the things I might say. But I’m glad that Brady has something, and it’s taken off faster than I would have thought.”

First he started with friends from the Dub. Jesse Paradis, who as a 16-year-old had looked up to his 20-year-old teammate, came on and agreed to sponsor the show, promoting a brand of sportswear he was launching. Leavold reached out to coaches, including Ruskowski, who took a chance on him when no one else would give him a look. He reached out to people throughout the hockey business, those he only knew by name — Sheldon Kennedy and others have agreed to appear on the show. And he reached out to a team psychologist that he talked to in Swift Current 13 years ago, and to a writer once he sat with for an hour over breakfast. “There are things I want to say, thank yous like to Terry [Ruskowski] and apologies that I want to make,” Leavold says. “There’s stuff I’m finding that I had forgotten about. If I’m going to make myself whole, I have to fill in the blanks and there are a lot.”

Some of the guests he’ll have on will transport him back to a better time, others to lost opportunities.

Some things are beyond reach. Some names aren’t going to come back.

… the Stage-4 cancer patient snorting dope with him in the hospital ward … his “family” down on Hastings Street … the girl who screamed when he was being beaten by another homeless junkie … dozens he went through rehab with … the cops who chased him down and cuffed him and set aside No. 70 …

He’ll take time in the podcasts to make the point that he wants to help others avoid all the awful choices he made, to reach out like he did in AA and NA. “If I can help just one person …” he’ll begin. If his ability to deliver on that sentiment isn’t real, he wants it to be, and that might make it not real yet. Really, he has to help himself before he can help anyone else.

“If I can help just one person…”

And then there’s the hope that he can reconnect with those who are denied him by distance and by a litany of bad decisions. Not that they’ll ever appear on his show. Innocents, they are the reasons that he does his podcast. Just the thought of them sustained him in the most awful times in a life not short of them.

… the boy he fathered in Swift Current, an 11-year-old who has never met him … the daughter he sends letters and birthday cards to that come back marked “Return to Sender” … her little brother, who with his helmet off could pass for Brady Leavold at 10, a happy-looking kid Leavold last saw in a team photo he found on a minor-hockey organization’s Facebook page while combing the Internet to recover his past …

If he can’t set eyes on them and wrap them up in a hug, he can at least hope they’ll hear him.

Photo Credits

Illustration by Rafa Alvarez; Marissa Baecker/Getty Images; Marissa Baecker/Getty Images; Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images; Courtesy Brady Leavold.