Sanderson overcomes demons to reach 'happily ever after'

Sanderson overcomes demons to reach 'happily ever after'
November 16, 2012, 11:20 pm
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BOSTON Life was simple if not necessarily stable -- when Derek Sanderson was a wild-and-crazy jock blazing a trail through the Boston Bruins and professional hockey in the 1970s.

He was never taken aback with the notion that he owned night clubs with Joe Namath, found himself squiring around Playboy pin-ups, or always seemed to be the moustache-sporting life of the party. It was always part of the deal with being the Turk.

He describes his younger self as kinda devilish and a little off the wall.

So its rather appropriate that Sanderson writes this in the second paragraph of his new biography, 'Crossing the Line: The Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original': I have a friend who told me,'Hanging out with you is like living in a movie.' When I look back on it, I realize that every day, something crazy was going on, but when youre in it, you dont realize that. Its your normal. I have no doubt that I should be dead or in jail.

"Thank God, Im neither."

Or as Sanderson put it when he sat down for a wide-ranging interview with CSNNE.com in the picturesque 19thfloor conference room at the Baystate Financial Services office, where he serves as vice-president: It was a rude day when I went to my financial guy to get some money and he said, Youre broke. I was an alcoholic and in various troubles. I had a Rolls Royce and I didnt have the money to insure it. How does that happen to somebody? I ended up sleeping in Central Park and sleeping under bridges. When that happens, it is just a rude day.

Theres a lot of fun in the book. But some tough times, too, because it was a dark path that I went down."

The book contains "a lot of great stories (about the 1970s Bruins). We had a great team. But its also about facing your fears and dealing with what I was afraid of in my life.

Sanderson was a charismatic agitator adept at killing penalties and taking big faceoffs while helping bring the Bs a pair of Stanley Cup championships. Third-line centers dont get much better or more effective than Derek Sanderson was during his time with the Bruins.

Off the ice, however, it was one drunken escapade after another. Sanderson recounted stories of waking up alone underneath a bridge and passing out on a park bench after evenings filled with drinking and carousing. The police would routinely return his Rolls Royce to him after a night of partying because Sanderson couldnt remember where hed parked his expensive car.

It was a different era, but things like that would happen a lot, said Sanderson. We can chuckle about it now a little because Ive battled back my demons. Those are crazy things that alcohol can do to you. The poor decision-making just blows you away.

Other people arent so lucky and its not so funny. They do things that you would never do in a million years if you were sober. There are two main things I try to get across in the book: I tried to use alcohol as a coping mechanism for my fear. I never had that foundation for success in place and it was my undoing.

"Also, its amazing what a wonderful woman can do for you. Would I have stayed sober if I didnt have my wife Nancy, who has given me two wonderful boys? Its impossible to say for sure.

The craziness became much more commonplace once he left Boston. The short-lived World Hockey Association barged onto the scene in 1972 and began raiding NHL rosters in anattempt to become a second major hockey league. The WHA's Philadelphia franchise lured Sanderson away from the Bruins with an outlandish (for the time) 2.6 million contract.
When he left, however, he also left the comfort, friends and structure he had with Harry Sinden, Bobby Orr and the adoring army of Bruins fans in Boston.

Were still a family, Sanderson says today. We were close. It was an era, you know? The Bruins was something that just happened in the town at the time, and we grew up together.
"Now pretty much all of us have stayed here. Thats got to tell you something.

Back then, however, the loss of that family started Sanderson down, in his words, "a dark path". 'Crossing the Line' takes readers through the manic wild rides Sanderson undertook once drinking and stacks of money became a toxic mix. The Bruins iconoclast has some jarringly unforgettable stories, such as taking three actresses and two Playboy models on a spontaneous flight to Hawaii with nothing but the clothes on their back, a tripmarred by the mother of all sunburns when Sanderson passed out on the beach.

There was also the day Sanderson bought himself a Rolls Royce on a whim, and the night ended with him waking up all alone outdoors on a park bench. He knew he was in Central Park, but had no idea what happened to the friends he'd been with or his new car.

He also recounts the debt owed to his co-owner at the bar they owned together, Daisy Buchanans. The friend locked up Sanderson's Stanley Cup rings so he wouldnt pawn either of them when financial times got tough.

The 388-page book is full of those highs and lows during Sandersons ride to the top and subsequent drop to rock-bottom. But writing the book with acclaimed hockey writer Kevin Shea also allowed Sanderson to have a conversation with his 25-year-old self.

Oh, I would have beaten him silly. But he wouldnt have listened, said Sanderson of his younger self. I dont think anybody listens. I think we all have to bounce off the walls a little bit. Oftentimes there are no brakes and people just go.

There are plenty of classic stories about the Bruins glory days of the Bobby Orr era to satiate even the most discerning of Bs fans.

-- There was the quiet, steady leadership and unwavering support from Orr, who never stopped supporting his teammate.He was always as good as gold to me, and that never changed from the time he was 16 years old, said Sanderson.

-- There was Sandersons first game against the hated Montreal Canadiens, when he attacked Jean Beliveau because the gentlemanly Habs legend never signed an autograph for him when he was a kid.

-- Theres the larger-than-life story of the Bruins wheeling Phil Esposito from his hospital bed, where he was recuperating from surgery, to a Boston bar so he could enjoy a celebration with his Boston teammates.

But Sanderson also goes through the cause of his hard-partying ways. He was afraid to fly in an era where professional athletes needed to make piece with the heavy travel schedule, and that was a constant battle in Sandersons Bacchanalian life.

I was deathly afraid of flying, but I didnt want to lose what I had, said Sanderson. I was single, I lived in this town and it was great. So then Im saying to myself I own four nightclubs and Ive got to get on this plane to go to Oakland. Oh. Why, God? I wanted to say Sorry, Ive got a bad back.

But that was part of the crew with the Bruins. We all played through injuries and fought through our own things. Harry Sinden was only one coach and there were never really any rules or anything. One guy just followed the next guy and did their job.

Perhaps the most elementary question for Sanderson: Why now to write a book that was 66 years in the making, with so many of the stories stemming from experiences that took place 20 or 30 years ago?

The answer is simple: Sanderson was waiting for a happy ending.

Its something Ive always wanted to do, but I always wanted to wait until I had an ending to the story, said Sanderson. I help professional athletes manage their money now in the investment business at Baystate Financial Services, and thats what Ive been doing for 21 years.

It really ends my story on a positive note, whereas it was kinda just out there 20 years ago. Yeah, I was sober. But being an assistant golf pro not even the head golf pro, for God sakes wasnt going to cut it. I had to do something now that the story is finished.

Plus, cracked Sanderson, with that familiar twinkle in his eye. College costs a lot of money.

You dont have to read the book to know that theres plenty of life and charm whenever Sanderson is involved. But theres also the kind of wisdom that comes only by going beyond the looking glass and back while living to tell about it, and thats Derek Sanderson to a B.