Carson continued to bounce from team to team, delighting some, appalling others – one team sent him packing after a single out-of-control shift in his first game – but always appreciated by his teammates for whom he would do anything.
“I played two years of junior with Carson,” says McIntosh, who now plays professional hockey in Europe. “I played without fear because he was guarding my back and would step in when needed. He wasn’t the toughest guy, but was so fiercely loyal to his teammates it was truly incredible.”
“Hockey is like no other sport when you’re into a game,” Carson says. “It’s a war out there. You have to know your teammates – are you going to be there for me? You have to know if I get mugged that you’re going to have my back. Well, I was that guy. I was ‘The Guy.’
“There’s not a person I played with that I couldn’t go to now and say, ‘Did you enjoy playing with me?’ They loved me on their team. I was there for them. Always there.”
Yet, the teams weren’t always there for him. He was a commodity – tough, willing, somewhat skilled – teams wanted when they didn’t have him and took for granted when they did. He was sent to teams, dropped by teams, picked up by teams, sometimes in a matter of hours.
“You become a piece of meat mentally,” he says. “No wonder there are so many troubled guys. No wonder there are stories of suicide. Guys can’t handle their demons. I can relate to those demons. I know them.”
“We wanted to support him,” Larry says. “We knew how much he loved the game. But … how much did I know? How much would I let go in order for him to play the game he loved. I can’t answer that. I don’t know.”
The longer Carson played, the larger those demons grew.
Drinking led to drugs, eventually cocaine. His personal problems grew worse.
One billet he had very much liked committed suicide, shattering the good woman he left behind and the young players who had looked to him for guidance. A female billet for another team (team locations have been deliberately left out) hit on him and played sexual mind games on him until, he says: “I would be out wandering the streets with a 26-er of vodka, afraid to go home.”
Carson also starting to take painkillers to handle the pains in his hands and knee. He graduated quickly through Advil to Tylenol 3 to Valium, clonazepam. To speed up the effect, he crushed the pills and inhaled the powder just as he continued to do with cocaine.
To maintain his “Swinging Dick” role on teams, and in the bars the players turned to after games, he turned to steroids, ballooning up to 220 pounds of muscle. He learned how to inject himself by watching YouTube videos. He had more power, more endurance. “This feels so good,” he wrote in his journal, “why isn’t it legal?”
He shaved his head and got more tattoos, the fierce physical trappings oddly out of sorts with his smooth baby face. He was The Guy on the ice, No. 23. He was The Guy in the bar taking the girl home. Forever and endlessly proving himself.
Finally, he came down to one final proof in hockey: He could make a career in the game. Some American schools had shown interest; there might be opportunities in the professional minor leagues.
“This was my 20-year-old year,” he says, “and my last kick at making an impression on pro or college scouts.”
He had returned to Winnipeg and to a team he had once played for. They won the championship – he proudly wears the ring today – but, almost at the very end of his junior eligibility, he crashed into the boards on a fore-check and wrecked his shoulder.
He was done.
“I strongly believe that when Carson’s junior career ended,” his old teammate Colin McIntosh says, “it was almost like a death for him. He had put his body on the line so many times and stood up for countless guys, only to watch them continue to play at a higher level.
“For him to watch guys he played against, and with, ripped him apart inside, and he began to hate and blame the game for not being able to play.”
With no college offers and no chance at professional hockey – “I don’t want to portray I even had a sniff at it” – Carson took his parents’ advice and went back to school.
The University of Winnipeg accepted him and issued him student No. 3019314. It was a crushing moment.