Pain Killer: A memoir of big league addiction

Brantt Myhres was a wrecking ball. The violent product of a violent childhood, his NHL tough-guy career was destroyed by epic addictions.

Banned for life from the NHL, the enforcer comes clean - in every sense

NHL enforcer describes a harrowing life of abuse and violence, and later years of sobriety. (Composite image — author photo by Sheldon Soura)

Pain Killer

By Brantt Myhres

If the NHL had an award for most self-destructive player, the Brantt Myhres Cup would arrive brimming with Jack Daniels and cocaine.

Myhres wasn't a racist, and he didn't rob banks. Pretty much everything else illegal, immoral, or unhealthy, he did, as often as he could. Drunken disaster stories are a cornerstone of AA meetings. Myhres has hundreds of them.

For a guy whose education ended at ninth grade, Brantt Myhres has a knack for hard-boiled sentences:

"The game starts and one of their Russians sticks me in the balls so I punch him in the face."

Take that, Mickey Spillane.

Cars, motorbikes, quads, speedboats, if he could find the keys while he was hammered, Myhres was gone. Usually to the liquor store, or cocaine dealer, usually with strippers in tow. In one of his countless impaired evenings, he gets a new Cadillac Escalade, gets bent, smashes into his posh community's gates, then rams the SUV straight through the wall of his rented mansion.

His behaviour is so toxic, one thoughtful judge tells him to sell his dream home. Myhers asks why, and the judge explains that absolutely everyone in the neighborhood hates him.

Even before junior hockey, before his years throwing punches for seven NHL franchises, Myhres was on a dark path. His teen mother in northern Alberta was a mess. His step dad was a violent dirtbag. His biological dad — when he eventually appears in Brantt's life — is a poison-spewing coach, whose hockey advice for his son is to beat up everyone, all the time.

He makes no excuses and has no self pity, but Myhres is careful to show that he comes by his demons honestly.

His grandfather connects him with a Big Brother, who proves to be a serial pedophile. Myhres sees cruel and stupid hazing on his junior B hockey team. But he's a big boy, and hockey respects his fists. Fighting is one thing he can control in his life, so he does a lot of it. He sets the league record for penalty minutes as a junior in Lethbridge.

It takes a while for cocaine and painkillers to ruin things, but Mhyres' drinking is immediately out of control. He buys one hundred rum and cokes at last call. That kind of out of control. He assaults a guy in a bar who wants to settle for three grand. Myhres spurns his victim's generous offer and ends up having to pay $60,000. That kind of out of control.

Tampa is his first NHL team. He wrecks lives and vehicles all around him. The Lightning try, but they can't help him. The Oilers buy him, with biweekly drug tests in his contract. Myhres borrows somebody's pee and cheats every urine test for the rest of his career.

His first game at the Northlands Colosseum, he's happy, excited, and hungover. His family is there to cheer their boy at home. Donald Brashear beats him senseless. Myhres wants to play for the Oilers more than anything, but booze and drugs kill the dream. He gets traded to the Flyers. Wayne Cashman, 12 years sober, tries to help him. Myhres drinks and stinks in Philadelphia too.

They send him for a 28-day rehab, but his attitude is so bad the facility keeps him for three months. On the very day he is released, he calls his coke dealer.

Myhres says aggression is the only emotion that hockey players can share. He sees fighting for his teammates as a show of love.

"I expressed my feelings by beating the shit out of people."

He finally meets a woman who is not a stripper, and for a while in 1999, he manages to only get drunk — no pills or cocaine. But he still mistreats this woman. Pain Killer has lots of tragic moments, but this is one of the worst. To this day, Myhres doesn't know why he was so cruel to a person he loved.

San Jose offers him $1.5 million US, provided he's sober. The night before he inks the deal, he hits a tavern where he knows he's being watched by the wife of the Sharks executive controlling his contract. A million and a half bucks, gone forever. Swapped for a couple of vodka and OJs.

He gets to Nashville and makes a mess of his time there. They offload him on Washington. Then things go downhill.

Myhres describes the train wreck with total honesty. By his own assessment, he is the worst-behaved person in any room. His circle includes bike gangs, drug dealers and sex workers, so that's saying something. Just for reference, Bob Probert, the scariest enforcer of all time, tells his buddy Brantt to simmer down.

After another rehab, he is compelled to beg Gary Bettman for reinstatement to the league. Myhres drinks a case of beer while writing to the Commissioner about his sobriety.

Boston signs him. He enjoys a stint on their farm team, but when he gets called up from the minors the fighting doesn't feel right any more.

"I was more like a pitbull being brought into the rink in a cage."

These Bruins he's protecting aren't his friends.

The NHL and NHLPA spent more money on Brantt Myhres' rehabs than anyone else in the history of the league. After four suspensions, he overdoses on crack one morning and decides it's time to get straight. His motives aren't so pure yet though:

"Rehab was the only place I didn't have to fight."

His late career memories include beating up a coach. Myhres in his skates, the coach in a suit. His last NHL fight is against Georges Laraque, who flattens him, fractures his left orbit, then phones to wish him a rapid recovery.

After two dry years, Myhres does a header off the wagon again. The NHL suspends him for life. He is the only player ever to face that humiliation. Incredibly, he needs deeper abasement. A beer league in Northern England hires and fires him. Back in Edmonton, he stumbles into used car sales for five minutes and gets canned again. Now he's homeless. At 33, penniless, and expecting a kid, he finally hits bottom.

" I had gone further down the hole of substance abuse than anyone in the history of the league."

The NHL and NHLPA bail him out one last time. They send him to rehab number five. For the first time in his life he reads a book, cover to cover. It is Bill W's AA Big Book.

He studies addiction at Mount Royal. Myhres lives near Treaty 7 land and he has some Metis ancestry. He is trusted to start an indigenous hockey camp program. It's a success for him.

Bob Probert dies. Then Derek Boogard. Then Wade Belak. Media wants to talk to Myhres about enforcers, addiction, and concussion. Three L.A. Kings get in trouble in the same month, and that's Myhres' opportunity. The club hires him as a sobriety coach.

Brantt Myhres has been sober for thirteen years now. He's truthful, he's humble, and he's trying his hardest to be a good father. He has concussion-related brain issues, but they're not clouding his hard-earned belief that hope and love are the only things that really matter in life.

Foreword by Michael Landsberg. Hardcover, $33, Published by Viking, 302 Pages.


David Giddens produces and writes and edits for CBC Sports. POV writing and podcast are his main areas of attention.

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