Friday, August 12, 2011

Remembering Bill

I wish I’d had a chance to know Bill Jubert better.

Bill died in October 2010, some four months after the meningitis outbreak that also took the lives of two other Fort Collins hockey players, Nick Smith and Brian Wormus. 

I never got to meet Nick, and although Brian and I had played against one another for several years, we may have spoken only once. It’s hard to be sure. I don’t mean to dismiss them, I just didn’t get to know them.

Bill, on the other hand, I’d known for more than ten years. I didn’t really know him outside of hockey; the few times we saw each other outside of our own rink were either barbecues with teammates or minor-league hockey games at the local arena. But in that limited way, at least, we’d known each other for quite a while. 

In fact, we skated together on my very first Fort Collins hockey team: the Raging Rhinos. (The team sponsor was a plastic surgeon—look up “rhinoplasty” if you don’t get the joke.) I knew nobody else in the league but my brother, knew nothing about how to draft a team, and had played in barely a dozen hockey games up until that point, but somehow I had been allowed to be a team captain. Granted, there’s not a whole lot of work involved in being an adult-league team captain, but I didn’t know how to do any of it.

Bill must have sensed this—perhaps it showed in my inability to set lines, shoot, pass, turn, or even stand still without eventually falling down. Over the course of that first season he would occasionally offer quiet, unassuming advice on, say, who should bring the beer (a good rule of thumb is for the guy who gets the game’s first penalty to buy next week’s beer), which players might work well together as linemates, where I should position myself in the offensive and defensive zones, and what I should try to do with myself in the event that I stayed upright for a whole shift. Clearly he realized that I didn’t know what I was doing, but he may not have realized how great it was that he knew, and how much it meant that he was willing to help.

In the years that followed I skated either with or against Bill just about every season. Even taking into account the three or four weeks a year where there’s no league hockey or drop-in ice time going on, we probably bumped into each other a couple of times a month. When we had time for more than a wave or a nod, our conversations were nothing out of the ordinary—just friendly locker-room bullshitting about anything or nothing, mundane and amusing, pointless and pleasant, as fun and as eminently forgettable as one might expect from two guys who knew they’d see each other again the following Wednesday.

Off the ice he’d usually greet me with a hello, his voice deadpan and bemused, as though I’d done something vaguely humorous simply by showing up. 

On the ice was surprisingly similar—I’d carry the puck into his defensive zone several times a game, and he’d greet me as casually as if we were passing each other in the parking lot. Then more often than not he’d read my feet, or my shoulders, or my hands—I could never quite be sure what would give me away—and he’d lean in at just the right moment to poke or sweep the puck away, then make a looping pass out of the zone to a waiting forward, patient amusement in his voice as he wished me better luck next time. He’d never talk trash, he’d just talk, and each time I turned and crossed back over his blue line, spitting out bad language and trying to catch up to the play that had so suddenly reversed directions, I wondered if he talked simply to screw me up, or for the added pleasure of having a conversation in the time it took to steal the puck off my stick.

I never did find out the answer.

At the end of that first hockey season, my brother—that is, my goaltender—and I invited the Raging Rhinos over to grill and have a few drinks on our deck. A good part of the team made it, including Bill. I was glad he showed up; despite the sporadic pointers he’d given out over twenty-some weeks, I wasn’t quite sure what he thought of me. (He was always, even years later when I knew him a bit better, somewhat hard to read behind his thick beard and big glasses.) 

The evening eventually blackened into night, and as folks began to drift toward the door, straight-faced, inscrutable Bill—after a long, solemn pause—grabbed me in a comically over-the-top bear hug and told me he was going to miss me. As if one of us were leaving the country, as if the next hockey season were four years instead of four weeks away. As if he were playing the lead role in a particularly hammy soap opera. 

I couldn’t help but laugh. I’m laughing now. 

Twelve years later, all I can think of is one damned story. After twelve years, there should be more, but this is all I’ve got.

On August 13th and 14th, Fort Collins-area hockey players will come together for a second annual hockey tournament in memory of Nick Smith, Brian Wormus, and Bill Jubert. We know they had lives outside of ice hockey—all three were married; Brian and Bill were fathers, and Nick was about to become one—but this is how we knew them; the game is what drew us together. 

I wouldn’t have gotten to know Bill if not for hockey, so to hit the ice is the best way I can think of to remember him. If I can find where I belong on the ice, it’s at least in part because he pointed me there a long time ago.

Thanks for that, Bill. I’ll miss you too.

Bill Jubert (bottom row, far right) with friends and teammates, 2008.


  1. Very moving, and something from which we can all take a lesson.

  2. It's impossible to tell if a person we meet in certain circumstances will leave footprints on our hearts, and it's clear that Bill did so on yours, Dan. It's a damn shame I never got to meet him.

  3. Very nicely written Dan. It made me tear up thinking of Bill and the others we lost. It could have been any one of us. Thank you for writing something so sweet and kind.