In the process of working on my Spotlight cover story about Brian Spencer, I spoke to 19 people for their recollections of a complex man. He was respected as a teammate, but still treated with a considerable degree of trepidation.
"He was a hard man to understand," his Buffalo Sabres teammate Rene Robert said. "He was very unique, but I loved the guy dearly."
Here are some comments, in narrative form, that didn't make it into the story ...
New York Islanders teammate Terry Crisp: "If you were looking for teammates that would be the first to stand up for you, the first to start stuff or back you up, Brian Spencer was one. He would lead the charge or cover your back.''
Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman: "He was a very strong role player, a self-made player. He was fearless. You always had to expect the unexpected. Those guys aren't easy to play against."
Crisp on public death of Spencer's father: "Everybody knew the story. Everybody knew what happened. But it was just one of those unwritten rules that it was never broached, never brought up. That was his private life. You leave it alone."
Fort St. James native and former Sabres forward Larry Playfair: "He knew the cop who killed his dad, and he would say that before he died he was going to make it right and take care of that cop."
Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Dave Keon: "He was a complicated guy who had a tragic end. His upbringing and what he was thrust into, it was all something that at times was a little overwhelming for him."
Sabres equipment manager Rip Simonick: "When he came to Buffalo, he was a very likable guy. He would just take over the locker room. But when it came to common sense, he was a guy who could be trapped easily."
Maple Leafs teammate Darryl Sittler: "When I learned he was charged with murder, it shocked me and everybody else. But at the same time you knew Brian lived on the wild side of life at the time, and you're bound for trouble when you hang around those kinds of people."
Crisp: "There was total non-belief. This can't be the guy I played with, can't be the guy I sat and had a beer with, can't be the same person who would do that. But when you get past that hurdle, you think 'Lord, what happened along the line? Could we have done something?' You question what went wrong, and then you come to the conclusion there was nothing we could have done differently. That was just the road he was going down."
Islanders teammate Gerry Hart: "To this day, I know Brian didn't do it, wasn't involved in it. ... The prosecution had a very weak case. It was all circumstantial evidence. But Brian was associated with some of these shady characters, and that implicated him."
Charles Burton, Florida state prosecutor for Spencer's murder trial: "If I didn't believe in my heart Brian Spencer was guilty, I wouldn't have prosecuted the case."
Roommate, lover and accuser Diane Delena: "If I took myself outside of this thing and look at it, to me it looked like a fateful situation. Somehow we were thrust together and this thing took on a life of its own. I never believed ... I just didn't know these sort of things happened."
Sittler: "He was trying to go forward with his life, and I suggested through the Maple Leafs Alumni or some of the players that he knew that we would help him any way we could. I told him he should not go back to Florida and have his stuff shipped up to Toronto or Buffalo. A month later, I heard a newsbreak that he'd been shot and killed in Florida."
Sittler: "I was shocked when I heard it, but my first reaction was that somebody had planned it. I have no evidence to substantiate that other than my gut feeling."
Former Riviera Beach detective George Mamak, lead investigator of Spencer's killing: "Just happened to be a crime of opportunity, two white guys on the side of the road with the cabin light on."
Simonick: "He would stand up until he was killed on the spot, which is what happened."
Hart: "A lot of guys stuck their necks out. We had to raise a lot of money to get him out on bail. We all shared in the frustration and the defeat of Brian not being able to take that opportunity and run with it."
Burton: "I remember not being surprised. Spencer had the chance to reconnect with people he hadn't seen in years and could've had a lot of opportunities. So what does he do? He lives his life the same way, being in a place he shouldn't have been."