Terry Trafford was remembered at his funeral as a fun-loving prankster who had a perpetual smile on his face and a unique ability to make teammates and friends laugh. All of which only makes it more perplexing why the 20-year-old forward for the Saginaw Spirit would decide to take his own life.
There are still so many questions, none of which could be answered by anyone at Trafford’s funeral in Toronto Tuesday afternoon. But Fr. Michael McGourty, who conducted the service, offered the only explanation of which anyone could make any sense.
“(Terry’s friends) all spoke of a young man with such vigor, such a sense of humor, such joy and love for life,” Fr. McGourty told the mourners. “It could only be a terrible sadness which made him believe that life was not worth living. But the sadness that clouded his judgment has lifted.”
It has been one week since Trafford was found in his truck in the parking lot of a Walmart in Saginaw of self-inflicted asphyxiation and more than two weeks since he was sent home by the Spirit for violating team rules – it’s believed he was caught smoking marijuana on a team road trip – and disappeared. But the passage of time has done little to solve the mysteries surrounding his death.
The funeral was a chance to celebrate Trafford’s life and his teammates and friends gave a number of touching tributes. Cody Payne, who played minor hockey with Trafford on the Mississauga Reps and rejoined his friend when he was traded to the Spirit from the Plymouth Whalers last summer, said the two would often dream about what it would like to play with or against each other in the NHL.
Payne said the two were inseparable as teenagers and linemates both with the Reps and in high school at The Hill Academy. When the two were opponents in the NHL, they would both skate to center ice during the warm-up to catch up with each other, saying teammates often had to pull them away from one another. Payne said the most cherished times were spent not at the rink, but at the Trafford home where the two would constantly hang out when they weren’t playing hockey. “You never had a bad day in the Trafford backyard,” he said.
Justin Kea has played with Trafford each of the past four seasons in Saginaw and acknowledged teammates always had to be on their toes when Trafford was around because he was a master at playing pranks on his teammates. He would often put clear tape on his teammates skate blades before they went out for practice, unscrew water bottles on unsuspecting teammates and put heat rub in their helmets.
Kea said in the four years he and Trafford spent together, there was no indication he could see that would lead anyone to believe that Trafford would take his life.
“He’s been my teammate for four years and a good friend of mine for four years and when you play a sport like hockey with a guy like that for that amount of time, you really get close,” Kea said. When asked whether he picked up any indications that Trafford was depressed enough to take his own life, Kea said, “No, never.”
One of the testaments to the impact Trafford had on his teammates came in the form of Nathan Glass, who played with Trafford in Saginaw for just over a season, but came to the funeral from Sherbrooke, where he’s currently playing with the Sherbrooke Phoenix of the Quebec League. He said Trafford gave him a concussion when they were opponents, but the two became fast friends once Glass was traded to the Spirit.
“He’s the happiest best friend and I loved him like a brother,” Glass said. “It’s not about how the person died, it’s about how they lived and I’d say ‘Traff’ always lived life to the fullest.”
In all, nine teammates made the trip to the funeral and formed an honor guard by crossing their sticks over Trafford’s casket as it was brought out of the funeral home. Team owner Dick Garber and president Craig Goslin also made the trip, but GM Jim Paliafito and coach Greg Gilbert did not. The organization has come under fire for that decision, but Goslin said the reason for that was grief counselors advised the Spirit to make attendance at the funeral voluntary for the players and Gilbert and Paliafito stayed behind to support the players who chose to stay in Saginaw. “Some chose to stay home and grieve,” Goslin said, “and believe me, they’re grieving.”
Team chaplain Chuck Jacobson said the team has spent the past week supporting each other, all the while preparing for its first-round playoff series that opens on the road against the Erie Otters Friday night. But Jacobson said there the intervening time since Trafford’s death has not provided any answers.
“We all have questions of why and no understanding,” Jacobson said. “Terry made a choice. He made a decision based on all the things that were going on in his life and it seems like only Terry and God will know all the answers.”
Two of the more touching tributes came from Cody Payne and Skye Cieszlak, Trafford’s girlfriend who lives in Saginaw.
“A lot of people have told me to be strong and that things happen for a reason. I’m still struggling find this reason,” Payne said, “but I know Terry’s in a better place and if there’s one thing I’ve thought about, when my day comes, it won’t be that bad because I know Terry will be waiting for me with a big smile.”
Cieszlak recalled how the two met in high school when she was a senior and he was a junior. She remembered how he skipped a class to talk to her, then made up excuses to leave his detention to spend time with her. She talked about a boyfriend who would cover her ears while she was napping so she wouldn’t be wakened by the sound of the train outside her door.
“He saved my life,” Cieszlak said, “and I regret every day that I couldn’t save his.”
Photo by Ken Campbell