1984 - 2005
Farewell to Rick 'Tuggy'
Saturday is such a great day. It's the weekend. It's hockey night in Canada. It's not so much a day of the week, or even a TV show, as it is a state of mind. A happy state of mind.
But where I live, this Saturday isn't such a great day. Because today is the day of Tuggy's funeral.
Tuggy is Rick Passfield, a 21-year old kid who collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack on Monday.
There's no point in trying to make any sense of that. Twenty-one years old? What is with that? The hundreds of people who came to pay their respects at the Oshawa Funeral Service on Thursday, Friday and today for the final goodbye -- all those Whitby Jr. A Warriors, the Clarington Jr. B Green Gaels , the Brooklin senior Redmen, the Whitby minor Warriors, the Bellarmine University Knights, all the friends, all the family members -- they were all asking themselves the same thing.
There's no good answer to that. If there is, I'm afraid I'm not nearly deep enough to find it.
It is what it is. An unimaginable tragedy.
Can there be anything worse for a family -- for Tuggy's mom Sheila, for his dad Mike, for his little brother Jordan, for his Grandma Pat, who's there at the door to pad 1 at Iroquois Park, selling those 50-50 tickets, at every Jr. A Warrior game -- than to have a bury a son, a brother or a grandson?
In a word, no.
The younger the person is when it happens, the greater the tragedy. It happens all the time in our world. But that doesn't make it any easier to deal with.
Tuggy was a goaltender. A lacrosse goaltender and a very good one at that.
He was attending Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., on a field lacrosse scholarship. It was during a routine workout when he collapsed and died despite his teammates' best efforts to revive him.
But first and foremost, Tuggy was a box lacrosse goalie and something of a local legend in Whitby lacrosse circles. A member of a family who eats, breathes and sleeps lacrosse, Tuggy made a name for himself a long time ago in his minor lacrosse days.
Tuggy was always a large kid. A couple of heads of higher than the other kids his age and a lot wider, too. There's no mystery as to how he ended up in net. In those early days, when the kids would chase the ball all over the floor and try to throw it into the four by four square, Tuggy would make it hard for them to find any open net.
It was how he got his nickname. It started as Tugboat. Tugboat and his goaltending partner Dinghy. The big kid and the little kid. It stuck. It eventually became Tuggy or Tugger just plain old Tugg and if you're invovled in lacrosse not just in Whitby, but in southern Ontario, you need only say the name and everyone knew who you were talking about.
You didn't have to actually know Tuggy to know of him.
He was a larger than life kind of kid. His teammates loved him and he was one of those kids with a friendly, easy manner who was pals with everyone, from Orangeville to Peteborough, from Halton Hills to St. Catharines, from Brampton to Akwesasne. He was a member of an extended lacrosse family that, when push comes to shove, is as tight as any cult.
Tuggy never hesitated to give of himself, to help another goalie from another team, a rival team, throwing his stick over the glass when that goaltender broke a stick during a tournament game. Need a goalie instructor for a kids' lacrosse camp? Tuggy was your man.
A funny thing happened to Tuggy as he got older. He got smaller. Not tiny, or anything like that. But he thinned out. Where he often stopped the ball as a young kid by his sheer volume, as he got into his later years in minor lacrosse and into junior, he got leaner, more athletic, but not meaner.
He still always had a smile on his face, but his easy manner off the floor should never be confused with his deameanor on it. He was a battler, as competitive as they come, a goalie who wasn't afraid to bark at his teammates if they thought they needed it and he was no less hard on himself when he thought he wasn't playing up to par. Somewhere along the line he became an athlete, not just the big kid who was in net because he was so much bigger than everyone else.
You could tell when he was mad -- at himself or anyone else. He'd be banging the shaft of that big goalie stick off the posts, getting down into his crouch. Getting vocal. His voice would echo all through the arena. Tuggy meant business.
He was one of the very best, if not the best, goalies in Jr. A lacrosse in Ontario. There was not much doubt he was going to be a Brooklin Redmen one day or that a tour of duty in the pro ranks of the National Lacrosse League (NLL) awaited him once he finished his schooling at Bellarmine. He would get into that zone and nothing was getting by him.
Goalies in any sport are nuts, but lacrosse goalies take that to a new level. In field lacrosse, they wear hardly any equipment, with guys firing the rock at deadly speeds and they just stand there in their shorts with their stick up in the air like a butterfly net. If Tuggy had died getting hit by a ball in a field game, that you could have almost understood.
But collapsing during a fall workout?
For those who knew him, for those who knew of him, it's not easy to reconcile. His heart gave out there, during a workout, but he could load up pounds and pounds of heavy equipment, step out on the floor in 100 degree heat and humidity and take blistering shot after blistering shot and be crashed into all night long by those mean kids from Peterborough (just kidding, guys) and still make like George Chuvalo against Ali...never going down. Night after night after night. Go figure.
The irony is his heart gave out when he had so much of it. Heart in the sense of competitiveness. Heart in the sense of caring and sharing.
Oh, yeah, Tuggy had heart alright, but now he's gone and there are a lot of us who can't really believe it and don't really understand it, though we'll all try to make some sense of it.
As someone said at the funeral home on Friday, the late, great legendary lacrosse coach Jim Bishop "just got himself one helluva great goaltender."
Yup, that would be Tuggy.
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