Terry Trafford remembered as 'a great friend, a great teammate'
The two of them grew up together, went to Hill Academy together, laughed together, played minor hockey together, shared their dreams of first playing in the OHL, then the NHL together.
The last place Cody Payne ever expected to find himself was standing, wearing a Saginaw Spirit jersey over a shirt and tie, in a chapel at the Ward Funeral Home, eulogizing his close friend and schoolmate, Terry Trafford.
They were born a month apart in 1994, two kids living the Canadian dream. Whenever anything happened to one or the other, they called each other. Their stalls were beside each other in the Spirit dressing room. On team buses, they sat opposite each other. They ate their team meals together. Whenever the lights went out and everybody else on the bus fell asleep, they stayed up talking. After curfew, their texts continued.
“We talked about anything and everything,” he said in his eulogy. “We dreamed of playing together in the OHL. We dreamed of playing in the NHL. He really believed in me.
“This is rough. A lot of people told me to be strong (Tuesday). I’m struggling ... struggling to find this reason.”
He wasn’t alone. For all those who spoke Tuesday, all those who painted wondrous picture with words of who Terry Trafford was and why his life was so important, no one could really explain what happened. No one could explain how this young man, so funny, so full of mischief and pranks, so blazingly fast on the ice, so beloved, so full of friends, so loved by many — and always, said Payne, “with a smile ... he could make you laugh in a split second” would then take his own life.
The small room at the funeral home was not surprisingly jam packed. The hall outside the room, where almost as many people could look through the window and hear the words, was equally crowded. A few members of the Saginaw Spirit sat in the front row, wearing their bright blue uniforms. But not all the team was there. And the coach, Greg Gilbert, and the general manager, Jim Paliafito, were stunningly and inexcusably absent.
At the front of the chapel, the autographed jersey beside the casket was not from the Spirit, the team that sent him home and then told him not to come back. It was a Toronto Bulldogs jersey, a summer-league all-star team top, with autographs all over it. A memory of better times.
Commissioner David Branch was in attendance, representing the Ontario Hockey League. Former chairman of the board Sherry Bassin was there. Trafford’s billet, the Spirit club president Craig Goslin, was there. And the minor hockey community of Toronto, some who knew Trafford, some who had played or coached against him, was well represented.
Another teammate, Justin Kea, the Buffalo draft pick, called Trafford “a great friend, a great teammate.” Almost everybody called him Traff. He was the fastest skater most of them had ever seen. Everybody who talks about Terry Trafford mentions that. That and his smile.
“He never said no to anything,” said Kea. “He just showed up. He will forever be in my heart.”
Kea told a story of locking his keys in his car one night and the one person he knew he could depend on, to get him his keys, to get him home, was Trafford.
“I loved him like a brother,” he said. “This is not about how a person died but how he lived.”
Skye Cieszlak met Trafford in his first season playing for the Spirit. He was 16 at the time, she was 17. Almost immediately they became boyfriend and girlfriend. Trafford played almost four seasons in Saginaw: The relationship lasted ’til the end.
“He laughed more than anybody ever has,” said Cieszlak. She said he “saved my life. And I’ll regret everyday that I couldn’t save his. I thank God for Terry every single day.”
Terry Trafford, sent home from the Spirit for disciplinary reasons late in February, disappeared in the Saginaw area on March 3, his body found eight days later. His death was self-inflicted. But his friends chose to celebrate the best of his young life.
“When my days come,” said Payne, the Boston Bruins’ draft pick, “it won’t be that bad because I’ll know that Terry will be waiting for me when I get there.”