BRAD RUBACHUK
Talked to the Official Storm web site's Peter Collins on the day his shirt was retired

"I want tonight to be a celebration, not a wake," said 'The Rock' Brad Rubachuk as he looked forward to the opening game of the Millennium season.

Brad Rubachuk never thought he'd be honoured in such a way, after all, he's only been with the club three years, even though he was the longest serving player, an honour that now passes on to his close pal, Mike Morin.

"I'll be bawling my eyes out for sure," said Ruby: "I swear to God I never thought they'd do this for me, but it just goes to show how great the people in this organisation and this city are, I'm totally overwhelmed."

Big characters tend to have big hearts and that's certainly true of Ruby, who in the space of just 196 games lies sixth in the club's all-time scoring charts. He's amassed 72 goals and 88 assists for a points total of 173 - oh, and the small matter of 508 penalty minutes which as you might expect is the most recorded by a Storm player - by a long way.

Before breaking his neck in Bracknell in a collison with the Bees' Paxton Schulte, the career of the 29-year-old winger from Calgary, Alberta (although he was actually born in Winnipeg, Manitoba) had followed a familiar path, graduating from the WHL's Lethbridge Hurricanes to the NHL's Buffalo Sabres, going on to spend three years's with the club's AHL farm team, the Rochester Americans. A spell with the Fort Wayne Komets in the IHL was followed by a return to the AHL with the Binghamton Rangers. He then moved to Europe and the Swindon Wildcats in what was then the British first division. "It wasn't the hockey I was used to, but it meant I got plenty of ice time, scoring goals and getting into fights, I really enjoyed it," he said. And he'll never forget his first ever game in Britain, either. "I wasn't in shape but I went out for the first shift and played the way I always did. At the first whistle I looked to the bench expecting to be replaced, but both my wingers were lined up so I kinda circled back and got into position hoping nobody would see how outa breath I was. I tell ya, that first period felt like a seven game series!"

Playing against the Storm - scoring six goals in one encounter - opened his eyes to where he really wanted to play his hockey, and opened the eyes of the Storm fans who had someone to boo but also secretly admire, for here was a guy who could play a bit and fight. "As soon as I stepped out onto the ice at the Nynex as it was then I knew it was the place I wanted to play for thr rest of my career. Swindon were worried I might up sticks but I assured them I'd see out my contract, and if the Storm came in for me over the summer I'd listen to what they had to offer," he said. And in for Storm came. In a play-off game at the Arena in that first season he was sidelined with a broken jaw, but the reaction he got from the Storm fans cleared any lingering doubts he might have had about moving north. "I was walking along the concourse and the Manchester fans kept stopping me saying things like 'Hey Ruby we hate you - but we hope you're playing for us next season, which was kinda cool." And in a matter of weeks he was indeed a Storm player.

Whether scoring important goals, setting up chances for others or standing up for his teammates, Ruby became the 'go to guy' when the going got tough. So used to being in the thick of things it was a while before he came to terms with the fact he'd never play again. "I was in tears for a week, then my parents pointed out that at least I could still walk, and my girlfriend Joanne made me realise there was life after hockey and that I wasn't confined to a wheelchair. "The doctors have assured me I should be able to lead a normal life, go golfing and skating with my family, but knowing my luck I'll probably fall right on my ass the moment I set foot on the ice again."

Although the curtain comes down tonight on his Storm career it will never descend on the place he holds in the hearts of hockey fans in Manchester. For them 'The Rock' will always be there, all you have to do is look up to see his shirt. The wearer may be gone but his memory will never be forgotten.