SAGINAW, MICH. – Terry Trafford of the Saginaw Spirit played the last game of his life Feb. 17 at the RBC Centre in Sarnia. It was three days after his 20th birthday, which should have been a happy time for him. It was Valentine’s Day and he was in love with his high school sweetheart, Skye Ciezslak, with whom he was also celebrating their fourth anniversary of dating. But on that day, the dark clouds that prompted Terry Trafford to inexplicably and meticulously plan his own death were forming into a storm of despair.
“It was the worst day of his life,” Cieszlak recalled in an exclusive interview with thn.com “He sat there and was depressed about how he had just turned 20 and wasn’t a teenager anymore and that was his last year in the OHL.”
Trafford did not score in the game, but he did pick up four penalty minutes. Four days later, the Spirit played a road game in Peterborough, one for which Trafford was scratched as punishment for being a half hour late for a team workout on Feb. 10. The Spirit took a bus to Owen Sound for a game two nights later and during the off night in Owen Sound, according to Cieszlak, Trafford was allegedly caught smoking marijuana in the presence of another player. (Cieszlak claims the other player was also taking part, but team president Craig Goslin denied that claim, saying the player was only present when the incident happened.)
Trafford was sat out of the Feb. 22 game against Owen Sound and the road game against the Guelph Storm the next afternoon. Feb. 24 was a day off for the team and Trafford met with Spirit coach Greg Gilbert the next day, at which time Gilbert said he told Trafford to go back home to Toronto and report back on March 2.
But in the interim, Goslin said he and team owner Dick Garber learned “additional information,” he declined to say from whom, “of misconduct that was detrimental to our culture and in violation of our franchise…and we realized right then it would not be the right thing to do to bring him back at that time.”
Goslin stressed it was not a hockey decision, but one that came directly from him and Garber. However, Spirit GM Jim Paliafito was charged with delivering the news to Roy Trafford, Terry’s father. He tried to call Roy Trafford twice, then sent a text message asking Roy to call him. Meanwhile, Paliafito called Trafford’s agent, Joel Robilos and informed him of the ownership decision and asked him to reach Roy.
“(Robilos) called me back and said, ‘I talked to Terry,’ ” Paliafito said. “I said, ‘How did it go?’ He said, ‘Fine, he was quiet, but OK.’ Sunday morning (March 2), Roy calls me and says, ‘Jim, I see you’ve called me.’ I told him the decision and I said, ‘Roy, I will continue to try to help Terry, we’ll try to get him on another team, we’ll do what we can to help him.’ He said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and that was it.”
Trafford showed up at the Dow Event Center in Saginaw the morning of March 3 to gather his belongings. All his hockey and personal belongings, which were at Goslin’s house because Trafford was living with the Goslin family, had been packed up. Trafford spoke with Gilbert, who told him he should continue to stay in shape and would welcome the chance to work with him over the summer. Goslin, who was not at the rink that day, said Trafford had an exit physical and got help loading his truck from the equipment manager and trainer.
“I told him in the summer I have skates back home where I skate some pro guys and college guys and he’s more than welcome to come out and get ready for next season,” Gilbert said. “But I said, ‘You’ve got to straighten out and get your act together, get yourself in the right direction. You’re not done playing.’ ”
How can a truck with a dead body sit in a place as public as a Walmart parking lot for nine days without being noticed? How does a person go missing for six days before authorities in Saginaw find out about it?
According to numerous sources, Trafford’s body was at the far end of the parking lot at the Walmart, a chain that has a policy that allows people to park overnight without a penalty. Of the more than 4,000 Walmarts in the United States, only 600 do not allow overnight parking. The truck was near two dumpsters in an area that would only be occupied if the store were very busy, since it was the furthest away from the store.
“His truck is higher than other people’s and people probably weren’t looking in his truck,” Cieszlak said. “He was laying down so maybe people just saw an empty truck. Nobody bothered to peek their head in there.”
The reason why Trafford was missing so long without being seen was that when he was in Saginaw playing for the Spirit, he drove a red Mustang. But when he went back to pick up his things, he drove a green GMC Sierra truck. After a couple of days, when people started to worry, the first thing they did was call the Canadian Border Patrol to ask whether Trafford had crossed the border. And they were told that he had, simply because the border patrol only had a record of Trafford crossing back to Canada in his red Mustang the day he was initially sent home and not crossing back in the same car.
Armed with that knowledge, police in Ontario thought he was somewhere near Toronto, which is why Cieszlak went there looking for him. The police in Ontario didn’t tell the Michigan police anything because as far as anyone knew, Trafford had crossed the border back into Canada. Cieszlak, who saw Trafford before he left to go back home when he was sent there by the Spirit, said she wasn’t even aware he was driving a green truck until later.
“I would have found him here,” Cieszlak said. “I would have found him at that Walmart the first day because I live a block away from there.”
According to Cieszlak, Terry Trafford was found in his truck with $450 his father had given him and all his belongings. As the Spirit’s chaplain said after the funeral, perhaps only Terry Trafford and God will know exactly why he took his life, seemingly with so much ahead of him.
Trafford had gone through the 2012 and 2013 NHL drafts without being selected, but Gilbert said there were NHL scouts asking about him because of his speed. Trafford had four years of tuition paid at university as a result of the OHL’s scholarship program and had asked for his transcripts before leaving.
Perhaps Trafford could not envision a life without hockey in it. Perhaps he was so devastated by the news of being kicked off the team that he couldn’t bear what lie ahead of him.
“And when he went to the rink, I think he went, ‘Holy crap. I have to go back and what am I going to do there? Nothing,’ ” Cieszlak said. “Because here he was, some hockey player star, and there he was, some hockey player star who didn’t make it.”