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Balls the Size of CantaloupesThe summer of 1999 was a tough one for St. Louis Blues enforcer Tony Twist. As popular with the howling Keil Center crowds as he was feared by opposing players, Twist asked Blues management for a bump in salary, from $725,000 to nearly a million. Not only was the raise request summarily rejected, but general manager Larry Pleau let Twist go.
The crowd-pleasing hockey player known as "the Twister" for his hell-on-ice exploits was 31 at the time and in the prime of his career. He'd spent six years with the club. But Pleau decided Twist was expendable and brought in a younger, more affordable mauler named Reed Low. "I was upset about it," Twist says of his release. "I was kind of depressed. I thought I had something to add to St. Louis. I still thought I was a marketable product, that there wasn't a better person for the job."
Later on that same August day, Twist walked out of his Creve Coeur home, mounted his self-built chopper and, hoping to clear his head, motored west on Olive Boulevard toward St. Charles county. While riding, he spoke for a time on his cell phone with April Nickles, the bar manager at the now-shuttered Soulard pub Mike & Min's.
Then, without warning, a car pulled out of a parking lot directly in front of him. "I flipped in the air, traveled about 50 feet and landed on my feet like Fred Flintstone," Twist recalls. "When I landed, I ripped through my boots, my pelvis broke, and I was completely naked. My pants, my belt, and everything else was gone."
The bike smashed into the side door of the car. Its wheels were still turning when an ambulance arrived minutes later to rush Twist to the emergency room at St. John's Mercy Medical Center. Massive internal bleeding forced doctors to wait days before operating on his pelvis.
Remembers Twist: "The doctor[s] told me that they couldn't put the blood in as quick as it was leaving, so if my blood count didn't improve they'd have to operate, and there was a very good chance I wouldn't make it."
He spent a week in the hospital, monitored around the clock, until his condition stabilized.
"My dick was this wide," gestures Twist. "But it was only this tall, because it had a tube coming out of it. I had every nurse on the floor coming in to check on my catheter. And I know they were laughing, because my balls had bounced off the gas tank. They were the size of cantaloupes, resting on top of my legs. I couldn't let them fall because of the weight. It hurt."
Twist left the hospital and spent the next month tethered to a wheelchair before returning for reconstructive surgery on his left knee. The painful realization dawned on him: He'd never play professional hockey again. "I was pretty damn sad," he says. "You never want to give up the game."
"It was very scary," says Jocelyn Twist, to whom Tony was married for nine years. "He'd been a big, strong, capable guy his whole life, and now he could hardly walk. When they told him his knee was destroyed and his career was over, it broke my heart even though I knew what I knew at the time."
What Jocelyn knew was that her husband was having an affair. While in intensive care, she checked Twist's cell phone's voicemail, expecting to hear from his parents, who were en route from Kamloops, British Columbia.
Instead, she heard another's woman's voice. It was April Nickles, the woman who, three years later, would become April Twist.
The Twists today reside on the outskirts of Defiance with Tony and Jocelyn's two teenage children. Their custom-designed home overlooks a vast swath of wilderness. Financially well-off, they own four bars in suburban St. Louis. When he's not managing his saloons, Twist spends his days coaching his son's hockey team, hosting benefits for the physically disabled and co-hosting the cable TV shows Chalk Talkand Gateway Restaurant Guide. Every summer he plays in Jerry Bruckheimer's celebrity hockey tournament in Las Vegas.
It seems that Twist has carved out a fresh new beginning for himself, as if a Zamboni had come along and smoothed away the rough ice of his past. But Twist's run-ins in the rink have been replaced by anguished fights with his ex-wife, legal wrangling with a bar patron and three individuals who filed and subsequently dropped restraining orders against him.
Twist's most public spat, though, involves Todd McFarlane, the comic-book artist who Twist sued in 1997 for misappropriation of his name. Though awarded a total of $39.5 million by two separate juries, Twist has yet to see a dime, and the case remains unresolved.
"It's exactly like what I did on the ice a war, a battle," Twist says. He's referring to the McFarlane case, but he could be describing numerous aspects of his post-hockey life. "It hasn't been a drain on me. If it's an emotional drain to go to battle, don't do it, because you're probably not cut out for the job."
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