One morning, Chris Ferraro woke up with a burning pain in one of his feet, and no idea where it came from.
Minutes later, he got a phone call from his identical twin brother, Peter, who had played a hockey game the night before.
“I told him I got hit with a puck in my foot and he told me, ‘Are you kidding me?' '' said Peter, older by one minute.
“Just in the last few days, Chris has been out with a stomach flu and my stomach has been twisting and turning the whole time. You can talk to twins about the whole phenomena, and it's all true. It happens.''
On the ice together since they were 6 years old on Long Island and linemates and teammates 12 times — including this fall in the Coyotes’ training camp — the Ferraros have shared every joy, pain and sorrow. Joys such as winning a national championship at the University of Maine, and reaching the NHL together three times, with the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh and Washington.
And the pain and sorrow of the last two years, when Chris' newlywed wife, Jennifer, was diagnosed with stomach cancer — leading the two brothers to temporarily abandon their life-long love for hockey to care for a wife, for a best friend and for each other.
“Chris had to take the year off knowing the reality of the disease, what was coming and how quickly,'' Peter said. “So many times, Jen put our careers ahead of herself and Chris said he wasn't going to waste any time they had (by) remaining on the ice.''
Surgeries. Rounds of chemotherapy. Trips to hospitals in Boston and Washington. Reading and learning as much as possible about the villain that turned their lives upside down.
“Unless you've faced something like this, you can't imagine how difficult, time-consuming and gut-wrenching it is,'' Peter said. “Chris told me about how he would go up to her as she was sleeping, just to make sure her heart was still beating and she was breathing. You don't know if you have another day or another month, you just don't know. “You just hope and pray for a miracle.''
The miracle didn't come. Just 32 years old, Jennifer Ferraro died last Nov. 5. The college sweethearts were married just 16 months. Chris and Peter found some comfort in keeping busy, starting the Jennifer Ferraro Foundation — to search for a cure and assist others suffering from stomach cancer — and resuming their hockey careers with Washington's minor league team in Portland, Ore., where they combined for 41 goals and 114 points as linemates.
Chris Ferraro politely declined to talk about his wife's death.
“God blessed my brother and I to have the ability to play hockey and the ability to be together through it all. The best way I can help Chris along now is to make sure we stay busy and keep our minds on other things,'' Peter said. “Hockey is important again. It's our only love, besides our family and our close friends.
“We've been doing this since we were 6 years old and getting back to the highest level, the NHL, is a dream and a goal we can throw ourselves into. We have always been close as brothers, but we've leaned on each other even more now.''
The chances of sticking with the Coyotes, who signed the brothers to one-year deals when Washington passed, are slim. They are likely to return to the American Hockey League in Springfield, Mass., perhaps as early as tomorrow when Phoenix cuts its camp roster to under 30 players.
But if injury problems similar to the 462 man-games the Coyotes lost last season return, the Ferraros have a combined 166 games of NHL experience — and constantly running motors on the ice — that provides Phoenix with some veteran insurance.
“They are high-energy players who know their work ethic makes them difficult to play against,'' Phoenix coach Bob Francis said. “You can see why they have been successful on the same line; they really mesh well together.''
Getting back to the NHL would be great, but it's a totally different measure of success now.
“In sports, you live in fear of not meeting your goals. You know your career can't go on forever and it's a cutthroat business,'' Peter said. “But you look at what my brother has gone through, what we've lived the last few years and it puts into perspective what is really important in life, what really matters.''