Gary Suter

When you think of the crème de la crème among American blueliners, most of them belonged to the same generation, played during the same period, and have either retired in the last few years or are approaching retirement: Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Phil Housley, Mathieu Schneider, Derian and Kevin Hatcher.

And, of course, who can forget #20 Gary Suter. Looking back, Suter's résumé was loaded with accomplishments, whether it be during his seventeen years in the NHL or in international competition representing the US. Suter's name is universally acknowledged as a necessity on any list of great American-born defensemen.

Having been passed up in both the '82 and '83 entry drafts, Suter (a product of the University of Wisconsin) spent the following summer lugging cases of beer at a brewery in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, wondering if he would ever get a chance to play in the big leagues. Finally, he was selected by Calgary in the 9th round of the '84 draft. Although neither Suter nor the Flames were terribly ecstatic at the time, this turned out to be one of the best late-round investments ever.

In his inaugural season (1985-86), Suter exploded offensively with 68 points (highlighted by a 6-point night against Edmonton), earning him the Calder Trophy. Two years later, he topped that mark by setting a career high 91 points (scoring in 16 consecutive contests), and he finished third in Norris Trophy voting after Ray Bourque and Scott Stevens. During eight and a half seasons in Calgary, Suter tallied 60 or more points six times, finished fourth among league defensemen in scoring six years in a row, and was offered a spot in the All-Star Game four times. Injuries precluded him from skating in both the 1986 and 1989 Stanley Cup Finals; nevertheless, he understood what it meant to be a big-time player and consistently carried his scoring touch into the playoffs.

During his years in Calgary, Suter roomed with and manned the point alongside Hall of Famer Al MacInnis. Together, they provided one of the best defensive pairings (if not the best) in the NHL. Said former Flames Assistant GM Al MacNeil, "[both Gary and Al] were magic on the powerplay." While Big Al's booming slapshots tended to overshadow Suter's floating wrist shots, Suter was still respected as one of the best defensemen in the league. When he left Calgary in 1994, he ranked second all-time in team scoring behind MacInnis (making Calgary the only club ever to, at any particular time, have two defensemen as its top two all-time scorers).

Suter split the second half of his career between Chicago and San Jose. While his numbers diminished, and while he slowed down due to injuries, he remained a Top Ten defenseman, and continued to have a significant impact on his teams' success. While with Chicago, he credited Chris Chelios for helping him play a stronger game in the defensive zone. "I've learned a lot defensively just from watching [Chelios] in practice and getting pointers from him," he said at the time. "Just how to play odd-man rushes better: two-on-ones, three-on-ones." He and Chelios were also fitness freaks and would workout intensely in the Blackhawks' sauna several mornings during the week.

By the time he hung up his skates in 2002, Suter had amassed over 1,100 games and over 800 points.

Outside the NHL, Suter donned the red, white and blue in a multitude of events: two Olympics (winning a silver medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games), one World Cup of Hockey (capturing the first ever title in '96), two Canada Cups, two World Championships (named co-MVP in 1985), and one World Juniors. Such an extensive list of appearances is nothing short of amazing, and it is truly indicative of Suter's indispensability to Team USA over the course of his career.

Sadly, his play on the international stage was overshadowed by on-ice injuries he inflicted on Andrei Lomakin during the '87 Canada Cup, Wayne Gretzky during the '91 Canada Cup, and Paul Kariya right before the '98 Olympics. In spite of these incidents, Suter remained in high regard by his teammates and opponents, never looked at as a mean or dirty player. However folks in Canada will remember him for his vicious stick play.

Suter's brother Bob was a member of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team that struck gold in Lake Placid, and Bob's son Ryan is currently skating for the Nashville Predators. There was some speculation that Gary would come out of retirement to join his nephew in Nashville, but that never materialized.

Written by guest writer Vikash Khanna


Theoren Fleury

Despite the fact that he was one of the NHL's all time greatest super pests, annoying opponents and opponent's fans endlessly, you could not help but admire Theoren Fleury if for nothing more than his success in overcoming the many obstacles thrown his way in life.

The topic of his size always comes to the forefront when discussing the Oxbow, Saskatchewan born Fleury. Fleury was always the smallest player on any team he ever played on. He grew to be just 5'6" and played around 180lbs. Despite this he played with ferocious physicality. Grit and determination were his calling cards, even though he had the speed and skill to twice break the 100 point barrier.

Even though he dominated the Western Hockey League as a junior star with the Moose Jaw Warriors, even the Flames did not expect much from Fleury. GM Cliff Fletcher used his 166th overall draft choice in 1987 on Fleury, hoping that he would turn into a minor league drawing card. He turned into not only perhaps the best player in that draft class, but the best player in Calgary Flames history.

It did not take him long to play his way into the NHL as he played in 36 games with Calgary in the 1988-89 season and averaged almost a point per game posting 34 points (14 goals and 20 assists) in 36 games. He played in 22 playoff games that year scoring five goals and 11 points and was a member of the 1989 Stanley Cup Champion Calgary Flames. The Flames won the deciding game of the Stanley Cup Finals at the Forum in Montreal becoming the only visiting team in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup on the Montreal Canadiens home ice.

Fleury played 10+ seasons for the Calgary Flames from 1988-89 to the 1998-99 season. During that time as a member of the Flames, he reached the 20-goal plateau ten times, the 30-goal plateau seven times, the 40-goal plateau three times, and had a career-high 51 goals and 104 points in the 1990-91 season. He was the Flames leading scorer six times between the 1990-91 and 1998-99 seasons.

Though there was a messy divorce, Calgary fans loved Fleury. Oilers fans did not so much, if only because he was such a needle in their side. Fleury may have scored his most famous - if not most important - goal against the Oilers in the 1991 playoffs. His heroics and ensuing celebration will live on highlight films forever.

Fleury was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in a six-player deal on February 28, 1999. In 15 games with the Avalanche during that regular season, he scored 10 goals and added 14 assists for 24 points. He went on to play 18 playoff games for the Avalanche that year and posted 17 points with five goals and 12 assists.

Fleury signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers on July 8, 1999. He played three seasons with the Rangers including last year when he scored 24 goals and added 39 assists for 63 points (2nd on the team) with 216 penalty minutes while playing in all 82 games. Fleury led the Rangers in game winning goals with five.

Fleury reached four career milestones as a member of the Rangers. He scored his 400th career goal on November 4, 2000, at Montreal. He reached the 1,000 point plateau with two assists versus Dallas on October 29, 2001. He played in his 1,000th career game and registered his 600th career assist on January 23, 2002, versus the Boston Bruins.

Fleury was a pesky, sometimes dirty physical player. He started more than a few fires in the NHL, particularly in the legendary wars with the Edmonton Oilers in the Battle of Alberta. But his most famous on-ice incident would have to be his involvement in the 1986 "Punch Up in Piestany" at the World Junior Championships. He and Soviet player Evgeny Davydov started what turned into a bench clearing brawl, kicking both teams out of the tournament and costing Canada a gold medal.

Fleury embraced the international game. He returned to the WJC in 1987, winning gold. He participated in two world championships, 2 Canada Cups/World Cups, and 2 Olympics. His play at the 2002 Olympic games in Salt Lake where Canada won gold, Fleury impressed many with his fine play despite his crumbling NHL career.

Wayne Gretzky insisted upon the aging Fleury being a part of that team. #99 was one of Fleury's biggest fans.

"When you use the word `little' to describe Theo Fleury, you're not talking about his heart," says Wayne Gretzky, who selected Fleury for the gold medal-winning team. "This is a 50-goal scorer who could play for any team in the NHL. He's a small man who has the ability to make the big play at any time. He's living proof that size is not an insurmountable hurdle in making it to the NHL. I thoroughly enjoyed playing with Theo in the Canada Cup [in 1991]. His quickness in going to the net often catches defensemen and goaltenders asleep. When his arms are raised after scoring a goal, then he doesn't look so small."

Putting an end to the "he's too small" school of thought proved to be one of the easiest battles Fleury would face in his lifetime. Depression and alcoholism chased the aging Fleury from the league, but Crohn's Disease, his father's battle with cancer and rumors of being victimized by infamous junior coach Graham James all haunted Fleury.

In the Spring of 2001, Fluery voluntarily checked himself into the National Hockey Leagues/National Hockey Leagues Players Association Substance Abuse and Behavior Health Program missing the Rangers final 20 games of the regular season. Upon his successful completion of the NHL/NHLPA Program, Fluery entered a mandatory aftercare program prescribed by the program doctors. Participating in an aftercare program is one of the key components to each individuals overall program. As part of the aftercare program, individuals are required to submit to mandatory testing as long as they continue their career in the NHL.

Fleury would find employment in Chicago, but a drinking incident in a strip club saw the league suspend him for 25 games. That would prove to be Fleury's sad exit from the NHL.

In 2005 Fleury would resurface with the Horse Lake Thunder, playing for the Allan Cup, Canada's amateur championship. Horse Lake also featured former NHLer Gino Odjick, but the Thunder would fall short in the championship game against the Thunder Bay Bombers.

Fleury would also cross the Atlantic in hopes of extending his hockey career. Playing with the Belfast Giants, he was named as the best player in the British Elite League. Still, no NHL offers would come in.

Fleury returned to Calgary and started a concrete sealing business. He has hopes of turning his business into a reality television show.


Al MacInnis

When you think of Al MacInnis you think of his booming slap shot. His overall effective game which ranked him as one of the most complete defenders of any era is totally overlooked by his 100 mile an hour blast from the point that puts the fear of god into goalies and anyone standing in the way.

He developed his shot by spending countless winter (and summer) hours firing a puck against a barn back home in the tiny community of Port Hood, Nova Scotia. Over the years he learned to make his shot doubly effective by keeping the shot low, rarely over a foot off the ice, so that it was perfect for tip-ins and rebounds. But how did he shoot so hard?

MacInnis maximizes his upper body strength by keeping his hands high on the stick and relatively close together compared to other shooters, thus creating a larger arc on the swing. He also has a bit of a golf "wedge" blade on his stick, which gives his shots extra lift. He also uses an extremely long stick, which again creates a large arc.

Perhaps even more amazing than the strength and velocity of his shot was his accuracy. It was pretty rare to see a player block a MacInnis shot of any kind, especially the big slapper. MacInnis knew how to get puck through traffic and on to the net. It was this uncanny skill that he would pass on to many defensive partners, most especially Chris Pronger.

His shot got him into the NHL. He was always known for his shot during his playing days, and will be forever remembered for his awesome blast. But if you look past that shot, you'll notice he was a complete defenseman with an incredible career.

MacInnis was a good skater in terms of lateral movement and agility, but he had average speed. He rarely rushed the puck, instead preferring to make crisp outlet passes. He played a very effective physical game, but was anything but a punishing physical presence. His game based on subtle intelligence, and if not observed closely, it can be taken for granted, even ignored.

At least until he winds up to shoot. Then everyone takes notice.

"It was a shot that gave me the opportunity," admits MacInnis. "I think most players unless you come into the league as a Gretzky or a Lindros or Lemieux or Jagr, there are a lot of us that come in the league where you shine in one area. A lot of guys, it might be their scoring touch. Might be their skating ability. Or it might be their shot. That has been with me my whole career."

And what a career it was. MacInnis, who always preferred the old wooden sticks, spent 13 years as a member of the Calgary Flames, leading the team to a Stanley Cup championship in 1989 and capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts.

MacInnis won the MVP award by recording at least one point in the final 17 games, a playoff record for defensemen. He also became the first defenseman in history to win the playoff scoring race. In doing so, he became the first defenseman Larry Robinson in 1978 to be so honored.

Many believe that MacInnis' devastating slap shot rattled Montreal's Patrick Roy to the point of distraction in the Finals, turning the series in Calgary's favor. Whether true or not, it certainly adds to the legend.

By the time MacInnis was traded to St. Louis in July of 1994, he was Calgary's all-time leader in games played (803), assists (609), and points (822).

"Chopper" had several productive seasons with the St. Louis Blues, seemingly only getting better with age. In 1999, his 18th year in the league, he was named as the league's best blueliner, winning the Norris Trophy for the first time.

MacInnis, now an elder statesman and starting in 2003 the St. Louis team captain, had a tremendous effect on Chris Pronger's career, acting as a mentor and role model. But a two serious injuries to his left eye coupled with a long lay off due to the 2004-05 NHL lock out ended MacInnis' playing career.

There can be no doubting MacInnis' career will land him in the Hall of Fame career. Take a look at his career accomplishments. Stanley Cup, Canada Cup, Memorial Cup and an Olympic gold medal highlight his trophy cabinet. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy, Norris Trophy, 10 All Star nods. He is one of only 4 defensemen to surpass 100 points in a season. He scored 340 career goals, 166 of them on the power play. He totaled 1274 points in 1416 NHL games.

But he will always be known for that big slap shot of his.


Tim Hunter

Tim Hunter only scored 138 points in over 800 NHL games, but was a player every team in the NHL would have killed to have.

"I was a player with not a lot of talent but came to play every night and played very hard, hated to lose and loved the game and loved to win."

Tim had no measurable finesse skill to speak of. He was at best an average skater. He had no speed or agility on skates but had excellent balance, which aided him in the physical game. He could do little with the puck in terms of shooting, passing or handling. Most of his goals came by crashing the crease or accidentally deflecting off his shin guard.

While Tim lacked the skills to do the finesse game, he excelled at the physical game. He was as big and strong as they come. He did some good work along the boards and in front of the net. And of course Time was a willing and good fighter, and occasionally would use his lumber in a not so legal manner.

Tim had a small and well defined role on the ice, but it is impossible to over exaggerate the importance of his contributions off of it. He was a great team player - excellent in the dressing rooms. The Calgary Flames became a powerhouse in the 1980s, and Tim's fingerprints are all over that. His wit, humor, support and leadership helped to mold a group of individuals into a top flight team. It is Tim's off ice contributions that were the most important contribution he made to his hockey team.

Hunter was originally drafted by the Atlanta Flames in the third round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. It wasn't until the 1983-84 campaign that Hunter made the NHL for his first full season, and registering his best offensive numbers (11 + 11 for 22 points). By this time of course the Flames relocated to Calgary, Alberta, Tim Hunter's home town.

Tim never really dreamed of playing in his hometown as the NHL wasn't there when he was a kid, but he did appreciate that opportunity. Tim became a mainstay in Calgary as much as Lanny McDonald or Paul Reinhart.. Tim of course played the role of enforcer. Most often he could be found on the 4th line right wing, although he occasionally played on left wing and defense - a position he had trained as a junior with the Seattle Breakers.

Hunter played in Calgary for parts of 11 seasons and left the Flames as the club's all-time leader in penalty minutes with 2,405. He was an assistant captain with the team for a long time, including when the Flames captured their first Stanley Cup in 1989.

Though he will always be remembered as a Flame, he did play with some other organizations as his career wound down. He joined the Quebec Nordiques for the 1992-93 season before being claimed on waivers by the Vancouver Canucks half way through the season. Tim spent parts of four seasons with the Canucks and was an inspirational leader in helping Vancouver to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994. He left the Canucks after the 1995-96 season and signed with the San Jose Sharks for the following year where he finished his career.

Hunter finished his playing career with 62 goals, 76 assists and 138 points and 3,146 penalty minutes in 815 regular season games while collecting 13 points in 132 playoff contests.

Tim stepped behind the bench to become an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals following his playing days. Its a natural progression for Tim, who as a player practically did a similar job anyways. Only now he gets a little less ice time during games!

No biography of Tim would be complete without mentioning his nose. It s one of the most well recognized in the business. One would think by looking at it that this former NHL tough guy must have had his nose broken a dozen times, but Tim says he has never had a broken nose!


Joey Mullen

Joey Mullen quietly spent his career as one of the most complete players in the National Hockey League. He excelled at the finesse game as he was an outstanding skater and super sniper. He was dangerous with the puck, and consistent. He was a 35-45 goal threat almost every year in his prime. But he was very conscious of his defensive responsibilities and played a tough game despite his small size.

Yet Mullen was overshadowed by some of his peers. Despite having 6 consecutive 40-plus goal seasons he was only once selected for post season All Star status at right wing. Even in what everyone knew would be his final game he received next to no fanfare. That might be expected though when you retire on the same night as your teammate - Mario Lemieux!

That type of exit seemed to symbolize the career of Joe Mullen. Despite all the great contributions Joey made to his team and to hockey, he rarely got the credit he should have. The ultimate team player who never sought the individual spotlight, is now getting that recognition though. He has been elected to both the Hockey Hall of Fame and the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

Not bad for a kid from New York’s tough Hell’s Kitchen. Who would ever guess anyone from that neighborhood would ever make the National Hockey League! He and his brother Brian (who also enjoyed a lengthy NHL career) used to have to carry axes in their equipment bags as a form of self protection.

Joe, who perfected his game on rollerblades as a kid, began at Boston College where he recorded 212 points in 111 games for the Eagles and led the team to a league title.

Mullen was never drafted by the NHL, but the St. Louis Blues were bright enough to sign the little forward to a free agent contract in 1979. He then played three years with Salt Lake of the CHL where he was named the league’s top rookie during the 1979-80 season. The following year, he led the CHL in scoring with 117 points and was named the league MVP.

Mullen made it to the "bigs" by 1981-82 and in total played parts of five seasons with St. Louis. In that time he scored 151 goals over five seasons, including back-to-back 40-goal seasons in 1984 and 1985.

Somewhat surprisingly Mullen was part of a 6 player trade that landed him in Calgary during the 1985-86 campaign. It is with Calgary that Mullen enjoyed his best years. In 1986-87, Mullen scored 47 goals and he won the Lady Byng Trophy, becoming the first American-born player to win the Trophy since 1936. He went on to post 5 consecutive season reaching the 40-goal plateau. His best year was 1988-89 when he scored 51 goals and 110 points en route to leading the Calgary Flames to their first Stanley Cup. Mullen led all post season sharpshooters that year in goals with 16. He was selected to the NHL First All-Star team and won his second Lady Byng Trophy. That year, he also became the all-time leading American-born scorer.

Mullen was traded to Pittsburgh prior to the 1990-91 season and his experience and timely offense helped lead the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. In 1991-92, he recorded his seventh season with 40-or-more goals and in 1993-94 he notched his tenth season with 30-or-more goals.

Mullen spent a couple of seasons late in his career bouncing around between Boston and Pittsburgh. He wasn't much of a scorer at that point, but he remained a leader and defensive forward.

Mullen's 16-year NHL career was spent with the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins. Although never flashy, he was a consistent goal scoring threat and a great team player. A gentleman on the ice, he was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy on two occasions. But he will always be remembered as the first U.S.-born player to score 500 career goals and the first American to record 1,000 career points.

Joe Mullen is the arguably the greatest American born player to date. He helped generate hockey interest in the US and paved the road to success for many of today's American superstars. For his efforts Joe Mullen was named to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in September of 1998 and Hockey's Hall of Fame came calling 1999.


Kent Nilsson

Kent Nilsson is known in hockey circles as the Magic Man. Some say he got the nickname because of his high skill level that rivals that of a Gretzky or a Kharlamov. Others say he earned the name because he disappeared when the NHL playoffs came around.

Born in Nynashamn, Sweden, Nilsson is one of the most technically superb players that Sweden has ever produced. He could awe crowds with his stickhandling and playmaking abilities and skated effortlessly. The slippery winger was as skilled a player as their ever was.

So with all that skill why isn't Kent Nilsson mentioned in the same breath as Gretzky or Orr? Simple. He was lazy. He'd even admit it on occassion. He rarely worked out and relied strictly on his god given talent. But oh what a talent to watch!

Prior to coming to North America, Kent played in the Swedish Elite League for Djurgarden in 1975-76 and won the scoring title in the league. Despite his spectacular exploits, his team got relegated.

The next season Kent Nilsson went to play for Djurgarden's greatest rivals AIK, who remained in the Elite League. He was AIK's leading scorer that season.

Kent had already represented Sweden in the 1974, 1975 and 1976 European and World Junior Championships before it was time for him to debut for Sweden on the senior level in 1976. In 1977 when Sweden played in the Izvestija tournamnet in Moscow he was approached by Winnipeg Jets (then with the WHA) GM Gerry Wilson who told him that the Winnipeg Jets were interested in him. Kent was of course already drafted by the Atlanta Flames of the NHL but he decided to play for Winnipeg, who were the talk of Sweden with Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson (no relation) teamed up with the legendary Bobby Hull.

His debut in the Jets uniform was over all expectations. He led the league in points ahead of Bobby Hull after the first few games. Kent finished his rookie season with an excellent 107 points.

The following season Kent would duplicate the 107 points, this time in 2 less games. In two seasons in the WHA, Kent, ever the gentleman, earned just 16 minutes in penalties.

With Kent in the lineup, the Winnipeg Jets went on to win two AVCO Cups. The AVCO Cup is given to the WHA Champion at season's end.

When the WHA folded he went on to play for the Atlanta Flames where he would be teamed with Yugoslavian born Ivan Boldirev and big Ken Houston. He had a good first season in the NHL collecting a very respectable 93 points.

After that 1979-80 season the Flames organization moved from Atlanta to Calgary, where Kent thrived under the new surroundings. In his first season in Calgary Kent became the first European player in the NHL to reach the 100-point plateau. He finished the season with 131 points!!

In 1981 Kent Nilsson played in the Canada Cup, the Swedish team was heralded as a "dream team" and the expectations among the Swedish fans and media was high. But the Swedes flopped including Kent Nilsson, who simply wasn't prepared physically to play.

When the 1984 Canada Cup was played Kent was in a much better shape and finished third in the scoring race with 11 points and Sweden made it to the finals where they lost to Canada.

After his phenomenal 131-point season in the NHL the expectations were high on him in Calgary. Kent started the season slowly with a shoulder injury which would cause him to miss three months and 40 games. He would finish the season with a still impressive 55 points in just 41 games.

The 1982-83 season saw the arrival of Badger Bob Johnson in Calgary as the new head coach. Johnson was very upfront with Kent and told him that he must work harder and that he expected a much better work ethic from Kent. Kent never got along very well with Johnson, perhaps not surprisingly. Still Nilsson scored 104 points while playing a full 80 games.

The next two seasons Kent put up impressive numbers but everyone expect more after his 131 point season a couple of years earlier. Nilsson scored 80 and 99 points in 1983-84 and 1984-85 respectively.

After long speculation, Kent's numbered days in Calgary came to an end in June of 1985. The Flames had traded their Magic Man to Minnesota.

In Minnesota his production slowed to a crawl compared to what he had shown before. His first year he scored just 16 goals and 60 points. Part way through the next season he was traded back to Alberta, this time to Edmonton, where he would help Wayne Gretzky's Oilers win the 1987 Stanley Cup.

While in Edmonton Kent got to know an old Edmonton player named Ron Chipperfield who at that time was the GM in Bolzano, Italy. He told Kent that he should try playing in Italy because it was good money for a short season. What also was appealing to Kent was the fact that the travels between the games were 3-4 hours by bus and the climate was good so all in all Kent figured that it could be worth a try.

While the lifestyle fit Kent's preferences perfectly, the hockey was anything but challenging for him. He led Bolzano to the league championship while scoring 71 goals and 158 points in just 43 games!

In 1988-89 he opted for a return to Sweden and his old club Djurgarden. After winning the Swedish Championship, Nilsson became hockey's globetrotter, playing for teams in Switzerland, Norway, Austria and Spain. In 1994-95 Kent made a comeback of sorts in Edmonton playing in 6 games with the Oilers.

Kent has been a champion in the WHA, NHL, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland and Spain, a pretty unique feat. Kent is one of only ten players to have won both the WHA and NHL Cups.


Joe Nieuwendyk

Joe Nieuwendyk was a winner. He won three Stanley Cup championships with three different teams - Calgary, Dallas and New Jersey. Plus he won an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada in 2002.

In 1999 he was so important to Dallas' Stanley Cup championship that he was named as the Conn Smythe trophy winner - about as prestigious of an individual award a hockey player can earn.

That was not his only major award either. In 1988 he won the Calder trophy as best NHL rookie, and in 1995 he won the King Clancy award for his leadership on and off the ice.

Statistically speaking his numbers are also worthy. 564 goals and 1126 points in 1257 games once upon a time guaranteed a player inclusion in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Nowadays a new standard is trying to be established, given the much higher scoring era of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Surprisingly, Nieuwendyk's career statistics could be a sticking point for some Hall voters. Injuries really slowed him, although he always remained a clutch player. He did not average a point per game. And his career totals lands him in a group of 1980s/1990s players who had similar statistics but are debatable Hall of Famers - players like Dino Ciccarelli (608 goals), Dave Andreychuk (640 goals), and a host of players who squeaked into the 500 goal club.

Nieuwendyk's advantages are his championships, his awards, and his impeccable reputation in the community - something the Hall of Fame definitely takes into consideration.

Knowledgeable hockey fans know that Nieuwendyk was one of those guys who brought more to the rink than any statistic can quantify. That might seem odd to say given Nieuwy spent much of his career primarily as a top marksman, but he was a complete player. Aside from chronic back injuries, he had no real weakness in his game. And he brought a lot to the organization off the ice, both in terms of dressing room leadership and community involvement.

In 2011 he was rightfully enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.


Gary Roberts

On Friday came news that Gary Roberts career was coming to an end. Unceremoniously dumped by the Tampa Bay Lightning, this certainly was not the way the great warrior had hoped to see his career come to a close.

Though he had not played with them since 1996 I will always remember Gary Roberts best as a Calgary Flame. It was with the Flames that he enjoyed his best years, along side boyhood friend and fellow lacrosse star Joe Nieuwendyk.

Just a youngster with the Flames when they won the Stanley Cup in 1989, Roberts grew to become one of the last great pieces of that team, averaging 39 goals and 200 PIMs from 1990 through 1994. That included a team record 53 goals (and 207 PIMs) in 1991-92.

He was an admirable player. Not a great one based on skill sets, but an opportunistic hard worker who was rewarded, perhaps overachievingly so.

He was a mucker and grinder at heart, a great cornerman and net crasher. He was incredibly intelligent, arriving at the net at the right time and driving through lanes to open up offensive room for his teammates. He was in no way fancy, relying a quick release and banging and crashing to score all of his many goals.

Physically he was scary. He feared no pain and launched his bodies at opponents on nearly every shift. His powerful skating stride punctuated his effectiveness, and made him a natural forechecker and penalty killer.

Strong and determined, he set the tone on many nights in Calgary. If not through his hustle and pursuit game, then by dropping the gloves. He was not a true heavyweight, but he had the mindset of a pit bull.

Not surprisingly, Roberts' relentless physical game began to break down his own body over time. After missing the remainder of the 1994-95 season and much of the 1995-96 season, he was forced into retirement in 1996. Bone spurs in his neck caused nerve damage and numbing in his arms. Doctors would be forced to operate, and told Roberts he had to give up the game he loved.

Throughout the 1996-97 season he embarked upon a most vigorous rehabilitation program determined to return to the ice. He found doctors who cleared him to play, but the Flames were not convinced. Not willing to insure his contract, the Flames did not stand in Roberts away of attempting a come back. He was traded with goalie Trevor Kidd to Carolina for Andrew Cassels and a prospect named Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Roberts made a successful return to the National Hockey League, much to everyone's delight and perhaps surprise. While his penalty minute totals came down, his rugged game did not change much. He still crashed the net with reckless abandon and dropped the gloves without hesitation. His opportunistic nose for the net allowed him to score over 20 goals in 4 of his first 5 seasons back in the game.

Roberts, who signed with Toronto in 2000 after three seasons with the Canes, would suffer a serious set back in 2002-03. Shoulder surgery kept him out of all but 14 games that season. But he would return once again triumphant, scoring 28 goals the next season.

In 2004-05 the NHL lost a season due to a labour dispute. Upon its return the NHL had a tight salary cap, and the Leafs were handcuffed with some bigger contracts. The Leafs did not make Roberts an offer.

Despite rumblings that he would only play in Toronto, Roberts, a noted fitness freak, would return to the ice for five more seasons. First it was with Florida for two seasons. Then he moved on to play parts of two seasons with Sidney Crosby Penguins, including during their charge to the Stanley Cup finals in 2008. And lastly, and somewhat infamously, with Len Barrie's Tampa Bay Lightning at the age of 42.

In total, Roberts played 1,224 regular season games. He had 438 goals and 909 points and 2560 penalty minutes, making him one of only four players to have 400 goals and 2500 PIMs.

What I find most amazing is he played 11 seasons, including 639 games, after retiring due to a neck injury where he was told to never play the game again. And he played those games with the same physical approach he always did.

Gary Roberts will not get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. But he was one helluva player.


Joel Otto

In the mid-1980s, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers were battling each other not only for Alberta bragging rights, but for NHL supremacy. When they didn't have their hands full with Wayne Gretzky, the Flames had to worry about Mark Messier - a hulking moose of a center who could out muscle any Flame or anyone else in the league. He single-handedly created physical havoc when the Oilers played the Flames.

The Flames needed someone to put a blanket over hockey's supreme power forward. Can you imagine a monster big enough and strong enough to quiet Messier? Not only would he have to be strong, but he'd have to be intelligent, defensively sound and a good skater. Could such a player exist?

The answer ultimately is no, but the Flames found as close a fit as possible when they signed the fearsome Joel Otto.

Otto was a 6'4" 220lb face-off specialist who loved to physically punish any opponent at any time. He became the prototypical 3rd line center that everyone wanted. Huge and strong and not afraid to demonstrate that fact, Otto was very good defensively, and excelled at puck drops. A dedicated athlete and tireless worker, he was a quiet leader. He had decent skating skills but lacked great speed or agility. He also lacked great hand and puck skills to develop into a great scorer. He was a good fighter though rarely dropped the gloves. This is partially because no one wanted anything to do with him and partially because he knew he was to valuable to his team to be spending great amounts of time in the penalty box. But if one of his teammates was being fouled, Otto would be first on the scene.

Otto faced off against all the top centers in the league, shutting them down defensively and physically abusing them at the same time. But the Messier-Otto war-like grudge matches were classic.

"Those two had some incredible battles. He was the only guy I saw who could physically dominate Mark," said former Oiler Mike Krushelnyski.

Joel was signed as free agent by Calgary Flames on September 11, 1984. Otto had just graduated from little-known Bemidji State University and went undrafted by the NHL. Otto played much of his first season in the minor leagues learning the professional game, but was called up for the Flames playoff drive. He played really well, scoring 12 points in 17 games and another 3 points in 3 playoff games.

Joel had his best season in terms of offensive statistics in 1985-86 when he scored career high 25 goals and 59 points. He played a big role in the Flames playoff drive to the Stanley Cup finals as well. Joel's role as the physically dominating center became cemented that season. In addition he chipped in nicely to the offense - scoring 5 goals and 15 points in his 22 post season games.

The Flames of course lost the 1986 Finals to Montreal, but Otto was a big part of the Flames return trip to the Finals in 1989, once again against the Habs. Otto scored 6 goals and 19 points in 22 playoff contests as the Flames captured their first Stanley Cup championship.

Joel scored at least 50 points in his first 4 full seasons, but his offensive numbers began to drop after that as he concentrated more on defensive duties. The ultimate team player, Joel sacrificed his own offensive output for the good of the team. His defensive excellence was eventually noticed league wide, as he was twice a finalist for the Selke trophy as the league's best defensive forward, though he never won the award. He had overcome his early label of a monstrous thug to be one of the league's most valuable and sought after players.

When Mark Messier left the Edmonton Oilers to join the New York Rangers, all the eastern conference teams began searching for an Otto-like player to control "the Moose." Many teams tried many players, but nothing worked really until the summer of 1995. Otto himself had become an unrestricted free agent and the Flames didn't have the money to keep him. A bidding war for Otto's services occurred as team's desperately wanted Otto. The Rangers themselves desperately wanted him in order to keep him away from Messier. Eventually the Philadelphia Flyers outbid the New York Rangers as they made Joel Otto a very rich man.

Otto played 3 seasons in Philadelphia, but by the 3rd season it was apparent that Otto had lost a step. He was used sparingly and was let go as a free agent in the summer time. There was little interest in Otto's services that time around as he was pretty banged up from 14 years of battling in the NHL. Otto could still serve as a face-off specialist, but quietly decided to hang up his skates in the summer of 1998.

Otto retired with 195 goals, 313 assists and 508 points in 943 games. He picked up 1934 penalty minutes along the way. He won one Stanley Cup, played in 2 World Hockey Championships, played in three Canada Cups/World Cups and in the 1998 Olympics! Not bad for a player who was never drafted by any team in the entire NHL.


Craig Conroy

When Craig Conroy was drafted in the 6th round (123rd overall) in 1990, expectations for the smallish center's future probably weren't great. Even Conroy could never have dreamed his future in hockey would turn out so well.

Conroy would enjoy a 16 season career exceeding more than 1000 career games, most notably with the St. Louis Blues and Calgary Flames. He also would represent the United States internationally at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and 2006 Olympics.

Moreover, Conroy would grow into a reputation as an exemplary hockey player, class act and one of hockey's true nice guys that everyone should be looking up to.

Born in Potsdam, New York, Craig was the son of Mike Conroy, a minor league player who appeared in 4 games with the WHA.  He would follow his father's footsteps and star at Clarkson University. He would help the Knights with the ECAC title and in 1994 was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award as the top player in US college hockey.

Although he was an offensive star at Clarkson, the Canadiens, like they have done - often successfully - time and again, sent him to the minor leagues to turn him into a defensive specialist. Hey, at least the Canadiens had plans for him. In his first NHL training camp he accidentally fired a slap shot which caught ace goalie Patrick Roy in the head. The result - a fight between the team's superstar and the unknown rookie.

After a couple of strong seasons in the minor leagues (and a handful of call up games in Montreal), Conroy was part of the huge Pierre Turgeon trade to St. Louis. With the Blues Conroy would immediately find a home and become a solid NHL citizen.

Under coach Joel Quenneville Conroy emerged as a top defensive center with the Blues. In 1997-98 he was a finalist for both the Selke trophy and the Lady Byng, as the league's most gentlemanly player. A faceoff specialist, he also chipped in 43 points.

Conroy played 5 seasons in St. Louis before being traded to Calgary at the trading deadline in 2001. It was not a popular trade at the time, as Calgary moved one of their few top offensive gunners in Cory Stillman to the Blues in exchange.

But a funny thing happened early in the next season. Conroy showed great chemistry with Flames superstar Jarome Iginla. He would serve as Iginla's long time centerman. Conroy's own offensive contributions spiked while Flames fans quickly learned to appreciate his defensive contributions.

Aside from a one year free agent sabbatical with the Los Angeles Kings, Conroy would be one of Calgary's most popular players - both on the ice and in the community - right through some diminishing years and his exit in the 2010-11 season.

In 1009 NHL games Craig Conroy scored 182 goals and 360 goals for 542 career points. He added 10 goals and 20 assists for 30 points in 81 Stanley Cup playoff contests. He was an underrated player when he played and is destined to remain so in history's eyes.


Paul Reinhart

Paul Reinhart was a tremendous cerebral player who could have been a Hall of Famer had his body held up. A serious back problem really limited him throughout his short career, but you could just tell how intelligent and special this player was despite the pain.

Paul was a very versatile player. He was primarily a defenseman but could also play any forward position. Even as a junior with his hometown team the Kitchener Rangers, he split time between center and defense. This development continued in his pro career.

"My defensive work needed a lot of attention" said Paul of his junior days. "But all that background as a forward was useful because today's defenceman handles the puck a lot and is expected to be an integral part of the offence."

And Paul certainly became an integral defenseman, although he played at times in every skating position, particularly in his first year in the NHL.

Paul was Atlanta's 1st pick, 12th overall in the very strong 1979 draft. Paul broke in with the Atlanta Flames that same year as a defenseman because the Flames were in a desperate need of a good all-around defenseman. Over the next rew years Paul filled in wherever the team needed. If they lost a center they moved Paul up. If they needed a winger Paul took that spot as well. If they wanted to hold on to the lead in the last minute of play they moved Paul back to defense again.

When Paul did play on the blueline - which was the majority of the time - he was often paired with fearsome veteran Phil Russell. Reinhart left an impression on Russell almost immediately.

"I've seen the other draft choices (from the deep 1979 Entry Draft) around the league and Paul doesn't have to take a back seat to any of them" Russell said. That's quite a compliment considering other first round draft picks that year included long time NHLers like Ray Bourque, Mike Gartner, Rob Ramage, Rick Vaive, Craig Hartsburg, Mike Ramsey, Tom McCarthy, Brad McCrimmon, Brian Propp, Michel Goulet and Kevin Lowe!

Paul was very strong with the puck. Once he got the puck it was very hard to get it away from him. Paul picked up a total of 559 pts (133 goals and 426 assists) in only 648 games, not bad considering that he was a defenseman most of the time. His best offensive outputs was 75 points 1982-83, and he also had 69 points in 1984-85, 68 points in 1986-87, 67 points in 1980-81 and 61 points (in only 62 games) in 1981-82. He also had two seasons of 57 pts for Vancouver while only playing 64 and 67 games due to the bad back.

His bad back unfortunately bothered him for most of his career and was the reason why he decided to retire at only 30 years old. He almost retired when he was 24. He had a problematic disc in his back that required surgery and forced him to miss all but 27 regular season games in 1983-84. He also only played 32 games in 1985-86 and 14 games in 1987-88.

Paul was one of the first people asked to try out for the Canada Cup team in 1984 but had to turn down the invitation because of the bad back. He already had a Canada Cup behind him in 1981 where he made the team ahead of such players like Paul Coffey, Doug Wilson and Randy Carlyle (all subsequent Norris trophy winners). Unfortunately he twisted his ankle after only two games and had to watch the rest of the tournament from the stands. Paul also starred for Canada in the 1982 and 1983 World Championships, making the All-Star team. He also played in the 1985 and 1989 NHL All-Star games.

Although Paul never won the Norris trophy he was always one of the top scoring defensemen when healthy. For a couple of years he formed maybe the best offensive pairing amongst defensemen together with a young Al MacInnis, also a Kitchener Rangers graduate.

During the 1984 playoffs the Flames lost in the 7th and deciding game against the Oilers who went on to win the Stanley Cup that year. After the series Paul Reinhart was the leading playoff scorer with his 17 pts in 11 games and his partner on the blue line Al MacInnis was the second highest defenseman in the playoffs to that point (14 pts in 11 games). Paul was a very good playoff performer who got 77 pts (23 goals and 54 assists) in 83 career playoff games.

Paul's bad back continued to plague him for many seasons and eventually had to quit although just coming of a fine 57 point season in only 67 games for the Canucks where he played his last two seasons. Despite playing in just two pain-filled years in Vancouver, Paul was named to the the team's 25th anniversary "All Canuck" team by the media. The accolade all but named #23 as the best d-man in Canucks history despite only playing 2 seasons, neither of which he played at 100%.

Paul had four or five good years left in him but his bad back won the battle. Paul goes down to history as one of the games most underrated skilled defensemen.

"In terms of all around talent, I don't believe there are many defensemen better than Reinhart," said his coach Bob Johnson during the 1986 season. "He's a capable defender in his own zone, first of all. Moreover, he's got the mobility and the offensive skills to make an important contribution to our attack. He's the big reason we've got one of the strongest power plays in the NHL."

An interesting side story about the man they call "Rhino" - As a kid he once played against Wayne Gretzky's peewee team. Paul tied The Little One against the boards in a rink with no glass to stop the puck from going out of play. Paul tied him up in the wrong spot as Wayne's grandmother was right there. She grabbed her purse and clubbed Reinhart over the head and told him to "leave my Wayne alone!" Gretzky later joked that the Oilers were looking to sign Grandma Gretzky if Dave Semenko ever got injured.


Lanny McDonald

Lanny McDonald's bushy moustache is his trademark, but so were such characteristics as speed, work ethic, and commitment. Those traits, not really counting his facial hair, helped make him a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Toronto Maple leafs made McDonald their first round selection (fourth overall) in 1973, following a brilliant junior career with the Medicine Hat Tigers. His high skill level and intensity enabled him to make the jump directly to the NHL and contribute in 1973-74 straight from junior hockey, an amazing accomplishment for anyone. For Lanny it was simply unreal - he had spent his entire youth dreaming of wearing the blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs and now he would get to fulfill that dream.

However Lanny would struggle initially, and the fans weren't overly pleased. Coming into training camp as such a high draft pick and an expensive and publicly known contract thanks to the bidding war between NHL teams and World Hockey Association teams, McDonald had a terrible rookie season in his own estimation, and compared to the other profile rookies who were tearing up the NHL, he was right. Lanny's second season wasn't a lot better statistically, though he did make more of an impact in games thanks to his relentless hustle.

McDonald arrived as the star NHL player that he was predicted to be in 1975-76. He scored 37 goals and 93 points in his break out year. He would always thank coach Red Kelly for sticking with him through the lean years and helping him achieve his destiny.

Roger Nielson took over as coach in 1976-77. Though McDonald admired Red Kelly, he would term Nielson's tenure in Toronto as the most exciting time in his NHL career. Under Nielson's innovative coaching, the young Leafs team ascended to the cusp of NHL greatness. Fans could feel that something was special with that team, however they would never get to witness the culmination of Nielson's hard work.

Nielson teamed McDonald and Darryl Sittler together permanently, often with Errol Thompson or Tiger Williams on left wing. McDonald prospered on the top line.

McDonald stared the 1976-77 season at the first ever Team Canada training camp for the Canada Cup. He admitted he was a surprise selection to the team, but he played a key role as a grinder with the likes of Bob Gainey. He picked up 2 assists and a lot of respect on the team many agree is the greatest team ever iced. He followed that up with a spectacular season with the Leafs. He scored 46 goals and 90 points to lead the team, plus scored 10 goals and 17 points in an exciting playoff season which lasted 9 games.

McDonald's greatest moment as a Leaf came in 1978. Coming off of a 47 goal, 87 point season, McDonald was ready to again lead the Leafs in the post season. His scoring totals were way down (he scored 3 goals and 7 points in 13 contests), but he was a star most nights. He was the brightest star in game 7 of the Leafs second round showdown with the NHL's other hot young team on the rise - the New York Islanders. In sudden death over time McDonald - sporting a broken nose and a broken bone in his wrist - fought through a crowd in front of the net to poke a loose puck past Isles' goalie Chico Resch. McDonald's goal ranks as one of the Leafs greatest playoff moments in the illustrious history of the franchise.

The Leafs would run out of gas in their next playoff match - with their eternal rivals the Montreal Canadiens. But the Leaf fans greatly appreciated the efforts of the 1977-78 Leafs, which only led to greater expectations in 1978-79. The team would struggle. Coach Nielson would be fired during the season only to show up behind the bench for the very next game, but would be fired again at the end of the season along with general manager Jim Gregory.

Replacing the Gregory/Nielson regime was a Leaf legend from the past - Punch Imlach. However Imlach would tarnish his reputation as he tore apart the young Leafs team in order to put his stamp on team. He was most famous for publicly feuding with star center and team captain Darryl Sittler. McDonald, a close friend of Sittler and the Leafs' NHLPA union representative, was one of the first to be exiled from the Leafs.

Imlach traded McDonald and defenseman Joel Quenneville to arguably the worst team in the league - the Colorado Rockies - in exchanged for Pat Hickey and Wilf Paiement. McDonald was devastated. He was dumped by the team he grew up idolizing, and just prior to the birth of his second child. The move to Colorado was not easy, although coach Don Cherry did everything he could to ease the situation by arranging for him to be with his family at all times other than when the Rockies played games. McDonald rarely practiced with the team and spent most of his time in airports and on airplanes.

Despite the emotionally and physically draining affair, McDonald played well under Cherry. He finished the season with 25 goals with the Rockies to finish the year with 40 goals - making it the 4th consecutive year with at least that many goals in a NHL campaign.

There were few Rocky Mountain Highs for anyone involved with the Colorado Rockies. Although he enjoyed some of his greatest friendships with members of the lowly Rockies, he was more than thrilled to leave the hockey abyss early in the 1981-82 season when he was traded to the Calgary Flames.

If McDonald isn't remembered as a Leaf, he certainly is remembered as a Calgary Flame. Born in southern Alberta, returning home turned out to be a great thing for Lanny. The Flames would rise to the top of NHL elite for much of the 1980s, thanks in large part to the contributions of Lanny McDonald.

McDonald enjoyed his greatest season in 1982-83. Playing with underrated super star Guy Chouinard, McDonald unthinkably challenged Wayne Gretzky for the NHL goal scoring total. Gretzky would end up with the crown thanks to his 71 goals, but McDonald wasn't far behind with an overachieving 66. It was simply an amazing season for McDonald. Everything he touched turned to gold that year. He was honored with the 1983 Bill Masterton Trophy as well as a second all star team nomination.

The Flames made major changes in 1983-84, including the trading Chouinard to St. Louis. McDonald would miss the creative playmaking of his center from the year before, and it showed in his scoring totals. In 65 games he scored 33 goals and 66 points. Had he been healthy all year he likely would have topped the 40 goal plateau again - a more realistic level for McDonald.

McDonald's goal scoring would slow over the following years, but he remerged in the 1985-86 playoffs. As co-captain of the Flames, McDonald led the Flames to the Stanley Cup finals against the Montreal Canadiens thanks to 11 goals and 18 points. After finally knocking off their rivals from the north - Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers - in a dramatic 7 game playoff series that many would argue was the greatest playoff series ever played, the Flames seemed to run out of gas against a Montreal team that they should have been able to beat.

The Flames would get another chance in 1989 when the Flames returned to the finals and again faced the Montreal Canadiens. By this time McDonald was definitely near the end of his career. For three seasons he became more of a third or fourth liner who was present for his leadership. It was a good year for McDonald nonetheless. He recorded his 500th goal, 500th assist and 1000th point all in the same season. Then in the playoffs the Flames would not be denied and finally captured the Stanley Cup championship. McDonald scored just one goal in that playoff year - in the decisive 6th game of the Finals!

McDonald, one of the classiest gentlemen to ever play in any sport, retired as a champion shortly following the Cup victory. He would be honored as the NHL's Man of the Year and King Clancy Memorial trophy in the summer of 1989, and would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992 - his first year of eligibility. His number 9 has been retired by the Flames organization as well.

He would remain with the Calgary Flames in several capacities in retirement, and devoted more time than ever to charities. He also became involved in Team Canada. He was instrumental in the 2001 World Championship entry and the 2002 gold medal winning Olympic squad.


Hakan Loob

Hakan Loob, a definite member of the NHL's all time best-names team, holds a special place in the heart of Calgary Flames fans. That may partially have to do with the fact that he disappeared from the league just when he was taking the NHL by storm.

Loob was a hard worker who adjusted well to the rougher NHL game. Even though he was dubbed "the Gretzky of Sweden" because of the records he set back home, many teams shied away from the undersized winger. He was not drafted until 181st overall in 1980.

Loob was an amazing skater. He had great speed, and understood how to change the pace to be more of a quicker, darting forward and hard to defend against. Though he was tiny (5'9" and 180lbs) he possessed great balance. He was very difficult to knock off of the puck.

Loob was a good puck handler with good hockey sense. Primarily an open ice player, Loob opened up by using his teammates (notably Joe Nieuwendyk in his rookie season) well. Loob would then go close to the net, looking for a quick tap in or loose puck. He had a strong wrist shot and the hand skills to score from in tight, but rarely scored from further out.

The agile Loob came over in 1983 and put together a string of three 30 goal seasons together (30, 37 and 31). He had a mysteriously disappointing 1986-87 season, scoring just 18 goals.

It was around that time that rumors started that Loob wanted to return home to Sweden. He wanted to raise his children back home and in their native language. And at that time he could make comparable back home. Somehow the Flames convinced him to stay another couple of yeara.

It's a good thing he did stay, as it was a magical time for Loob and the Flames. In 1987-88 Loob became the first Swedish player in NHL history to score 50 goals. He added 56 assists for 106 points, leading all Flames player. But disappointment would be found in the playoffs, with an early exit.

The Flames erased all playoff disappointment forever by capturing the Stanley Cup in 1989. Loob was a big part of it. His goal production fell off to just 27 goals, but he still registered for 85 points. He added 8 goals and 17 points in the playoffs.

With a Stanley Cup ring added to his resume, Loob made the tough decision to leave the NHL. Family reasons were the driving reason behind his decision, and he never regretted it.

"My oldest son, Henrik, is 8 years old. He went through some pretty tough times last fall in school here. He's feeling pretty good about himself now, but we know we want to go back and live in Sweden eventually and we think that's where we want him to grow up," he said.

"It has nothing to do with hockey or money," he added. "If those were the issues then I'd play here for three or four more years."

Loob continued to play in Sweden, returning to Farjestads for 7 more seasons. Loob retired in 1996 as one of the greatest players in Swedish Elite League history. He owned league records for goals and points in a season. He helped Farjestads to win the 1981 SEL championship. He is also one of the rare players to win the Stanley Cup, the World Championships and Olympic gold medals.

After leaving the ice Loob became manager of Farjestads. His dedication to Farjestads and Swedish hockey in general is commendable.

There are few bigger legends of Swedish hockey than Hakan Loob. The Swedish Elite League honoured him by naming their trophy for the top goal scorer after him. He is also enshrined in the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.


Perry Berezan thanks Frederick Lavallee for the following interview with Perry Berezan:

2011 has been quite the year for this little French writer from Montreal, Quebec. Had the chance to interview four former NHLers, and I, of course, wanted a fifth one. I like to read those old NHL Yearbooks, especially since they started at about the same time I started watching hockey. I will always remember that 1991 Minnesota North Stars run to the Stanley Cup finals, and I told myself : ‘’ Why not try and interview a player from that roster? ‘’

I peeked at the forwards, and noticed that familiar name : Perry Berezan. Yeah, remembered him from the Flames, North Stars and Sharks. Played two times in the Stanley Cup Finals, and for an expansion team, interesting! And so, I e-mailed him. And less than 12 hours later, I had my answer...

‘’ Frederick, thanks for taking interest in an old slug.

I’d be happy to speak to you. Call me Tuesday at... ‘’ – Perry Berezan

I was shocked. I called, and was asked by Berezan if I’d prefer meeting him, because he’d come to Montreal a month after. I said yes without any hesitation. He liked my devotion and passion and was willing to take some time to meet and share some thoughts about his career, and the choices that he made in life. And so, it all happened October 21st right here in my hometown of Montreal.

Perry Berezan was born on December 5th 1964, in Edmonton, Alberta. Like many other Canadian hockey kids, he learned to skate early on an outdoor rink close to his home. His dad put him on the ice with his first pair of skates when he was 4 years old...

‘’ I just ran on the ice. Instead of falling, I just ran. Didn’t skate, didn’t walk, but it was pretty obvious to me that I wanted to play. I started playing hockey with some neighbors when I was five and I remember scoring my first goal on a breakaway by sliding in the net with the puck. One of the moms would give 10 cents per goal to kids and I remember telling myself : ‘’ I can get ten cents! ‘’. I was so excited! ‘’ says a laughing Berezan.

He played his minor hockey (up to the age of 15) in the Northeastern part of Edmonton, where he lived in a lower-middle class neighbourhood. He just loved playing. Practiced a lot of different sports and he just craved for more. But that desire especially showed in the form of...running!

‘’ In grade 7, one of the Phys Ed teachers wanted to start the 500 kilometers club, to see if people would follow. I had to get up early before school to run. I remember wanting to do a thousand! I had such a drive. My Junior High would be running in the morning, just because I had to, and then play with soccer or basketball teams, or track teams, and in the winter, during the evening, it would be hockey! ‘’

Berezan would get a shot at playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League at age 15, but he was cut from his team. He went back to the midget level, and went back up with the Saint-Albert Saints the next year, where he would meet a coach that would have a great influence on his early career. This very coach is the father of Edmonton Oilers Hall-Of-Famer Mark Messier, Doug...

‘’ I would call it my first experience of professional hockey. Doug was as influencial on me as anyone else. He prepared me for pro hockey more than anyone. I played 112 games total that year, we won a couple of championships (BC and Alberta). Those days back then...lots of brawling, fighting, biting...bench clearing brawls. Doug scared the living daylights out of his players between periods, before games, after games. He built and put together a tough team, and I lived a pretty sheltered life at home. That year, I experienced things I thought I would never experience... ‘’ Berezan says, and he goes on...

‘’ When I got through University and joined the Flames during that Flames-Oilers rivalry, I wasn’t afraid of anything. I got to know Mark (Messier) a little before because Doug was my coach, and having played against him, I can say he was as scary and as tough as they get, I was ready! ‘’

The former AJHL Saints center decided to pursue an education by studying Business at the University of North Dakota. As he was slowly getting ready to go play hockey at North Dakota, Berezan got a very special phone call during a work shift at the factory where he worked...

‘’ I was working in Fort Saskatchewan in a warehouse for a mine. I’d run parts back and forth to help the guys that needed it at the day, my supervisor called me to tell me someone wanted to speak to me on the phone. He reminded me that I was not on break and I had to make it quick. I took the phone, and it was CBC. They told me I was drafted by the Flames and they wanted to interview me. I told them I had to go back to work and that they should call me after. So that’s what they did, since I was not on break and didn’t have time at work. I called my parents during break... ‘’

Being drafted was a good thing in Berezan’s career: it goes without saying. He was a 3rd round pick of the Flames in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. But at the time, even though he was happy about it, the former defensive forward was not celebrating all that much, as he had another objective in mind...

‘’ Being drafted almost was a non-event. I was happy I was drafted, but I didn’t want to celebrate too much. It wasn’t really a goal to play in the NHL at that time. My goal was to play university hockey. I wanted to be the best university player I could be. Getting to university, I just wanted to be in the best shape I could be... ‘’

Back then, Berezan loved to run, and break his own limits. He was driven to do more than anyone else, whether it was about running or playing sports, he had to show the best shape possible and be the best he could be. But that turned out to be a strange thing when he started university...

‘’ I got there and saw those U.S. kids...they were big, talented and strong. I was a little intimidated, until we started doing the pre-season workouts. One of the things we had to do was to run three laps of stairs in the old Ralph Engelstad Arena. I used to run stairs all the time in the summer when I was living in Edmonton. I thought it would be a piece of cake and it was, I lapped half the team! People were mad at me and they thought I was cocky, asking me what was wrong with me. I remember saying ‘’ No, what’s wrong with you? ‘’ ...but I started to realize that even though I was not necessarily better than other people, I certainly was in better shape! ‘’ says the proud Edmonton native, who completed his degree about twelve years after leaving North Dakota the first time.

He ended up playing two seasons there with the likes of future NHLers such as Rick Zombo, Tony Hrkac, Jon Casey, and another player who would turn up to become a business partner in the future, Gord Sherven. The former North Star was quite solid and a great scorer, amassing 110 points in 86 games over the two seasons he played there.

As he was halfway through his second season at North Dakota, just before Christmas, he was going down to the rink early before a game, coming down from the hotel, in an elevator. Then, it stopped and two well-dressed men came in...Those faces were somewhat familiar to Berezan, but he was not sure...

‘’ It was Flames GM Cliff Fletcher and his assistant Al McNeil, but I didn’t recognize them at the time. I played my game that night, and when it ended, there were those two guys again! They introduced themselves and they were quite clear: they told me that the Flames coach at the time, Bob Johnson, liked what he saw and wanted me to join the Flames when my season was over at North Dakota. So they asked me to call my agent, but I didn’t have one, I was in school! That’s when I realized that I was going to play in the NHL. I thought it was only for the best players, how could I be in that group? But I joined the Flames at the end of my season, played right away, and fit in right away as well...‘’

He played his first nine games during the end of the 1984-85 season, amassing five points, including three goals. His first goal was an empty-netter, and he couldn’t remember the first goalie he beat. It was on March 20th, 1985 in Calgary in a 7-4 Flames win.

‘’ The Leafs had a couple of goalies that year, and I just can’t remember who it was. I had a great game, lots of shots, and I received a pass from Mike Eaves on a two on one to score. I just had to throw it in the net! ‘’ says the one who used to wear number 21 with the Flames.

He would have the chance to play his first full season with the Flames in 1985-86, scoring 12 goals and 33 points in 55 games. It was a great first season offensively, but Berezan played with a stacked Flames team, and so, his chances of being that offensive Top 6 forward were slim. But he found his role, and got regular ice time. His coach had confidence in him and played him in all situations...

The 1985-86 season will forever remain a part of Perry’s greatest hockey memories. That year, the Flames played a memorable 7-game series against their arch-rivals from Alberta, the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers were the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs, and were looking for a third one in a row. With about eight minutes left in the third period of game 7, the score was tied at two. Berezan was on the ice when a line change was called, so he dumped the puck deep in the Oilers zone, and headed back to the bench...a couple seconds later, Steve Smith tried a pass across the crease, the puck hit Grant Fuhr and ricocheted right into the Oilers net...

‘’ It’s pretty amazing to be known for a goal you didn’t even score! I remember I would always play well in Edmonton. I played with John Tonelli and Lanny McDonald...we were all in a mental zone at the time. I was just trying to do the smart thing and dump it in and Steve threw it in his own net. Back then, the Oilers had the greatest transition game in hockey. And instead of going behind the net, the defenseman would try to reach a winger at the red line, and then the winger would just tip it to a streaking player down the middle for a fast and massive entrance in the offensive zone. ‘’ mentioned the former NCAA player. And he added this...

‘’ So all Steve Smith was doing was basically organizing the Oilers rush down the ice. But he fanned on the puck a little and Grant Fuhr was way too far ahead of his net. So it was Grant’s fault but ultimately, Steve got blamed for it. Mike Vernon stood on his head for the remaining 8 minutes and that was it. We were taking on the Blues in the Conference Finals. ‘’

The Flames beat the Blues in a tough 7 game series as well. The Flames thought it was all over when they led game 6 by a score of 5-2, but the Blues came back from the deficit to win in overtime and force a game 7. Fortunately, the Flames won 2-1 in the last game to get the chance to play against the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup.

‘’ Badger Bob Johnson put me in the starting lineup for the first game at the Forum. I tried to take everything in stride...I couldn’t be intimidated with a ‘’deer in the headlights’’ look, because I needed to keep my focus to perform. But I remember standing on that blue line for Oh Canada, going through my personal routine. And for a second, I thought: ‘’ Holy cow. I’m at the Montreal Forum for the Stanley Cup Finals! ‘’ but I had to get back my focus, to stay in the moment. ‘’ said a proud Perry Berezan.

Unfortunately, the Flames didn’t win the Cup in 1986. They won the first game, but lost the other four. And so, the Canadiens took Stanley to Montreal and the Flames were left disappointed. The teams that show the most character, heart and willingness to go to war usually win in the end...

‘’ Being my first year, going to the Finals...I learned quickly. You cannot start celebrating , you cannot pat yourself on the back. You just have to keep your focus and work your *ss off and do anything it takes to be a successful playoff team. Those teams that can do that and come together can succeed. But it’s hard for some teams to come together in the playoffs...just look at the Washington Capitals, for example. ‘’ and he continues...

‘’ Talented teams, but some guys are not willing to go to war, and you need everyone to go to war. Some guys learn it early, some learn it over time, and some will never learn. Some playoff guys are going to be terrible forever because they are not willing to give it all. The teams that do will win, just like the Boston Bruins last year. ‘’

Speaking of character, Berezan was directly involved in a hard rivalry. He was born and raised in Edmonton...but he wore the Flames red shirt when it all took place during his NHL years. As of today, the Battle of Alberta still is a great rivalry. Those geographic rivalries often give the fans great hockey to watch...

‘’ The Battle of Alberta! I loved every game. For an Edmonton boy to be playing in Calgary was a thrill. I had some of my best games as a pro in Edmonton in front of my family. Of course playing against Gretzky and the rest of those Oilers made it easy to get pumped up whether it was exhibition, regular season or playoffs. Badger Bob loved preparing us for the Oilers games so

each time our entire team was ready to go to war and do whatever it took to win. Unfortunately for us the Oilers were so talented and so good that we only got by them once in the playoffs. ‘’

Playing with the Flames organization from 1985 to 1989, Perry Berezan had a lot of nice things to say about his former team. He praises ‘’ Badger ‘’ Bob Johnson for the chance he was given to play early in his career and for the role he discovered for himself in the NHL...Johnson was the coach of the Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA) between 1966 and 1982. He won three national championships there. It was he who followed Berezan’s career at North Dakota and asked the Flames GM Cliff Fletcher to sign him to play with the Flames in 1985...

‘’ Bob used to be a college coach, so he was signing and bringing a lot of college players in. He gave me every single opportunity in the world to play. He played me in all types of situations and he would tell the press he had confidence in me because I could take the faceoff, play left wing, right wing, on the penalty kill or the power play. He gave me a ton of confidence and he praised me so much for my defensive abilities as a forward...I knew what my role was...‘’ says Perry about his former coach. And then, he goes on with an interesting thought...

‘’ I knew I couldn’t be a great goal scorer in the NHL, I was never that talented. I could skate, so maybe I’d be better off as a good penalty killer and a defensive forward. I couldn’t score, I just didn’t have the gifts. But every team can’t have just goal scorers on their roster! Even if you got six or seven, only three or four can really be your guys. You’ve got to fit into a role...and intuition was telling me that that was not where I was heading. I saw Brett Hull start his career in Calgary, then being sent down to the minors. My first full year in Calgary, I was up playing for the Flames, while future all-stars like Brett Hull, Gary Roberts, Theo Fleury and Brian Bradley were all playing in the minors. ‘’ continued the former IHLer, before finishing with the following on that matter...

‘’ What does that tell you? Tells you that if you find a role and you’re good at it, there’s no room for those other guys. They’re competing for the top two lines. I found my spot, I was reliable, and if Badger didn’t give me the opportunity, maybe I would have never gotten it elsewhere and I could’ve been in the minor leagues for my whole career, who knows? ‘’

Perry also has good memories of the organization in general. He was always treated with respect by the Flames and he is still part of them today...

‘’ The people there were great, leadership wise. The organization...Cliff Fletcher was like a father to me. I would go talk to him and it would feel like I was talking to my dad. It was a family atmosphere. Lanny McDonald, Jim Peplinski, Tim Hunter, Doug Risebrough...these guys were incredible leaders and our teams were really tight because of it... ‘’

Berezan would have to deal with injuries between the 1986-87 and 1988-89 seasons, playing a total of 88 games with the Flames only. He got traded to Minnesota in March of 1989, just before Calgary won the Stanley Cup. And where he found leadership and unity in Calgary, he was shocked by what he found in Minnesota...

‘’ When I got with the North Stars, I realized not everyone was like the Flames. That team was a bunch of misfits, selfish players. Then Bob Gainey came for my second year in Minnesota for his

first professional year of coaching. We went to the Stanley Cup Finals that year. Why? Because Bob understood leadership, and how to put together a team. You know, Bob was an a**hole at times.... ‘’ said the former North Star. But he had more to say on Gainey...

‘’ You can’t be a nice guy and succeed in anything all the time. Gainey is as credible and genuine as they get. If it means stepping over somebody, he doesn’t care. He wants to get something accomplished. I learned so much about life, just from seeing Bob pull our misfit, selfish group together. ‘Cause that’s what it was: a bunch of guys who had no idea what winning was about. ‘’

Learning from all the great leaders he played with in Montreal, Bob Gainey gained Perry Berezan’s respect behind the North Stars bench, with Doug Jarvis and Andy Murray as his assistants. Not a bad set of coaches!

‘’ Bob transformed the North Stars organization in a matter of months. We squeaked into the playoffs in the last game of the season. We then beat the Black Hawks in six games, and then the Blues and the Oilers. Jon Casey was standing on his head, Gaetan Duchesne played his role, there were guys with reputations, but Bob put everyone together and put them in their roles. ‘’ concluded on the subject Berezan, whose spot in the regular lineup was taken by Marc Bureau for the 1991 playoffs, resulting in him playing only one game in the playoffs.

‘’ Yeah I talk about Bob Gainey with such respect, but I hated him back at the time! But looking back, I have tons of respect for what he did. ‘’ says the laughing former St. Albert Saint.

It was hard for Berezan not to be playing during the playoffs. But he had the chance to play one game, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, during the Finals. Just like 1986, Berezan was a part of history without even intending to.

‘’ The game I played was that infamous game when Mario Lemieux scored that highlight goal that you can see every time on Hockey Night in Canada. I was on the ice when it happened. I was on a rush for the Penguins net, took a shot, and then, the defenseman just tapped it to Mario, who went all the way through our defence and beat Jon Casey. The magic stopped after that game...our bubble literally burst. And they crushed us after that to win... ‘’

That game would be the last one after two seasons with the North Stars. GM Bobby Clarke wanted to buy out Berezan’s contract...

“I had two years left to my contract and Bobby Clarke called me into his office during training camp. It was not a good sign, as he was not exactly the fatherly figure that Cliff Fletcher was. He wanted to buy out my contract for two thirds of the amount, which I refused. If you want to buy out a contract after July 1st, it has to be paid in full. I was a little intimidated and he threatened to keep me in the minors for the remainder of my contract. I was making about 170,000$ a year back then. It was not a same amount as today, but still, the rules stated that was all mine. My agent started negotiating with him...‘’

Jack Ferreira was the Sharks GM, and a former member of the North Stars organization. He was interested in Perry’s services, and he wanted to tick off Bobby Clarke. So the North Stars

resigned their former no. 21’s contract, and the veteran center was signed by the newly arrived San Jose Sharks, an expansion team...

‘’ I had a great time there. They played me a lot. But I hated losing, but our fans would be cheering us all the time. They didn’t really know hockey, they were just fans who were happy they had a team. We could basically do no wrong. George Kingston and Bob Murdoch, our coaches, decided early that it was going be a fun atmosphere. So they stressed a lot on that aspect. We had some all-stars, like Doug Wilson and Kelly Kisio. But there was a bunch of guys on that team who wouldn’t have played anywhere else. It was a good two years, but it was hard losing. ‘’ says the honest former Shark, who says he had his best year there in 1991-92 despite a brutal first season from the San Jose team.

As fans, we often hear about players who do not seem to care about long as they play and get paid. A lot of fans will say that such hockey players exist, while others, like me, tend to think that everybody hates losing and that no one gets accustomed to it. Some people just have more will then others, but Berezan burst my bubble...

‘’ It does exist. There are still players that are so gifted and everything had come easy to them. If you get 6-7 million dollars a year because you are that gifted, what is your motivation now? Those types of players are out there...and they need a kick to change. Some of them just never will... ‘’

Being a winner and a great leader, Bob Gainey was that type of coach who would kick a guy in the butt to make him work harder...

‘’ Bob Gainey completely changed Mike Modano. When you interview Mike Modano Fred, you ask him what influence Bob had on his career. Bob was so hard on Mike, and Mike hated Bob for a while. But he is his biggest influence because Mike was soft. But compared to Bob, everyone is. That guy is as hard as they get. But if you get those soft players, you’ve got to try and transform them, make them miserable for a while. And Bob could spot them from a mile...Ken Hitchcock is in the same mold. Those are people that, if hired at the right time, can do wonders. They don’t always last long, but they transform players ‘’

During the course of his second year with San Jose, Perry played his last game in pro hockey. He sustained an ankle injury shooting basketball with Brian Hayward and he played throughout training camp with an injured ankle...having a history of injuries, it was getting harder and harder for Berezan to bounce back...

‘’ The writing seemed to be on the wall. I was going have to do some amazing things to come back. Shortly after, my wife was diagnosed with MS. I was mentally fried. I was done. You have to snap out of start to feel sorry for yourself for some reason. There are times when we all want to feel sorry for ourselves. And I went through it. I’d go on a road trip and my wife would cry. She had symptoms, we had a new baby...I didn’t want to play anymore. I was not motivated...and the Sharks could tell... ‘’ says former Lanny McDonald’s linemate in Calgary.

After a shaky season debut, he got sent down to Kansas City in the IHL. Kevin Constantine tried to knock some motivation back into Berezan, and it seemed to work, because he got called up again. But his fate seemed to be written in stone already...

‘’ We were playing in Calgary against the Flames, and Ronnie Stern and I collided and went knee-to-knee. He blew up my MCL. I remember laying on the stretcher in the dressing room and telling myself I was done. I couldn’t go on anymore... ‘’

And so, his career finished on a stretcher. After he decided that his career was over, he called back at North Dakota and he wanted to finish his Business Degree. Which he did...

‘’ I had decided what to do with my life. I finished my degree and I’ve never looked back because I was mentally fried. But I’m much more fortunate now, because I can make good money being a stockbroker and do it for the rest of my life. I don’t have to worry about injuries, being away from my family, being fired, having a coach telling me I’m no good...all that went away. While I miss the atmosphere and the competitive nature, I’m happy with what I got now. ‘’

Perry Berezan is a very lucky guy. He worked hard to get where he is now and that has nothing to do with luck, but he’s one of the few who actually can carry on with his life after and NHL career without too much trouble...

‘’ Out of ten pro hockey players, within two years after their playing careers, eight will end up being either bankrupt, divorced, or not working. That means only two ‘’get through’’ the first two years without too much hurt in the process. That’s tough, absolutely terrible! ‘’

Now everything’s great for the father of three. He used to do some color commentary on the TV and radio for the Flames, and, of course, he’s happy working with Greg Sherven, a former North Dakota teammate, in the Calgary area. He’s also involved a lot in his community, having won the Calgary Rotary Club 2009’s Integrity Award, for the work he does with charity.

‘’ The Flames have a terrific Alumni Association. When I was playing for the Flames, I remember after a practice seeing Jim Peplinski close to a white board with names on it. Then he’d tell players that they’d have to go there and there at this or that date. It was a player, not a PR guy. I thought it was like this everywhere. Our team at the time did so much stuff outside, and I did so much charity stuff back then, I grew to like it a lot. Other cities didn’t do that nearly as much. And when I retired...we picked up where we left off with the Alumni and we still do so much today. I love to organize and be part of doing events and raising money. And even if it’s not money, a lot of people just love that we spend the time to help them ‘’ says a proud Berezan, who does a lot still today.

Since he has the chance to be with Flames players frequently, I asked him what player he hasn’t played with, that he would’ve like to play with the most. I was proud when he told me that was the first time somebody asked him that, and he replied with something that surprised me just as much...

‘’ Because I grew up in Edmonton, and that I joined the Flames Alumni, I had the chance to work with former Oilers a lot as well. And there are a lot of good people amongst them. Playing with

Wayne Gretzky would have to be on the top of my list...because I admired him on the ice and also off the ice... ‘’ and, again, he goes on with an interesting anecdote...

‘’ I had to give a speech at an NHLPA meeting on career transition, and the line I had for them was : when you’re a 50-goal scorer in the NHL and an a**hole, people will remember you are a 50-goal scorer. But when you retire, you’re just an a**hole. So remember how you treat other people when you’re playing, because you’ll get that back when you retire ‘’ says the thoughtful man, who is as generous in person as he seems when you don’t know him.

As of December 22nd, 2011, Perry Berezan still lives in Calgary, where he works as a stockbroker and is happily married with his wife and has three children. He celebrated his 47th birthday on December 5th. I would like to thank him for his kindness and the time he took for this interview. It was a great thrill meeting a player already in just my fifth interview.

Perry is very grateful for the chance he was given by Badger Bob Johnson when he started his career. And even though I haven’t started mine yet, I’ve got to say I’m as grateful for having the chance of meeting the former two-time Stanley Cup finalist for a very fascinating hour about his career, life, and thoughts.


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