I was born in northern Quebec but we moved to southern Ontario when I was about 8 years old. The Quebec Nordiques were my favourite team/franchise and 36 years later they still are today. At my high school, the Principal at the time was a huge Montreal Canadiens fan. The timing was such that when I was in Grade 9, that year, the Nordiques lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs and then would go on to finish out of the playoffs and/or dead last for the next 4 years…so the rest of my time in high school. It’s safe to say that I never won any of the friendly little wagers that I used to make with my High School Principal.
Those were dark times as a Nords fan but I was incredibly fortunate to have seen some unbelievable hockey growing up. Living in southern Ontario, Niagara Falls finally got their OHL franchise back 6 years after the Flyers had left for North Bay in 1982. My brother, my dad and I had the chance to go and watch an incredibly talented Niagara Falls Thunder team that featured one of the most talented defencemen that I’ve ever seen play junior hockey : Bryan Fogarty. The arenas were packed too…they had an excellent team but Fogarty was just something else. It seemed like he could take the puck and deke everyone and score whenever he felt like it…he was incredible! I was at the game when he broke Bobby Orr’s OHL record for points by a defenceman. On top of everything, he was a Nordiques draft pick! Sadly, that story doesn’t have a happy ending but reflecting back upon it and how good that Niagara Falls Thunder team makes me smile.
In the summer of 1987, as soon as tickets went on sale for the Canada Cup that was set to be hosted at the new Copps Coliseum, my dad bought as many tickets as he could. He would alternate between bringing me and my brother to games. The competition in that tournament was phenomenal! Gretzky, Lemieux, Goulet!, Messier, Bourque, Coffey, Fuhr…they were all there!! Not to mention, Krutov, Larionov, Makarov as well as Fetisov and of course Valeri Kamensky! Those games between Canada and the Russians were unbelievable!
One of the fondest memories I have of my dad was when it came to the final game he said “you two go together” and my brother and I witnessed hockey history LIVE. So that game where Gretzky passed it back to Lemieux for the game-winning-goal with Larry Murphy as the decoy on the right side…we were at that game! It was one of the most incredible, memorable days of our lives. It comes up every now and then when we talk and all we can do is shake our heads in disbelief that we were actually there.
In 1990, again at the Copps Coliseum we got a bunch of tickets to watch Eric Lindros and the Oshawa Generals win the Memorial Cup. It was pretty exciting as Lindros was going to be a bona-fide superstar and the Nordiques were coming off a 31 point season the year before. With no draft lottery, surely adding a franchise player would turn things around! Well, actually that one does have a happy ending. Thanks Eric! 😛
In spring of 1995, circumstances forced me to move from southern Ontario back to Quebec. It was all good though because I was finally going to be closer to the Nordiques and be able to see a ton of their games on TV!!! Of course, the announcement of the sale of the team and its subsequent move to Denver was made only 2 months later. I guess I was just destined to follow my favourite team long-distance.
I didn’t just watch hockey, I played as well. The highest level I achieved was AAA Midget but I wasn’t good enough of a skater to get anywhere beyond that. If I had to compare myself to an NHL player I guess I would have been ‘a slow-man’s Andrew Brunette’ as my teammates would tease me that I needed to deke around the same guys twice before getting to the goalie.
I started paying closer attention to the NHL Draft in 2005-06. At first, I started doing it just for fun…just to see what kind of results I would get by seeing the top 50-60 guys who were ranked as 1st/2nd round picks. My results were a bit of a mixed bag early on because I didn’t watch the players nearly as much as I should have but I was still able to determine with a pretty good ratio, the players who didn’t flag to me as players who would develop as future NHLers. Turns out I was right more than I was wrong, so I kept going.
As I started putting in more and more time, it went from a fun hobby to something a little more serious. My Top-30 eventually became a Top-50 + 10 honorable mentions to a full Top-100 this year. Through it all, I’ve nailed some pretty good prospects that eventually became NHL players that were ranked ‘out of nowhere’.
While I don’t think it’s possible to get everything right, there are just too many variables with on-ice and off-ice factors, I think I’ve got a pretty good track record. I can only say that “I call them as I see them” and I have no biases in terms of country of origin, junior team or ethnicity….I just don’t care about that. It’s about what these kids can do on the ice.