ONCE A LEAF
Featuring one of the more than 1,100 players, coaches and general managers who have played or worked in Toronto since 1917.
GOALTENDER TOM BARRASSO
BORN: March 31, 1965, Boston, Mass.
SWEATER NUMBER: 30
GP 4, 2-2-0 (W-L-T), 2.74 GAA
Acquired for playoff insurance from the Carolina Hurricanes at the trade deadline for a fourth-round pick (the Canes used it on goalie Kevin Nastiuk, whose long career did not include the NHL), Barrasso was to back up Curtis Joseph, coming off a hand injury, and Corey Schwab. He was a decade removed from Stanley Cup success with Pittsburgh, but still effective, even with his acerbic side showing to the media and his past coolness towards some teammates.
“When I look back at the guys I played with, the one who had the most confidence in me was Mario Lemieux,” Barrasso said at his recent Hockey Hall of Fame induction. “He always believed I could be the guy who could get it done. To me, that meant everything. Because no matter how the game was going – we weren’t the best defensive team in Pittsburgh –if we were up a goal, you had to believe I’d be able to stop whatever I had to in the last seven minutes.”
As the Bruins turned all of Boston onto hockey in the late 1960s, Barrasso became a goalie in street shinny.
“Most of the kids were my (older) sister’s age and that was the only way they’d let me play. Neighbourhoods were a lot tougher then. You’d get beat up and pushed around. The only way I could (get back) at those kids was to not let them beat me in net. And I loved that it drove them crazy. That’s how I got the bug.”
Long range, the Leafs might have picked up Barrasso to protect themselves in case Joseph did not re-sign that summer. Indeed, that happened, but Barrasso was hurt before the ’02 playoffs started. He only played six more NHL games with St. Louis.
“I enjoyed my time with (coach) Pat Quinn, I thought he was a really great guy.”
He also knew the significance of playing for an Original Six team and remains on a small list of American goalies for the Leafs, recently supplemented by Joseph Woll.
After time with the Canes as goalie coach, Barrasso has been a head coach around European club teams, currently with Asiago 1935, in Northern Italy.
“I had my window to play and that was great, my five years in Carolina were fun and I got to build great relationships with the players there.
“But the guys I coach now will never play at the NHL level. Some might have a chance in the Swiss League and have a decent living, but to give them the opportunity to build confidence is just awesome.
“I tell them at the beginning of camp every year: ‘enjoy every minute of this because at some point you’re going to need a real job. The real world is not like we’re doing here, not nearly as much fun and camaraderie. So, enjoy it. And if you’re not enjoying it, get out’.”
Barrasso was given the chance to start in the NHLer as a high school grad by Buffalo Sabres Scotty Bowman and won the’83-84 Calder Trophy. Yet he says the most successful coach in NHL history was not always a role model for his own bench aspirations.
“Scotty sent me to the minors in my second season in the league two or three weeks in, coming off the rookie season I’d had and a very good Canada Cup. I’ll always remember that and it will always bother me.
“But he was the guy who gave me the chance and if he doesn’t, none of this (Hall election) happens. I’m always indebted to him for that.
“I’m a lot like Ken Hitchcock. I try and make it fun, but at the end of the day it’s got to be hard. If you don’t do the work, you won’t have any fun. You have to be committed to the weight room and everything else.”
FAVOURITE LEAFS MEMORY
“I had a heavily bonus-laden contract that year and Pat made sure to play me the last game of the regular season, so I’d get my money.
“I broke my hand in the second period of the game in Ottawa and knew my season was over, but I just thought Pat was a really good hockey guy, the type of which you don’t come across all the time.”
With the Grey Cup this weekend, we salute Gerry James. The Marlie junior grad, a member of their 1955 Memorial Cup team, was a Leaf right winger from then to 1960 and kept busy in the summer as a running back with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and his home province Saskatchewan Roughriders. He started his football career at age 17, voted the CFL’s outstanding Canadian in 1954, the first year of that award, eventually won four Grey Cups and made the CFL Hall of Fame … Great to see Lanny McDonald still revelling in the role of chairman of the Hall. Leaf followers will recall his famous bushy red moustache wasn’t part of his early ‘70s career in Toronto when team decorum was still old school, but he grew it after liking the image that Yankee pitcher Sparky Lyle projected on the mound with his own bristle.
THIS WEEK IN LEAFS HISTORY
Maple Leaf Gardens turned 92 this week. We happened to pass a historical plaque in the area that detailed how the mighty Eaton’s company bought several plots of land in the area in the 1920s as possible sites for its new megastore, including Church and Carlton. When Eaton’s settled on the southwest corner of Yonge and College (it was going to be as huge as the Royal York Hotel), it sold the Church and Carlton site to Conn Smythe’s group. The stock market crash and Depression severely curtailed plans for the Yonge – College location, today a Winner’s store and the Carlu corporate event venue … The Leafs played Detroit on Friday in Stockholm on the 1990 anniversary of current Wings’ GM Steve Yzerman scoring three times on three shots and adding two assists in an 8-4 Wings’ win at the Gardens … Sunday will mark 40 years since the late Bruce Hood officiated his 1,000th game at the Gardens.
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