18 March 2009
Contributed by resident Irishman, Tilt’d Toledo
On March 15th, 1981, 15-year old Midget AAA goalie, Patrick Roy, attended a hometown Nordiques’ game versus the Colorado Rockies, in the rink that he would later co-own. The second-year Nords had been brutal over the first 50 games of the season (11-26-13), before pulling off the trade known as locally as “The Great One”. Until “The Next One” came along, that is. On January 30th, general manager, Maurice Filion, sent winger, Jamie Hislop, to the 4-month old Calgary Flames, for veteran Atlanta goaltender, Dan Bouchard. To make room for him on the roster, Filion sent newly acquired Ron Grahame to Hartford’s AHL affiliate in Binghampton, in a meaningless move for a team that now had three other veteran goalies. Over the next six weeks, Bouchard would start every game for the Nords, including the 3-0 blanking of the Rockies, that young Patrick witnessed. After the game, Bouchard handed his stick to the pimply-faced Patrick.
Two nights later, Bouchard was at it again, winning in Detroit on St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, it would be another two weeks before the Nordiques would drop a game, establishing the franchise record at 11 games without a loss. The previous mark was the 6-game unbeaten streak that Bouchard had given the team to begin his tenure, in February. Starting 29 games in a row after joining the team, Bouchard’s 19-5-5 record had miraculously turned around a lost season, and secured the Nordiques a playoff spot over the stunned Maple Leafs. To rest him for the playoffs, head coach, Michel Bergeron dressed early-season starter, Michel Plasse, for a meaningless final game loss to the dejected Leafs.
Meaningless for the team, maybe, but not for Plasse. After the NHL had expanded from 6 teams to 12 in 1967, it became obvious that the practice of signing amateurs to “sponsorships” could not be continued under the expanded league. From 1963 until 1968, the NHL Amateur Draft consisted only of players not already sponsored by an NHL team as juniors. The last ever player to be selected first overall under the old system, was Michel Plasse. At 32 years old, Plasse had recently lost his starting job to Bouchard, a few months earlier. Being thrown this bone at the end of the year was his final chance to prove that he still belonged in the league that had drafted him first overall, only 12 years earlier. After losing this game, Plasse only saw 15 minutes of action in the playoffs, and only 6 starts the following year, before taking Ron Grahame’s spot in Binghampton.
The “meaningless” January dumping of Ron Grahame was similarly far from meaningless for that man. After starring at the University of Denver for four years in the 70’s, where he amassed a record of (81-35-3), Ron married his girlfriend, Charlotte. Their son, John, was born in Denver, the year after Ron turned pro. After 3+ successful seasons in the WHA with the Houston Aeros (102-37-3), Ron made the switch to the NHL and joined Don Cherry’s 1977-78 Bruins. Grahame (26-6-7) replaced the injured Gerry Cheevers (10-5-2) for most of the year, before giving way to the veteran in the playoffs. The Bruins went on to lose in the Finals to Montréal, with Grahame (2-1, 2.08 GAA) sitting on the bench. A few weeks later, Grahame was traded to Los Angeles for a first-round pick, who ended up being Ray Bourque. From that peak, Grahame’s career quickly went downhill, spending 2½ seasons as the Kings’ backup, before joining Québec a month before Bouchard got there. Grahame’s 5 year-old son, John, had just begun his own minor hockey career back in Denver, as his fathers short, but very successful professional career was ending.
Both Ron Grahame and Michel Plasse would never again play an NHL game, and both retired from the Binghampton Whalers that year. As everyone knows, John Grahame would grow up and become a successful NHL goalie in his own right (92-75-14). Everyone also knows about how John’s career has since run off the rails, this past season. What some might find interesting, however, is that until 2004, both father Ron and son John were tied for second place within their nuclear family, in terms of Stanley Cup Rings.
Neither Ron nor John had won the Cup until the Lightning’s 2004 victory, but John’s mother, Charlotte, has been a member of the Avalanche front office since the team moved to Denver. As Executive Director of Hockey Administration, she and John are the only mother/son combination to have their names etched on Lord Stanley’s Mug. Ron Grahame, btw, is currently the Senior Associate Athletic Director at the University of Denver.
Getting back to young Patrick, after being handed an autographed stick by his idol, Dan Bouchard, the boy reportedly slept with it in his bed every night for the next year or so. Five years later, Patrick would have a chance to face his idol, who was then in his final season. On January 15th, 1986, the Habs scored four against Bouchard and the Jets, while 200 feet away, 20 year-old Patrick Roy notched his first career shutout. After the game, Patrick recalled that day in mid-March 1981, and related the story of his bestest day ever. When his hometown Nordiques had turned the page after only 130 games in the league, and acquired the goaltender that would lead the team on one of sports’ greatest turnarounds in history.
I was thinking about that on the 28th anniversary of the Bouchard trade. Last month, when the Avs had 30 games remaining and were far less awful than the 80-81 Nords with their (25-26-1) record, Tampa signed the guy who had taken Kari Ramo’s starting job, in Norfolk. Imagine, in stead, that Colorado had signed UFA Mike McKenna (G), and he had gone on a 19-5-5 pace, rather than the current 6-12 pace that Budaj and Raycroft have been putting up…
I’m just sayin’. People were so eager to call it a season back when the Avs were putting up back-to-back victories over the red-hot Flames and the shining Dallas Stars, but 28 years earlier, the franchise that was (11-26-13) added a goaltender to an already crowded crease who finished the season (19-5-5) and qualify for the playoffs. Mike McKenna is no Dan Bouchard, but surely there were goalies that were available at that time that could have prompted the demotion of somebody who is no Ron Grahame. Maybe Martin Gerber, Dean McAmmond and a first rounder get traded for Arnason and Liles, and maybe Gerber replicates his 2006 springtime run of (20-5-2), and maybe the Avs take the Division from Calgary, the way the Nords took a spot away from Toronto that year.
Or maybe FG just sits on his hands, while his (25-26-1) team gets labelled by everyone in the media as already out of contention, and we all settle for 2½ months of Ti4T talk.
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