Saturday, March 10, 2007

Steve Durbano

They called him "Demolition Durby" and "Mental Case Durbano." He is perhaps hockey's baddest man - both on and off the ice.

Durbano was a journeyman defenseman for parts of 6 NHL seasons. His toughness was legendary, and also the reason he was so highly touted when he came out of junior. He was drafted 13th overall in the 1971 Entry Draft by the New York Rangers. The Rangers passed on names like Terry O'Reilly and Larry Robinson to get Durbano.

The Rangers, however, traded Steve before he even played a game in the NHL. He ended up in St. Louis where he made his NHL debut in the 1972-73 season. He would go on to play with Pittsburgh, Kansas City/Colorado before returning to St. Louis in 1978 to finish his career. Durbano scored 13 goals and 73 points in 220 NHL games.

Durbano sat out 1127 PIM in his 220 NHL games, a average of over 5 minutes a game! The 5.1 PIM per game is the highest mark for anyone with more than 1000 minutes. When the Broad Street Bullies were brawling their way through the mid-seventies, Durbano led the league in penalty minutes with 370. When asked who was the toughest player of his day was, he'd always answer "I was. I still have all my teeth, and I'm proud of that."

Many of Durbano's fights didn't happen on the ice. He was an alcoholic and routinely was in bar room brawls wherever he went. But the bar room brawls almost seem saintly compared to some of the other stuff Durbano has done in his life. In 1983 he was convicted for drug trafficking and in 1998 he was found guilty of running a prostitution ring.

In December 1998, The Hockey News ran an article on hockey's baddest player. Durbano has moved to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. He moved to the "Gateway to the Arctic" to escape his past and start over. The article said that Durbano was cleaning up his act somewhat - he worked hard as an Electrolux salesman and claimed to have given up cocaine.

However he remained a heavy drinker and died in 2002 of liver failure.

5 comments:

Rick Buker,  August 14, 2011 at 11:48 AM  

As a young Pittsburgh fan, I’ll never forget the day in January of 1974 that the Penguins acquired Durbano and “Battleship” Kelly from St. Louis. At the time of the trade the Pens were languishing in next-to-last place. Worse yet, they were a woefully timid team--the 98-pound weaklings of the NHL.

That all changed with the arrival of Durbano and Kelly. In his first game as a Penguin, “Durby” scored a goal and broke Dave Dunn’s nose with a roundhouse right. A few nights later he took on Bob Gassoff during a big, post-trade grudge match with the Blues.

With all due respect to Kelly, Durbano instantly became my favorite player. He was the knight in shining armor--albeit a black knight--who had ridden into town on his charger and restored the Penguins to respectability.

Not only was Durby tough as nails, but he showed genuine promise. Possessing a heavy shot and underrated skills, he tallied 18 points (in just 33 games), was a plus-17 and piled up 138 penalty minutes in his first half-season in the Steel City.

I got a chance to meet Durbano face to face during the summer of 1974, when he was part of a group of players that visited South Hills Village in suburban Pittsburgh to help drum up ticket sales. I was in awe. There sat my hero, no more than five feet away. I was too shy to speak. But as other fans gathered around the table, one piped up, “What do you think of (Flyers tough guy) Dave Schultz?”

“Not much,” Durbano replied, his dark eyes flashing. For an impressionable 17-year-old hockey fan this was heady stuff.

I couldn’t wait for the start of the 1974-75 season. Little did I realize that Durbano was about to suffer an injury that would permanently derail his career. On October 19, 1974, Durby hurt himself while trying to avoid a hip check by the Flyers’ Andre Dupont. Although it wasn’t clear at the time how badly he was injured, he would miss the rest of the season. It was later revealed that a bone from his arm was driven into his left hand.

When the 1975-76 season opened it was obvious Durbano wasn’t the same player. Frustrated by his inability to perform up to his previous level, the 24 year old became a distraction in the locker room. On January 9, 1976, the Pens unceremoniously shipped him to the lowly Kansas City Scouts. I was crestfallen.

For Durbano, it was the start of an inexorable, downhill slide that would sadly end in his premature death in 2002. Much has been written about the negative aspects of his life. But I prefer to remember him for those few short months in 1974 when his future--and that of the Penguins--seemed as boundless as the summer sky.

Joe Pelletier August 14, 2011 at 2:07 PM  

Thanks for this comment and all of your other contributions Rick. Keep 'em coming! It's reader memories that make this site rich.

GAVIN TAYLOR,  November 30, 2011 at 8:20 AM  

I AM FROM WELLAND,ONT,AND HAD THE CHANCE TO SEE STEVE ON A REGULAR BASIS,AS MYBEST FRIENDS DAD WENT TO WORK IN JAPAN,STEVE LIVED IN HIS APARTMENT TO WATCH OVER HIM WHILE HIS DAD WAS AWAY,THEY WERE A CRAZY FEW MONTHS,I WILL TELL U THAT,UNFOURTUNATELY STEVE WAS WELL IN THE GRIP OF COCAINE,AND WHEN USING WOULD DISSAPEAR INTO HIS ROOM,BUT ON THE OCCASIONS WHENHE WAS STRAIGHT WOULD TELL US STORIES THAT WERE JUST INCREDIBLE,FROM HIS ON ICE BRAWLS TO HIS ARREST FOR SMUGGLING COCAINE,THEY REALLY WERE BOOK WORTHY,I ALSO GOT THE PLEASURE OF WATCHING HIM BEAT THE SNOT OUT OF MY FRIENDS OLDER BROTHER WHO WAS A BIG MOUTHED ASS,AND HE BACKMOUTHED STEVE ONE TO MANY TIMES,IT WAS OVER IN 15 SECONDS,AND WAS VERY BLOODY AND MESSY,OF COURSE STEVE DIDNT HAVE A MARK ON HIM,ALSO HIS HANDS AT THIS TIME WERE REALLY DISFIGURED FROM YEARS OF FIGHTING,BUT HE COULD STILL USE EM!!! AND HE WAS AN AMAZING COOK,JUST FANTASTIC,AND HE ALWAYS TREATED US KIDS REALLY WELL,I WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER HIM AS A GOOD GUY,NO MATTER WHAT ANYONE SAYS,HE TREATED ME GOOD AND I ALWAYS RESPECTED HIM,R.I.P STEVE!!!

Anonymous,  July 29, 2012 at 7:13 PM  

My cousin briefly played with St. Louis while Durbano was there.

He told me the story of the night the team met up at the old Arena to take a bus to Lambert Field to start a road trip. Durbano was late.

Finally, his car pulled up in the Arena parking lot. Durbano got out of the passenger side and was screaming at his wife, who was driving. She got out, too, screaming back at him. Suddenly, they charged at each other and started fighting tooth and nail.

The other players just stood and watched, because nobody wanted to get in between the two of them. Finally, after about two minutes, the fight ended. Durbano grabbed his suitcase from the car and got on the bus.

Just crazy.

Mark,  May 28, 2015 at 5:22 PM  

I saw him play a bunch of times, both in the NHL and WHA, and I never saw him finish a game. Every time I ever saw him play, he was ejected.

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