Saturday, February 14, 2009

Larry Sacharuk

Bobby Orr couldn't do it. Paul Coffey couldn't do it. Larry Sacharuk did though.

Larry who? And what did he do?

Larry Sacharuk is the only defenseman to score 50 goals at any serious level of hockey. He did it in his final season of junior hockey with his hometown Saskatoon Blades in 1971-72.

Alright, so he did it in the juniors. No other defenseman in junior hockey history has ever scored 50, including Orr and Coffey. A very few, such as Paul Reinhart, scored 50 goals but also spent a significant part of their season at a forward position as well as the defense position. Sacharuk was primarily a rearguard.

No professional league has ever had a 50 goal scorer. The NHL has come close a few times, such as record holder Paul Coffey's 48 or Bobby Orr's 46. But otherwise the key minor leagues such as the AHL, IHL, ECHL, not to mention major league WHA has ever had a 50 goal scoring defenseman. And while trying to figure out all the semi-pro and very low minor league teams through out history is like finding a needle in a haystack, it is believed that none of them has ever had a defenseman who scored 50 times in a season, either.

Despite his incredible feat, Larry never really found his place in the NHL with the exception of one season. Otherwise he was a strong player at the AHL level before heading over the pond to play in Europe.

Sacharuk was drafted 21st overall in 1972 by the New York Rangers. With the arrival of Bobby Orr in the NHL, it became necessary for every team to have at least one offensive defenseman. However the Rangers already had a superstar scoring blueliner in Brad Park. Since the rest of Sacharuk's game was suspect at the NHL level, particularly his skating and defensive coverage, he spent most of his first two pro season tearing up the AHL. He scored 41 goals and 70 assists for 111 points in 106 games, including an AHL record (since beaten) 27 goals in one season. But in 31 NHL games over those two season, he had just 3 goals and 7 points.

Many teams became interested in acquiring Sacharuk, and the St. Louis Blues were the lucky team that was able to acquire him in time for the 1974-75 season. The price: Bob MacMillan.

"(The Rangers) didn't need me," explained Sacharuk. "They have Brad Park doing that kind of job. So being traded to St. Louis was a lucky break for me."

It certainly was. Sacharuk proved he could play at the NHL level that season when he scored a team record 20 goals, including a hat trick against Vancouver early in the season.

Surprisingly the Blues then turned around and traded Larry and a first round draft pick back to the New York Rangers in exchange for highly promising Greg Polis. That move proved to be unlucky for Sacharuk. He played one injury plagued season in New York (scoring 6 goals and 13 points in 42 games) before a 2 game appearance in 1976-77. Otherwise the Rangers buried him in the minor leagues until 1978-79, likely because of a devastating eye injury suffered early in the 1975-78 season.

In 1978-79 Larry signed with the WHA Indianapolis Racers but that lasted only 15 games.

Larry resurfaced in the CHL with the Birmingham Bulls in 1979-80 before heading across the pond to play in Europe. He spent two years in Austria and one in Britain.


Anonymous,  July 27, 2009 at 7:14 PM  

I appreciated Larry when he played for the R.I. Reds in the AHL. He tore teams a new one then.

Anonymous,  December 24, 2009 at 3:11 PM  

Larry was a great player, in that he had a lot of offensive talent and could score goals from the point with a booming shot which he and likes of Jim Atamanenko (LA Kings) crafted in the junior ranks in the WCHL back in the 70's.

Anonymous,  May 17, 2012 at 9:49 PM  

jimmy the animal atamenenko, the gobbler, more head fakes than a turkey on the run. animal could shot the biscuit!!
sach had a cannon and the sleek moves of a forward or libero in soccer.
don't also forget joe sach went from bantam hockey to junioR A, which age limit was 21 back then. quite a feat.playing junior A at 14 years old. strange but true hockey tales.

Anonymous,  August 5, 2012 at 2:12 PM  

Blues fan here...remember Sacharuk's shot above all. Does anyone know if he was ever clocked...if they did that kind of thing when he played?

saskprairiechicken September 25, 2012 at 5:02 AM  

Replying to "Blues Fan"...yes , they did clocking at that time. Sometimes, it was reported in the newspapers...check with archives of individual papers. I am the sister of Jim Atamanenko...his shot was clocked and reported in a Sach's probably was as well.

Ratbastid January 20, 2017 at 3:00 PM  

Sack and Jimmy Atamanenko were feared in the WCHL back in the day...When the puck wound up on their sticks on the blue line, there was carnage to be expected. Goaltenders were looking for a way to get out of the way! Atamanenko once broke the glass in Calgary with a shot from the point. Like Sack he was a shifty player with a ton of moves, but injury got to the two of those guys. They were great friends off the ice too.

Unknown February 1, 2018 at 3:59 PM  

I remember playing against him in a game when he was just 14 and I was 12, and he let a shot go from centerice that knocked our goalie out of the game. Every one in the crowd was wide eyed and speechless. On the ice we were pretty much just terrified. Soon after he was playing for the Blades, but man alive did he have a shot.

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