Saturday, June 16, 2007

Doug Wickenheiser

Doug Wickenheiser has survived almost 600 NHL battles, but on January 12, 1999 he lost the biggest battle of his life. The man affectionately known as Wick died of a rare form of cancer in his lungs. He was only 37 years old, leaving behind a wife and three young daughters.

Wickenheiser was the first overall draft pick in the 1980 entry draft by Montreal, picked ahead of such names as Denis Savard and Paul Coffey. He became a victim of his incredible junior hockey success as he couldn't live up to the lofty expectations placed upon him.

The Regina, Saskatchewan native starred with the home-town St. Pats of the WHL. His final season saw him score a league leading 89 goals and 170 points while being named the Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year.

His reward for his junior success was to be the first overall selection by the Canadiens. However the move was unpopular from the start as the French-speaking media and fans wanted local junior star Denis Savard. Wickenheiser would struggle early, and was often sitting on the bench in Montreal while Savard was blossoming into one of hockey's most electrifying performers. Wickenheiser never had a chance under the intense pressure.

Wickenheiser, who was drafted by Montreal scout Ron Caron, was traded part way through the 1983-84 season. Caron, now manager of the St. Louis Blues traded skillful Perry Turnbull for Wick, Gilbert Delorme and Greg Paslawski. Wickenheiser fell in love with the city and the city loved his hard working, hard checking style. While he never was able to establish himself as a scoring sensation that many expected he would, Doug managed to reinvent himself as a hard working defensive center.

Wickenheiser's biggest moment in the NHL came in the 1986 conference finals as the Blues faced the Calgary Flames. Wickenheiser scored the overtime goal in game 6 which forced a decisive game 7 - winner take all - winner advances to the Stanley Cup finals. The goal, perhaps the biggest moment in St. Louis Blues history, is known as the "Monday Night Miracle." Unfortunately the Blues lost game 7 to the Flames.

In the summer of 1987, Wickenheiser became one of Pat Quinn's very first acquisitions in Vancouver as he was claimed in the training camp waiver draft. Wickenheiser performed admirably in his only season in Vancouver, playing all 80 games and filling the role of 4th line center.

He would then bounce to the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals as a free agent before stints in Europe and the IHL. He retired from active duty in 1994, although his last full NHL season was back in 1987-88.

Doug Wickenheiser is a cousin of women's hockey player and Olympic and world gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser.


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