If I were to make a list of my all time favorite hockey players, up there with Gretzky, Lafleur and Orr, I would surely place soon to be Hall Of Famer, Doug Gilmour.
Dougie was as passionate a player of the game as any I'd ever witnessed. Raised in a Habs household, my father regaled me growing up with tales of Rocket Richard and his piercing stare. In my generation, I'd only seen those eyes in two players. One was Mark Messier, the other was Gilmour. He was as fierce a competitor as they came.
Doug played his junior hockey with my hometown Cornwall Royals, and I must have seen him play a good 50 times.
As a 17 yr old Gilmour arrived at the Royals camp. He wasn't given much chance of making the team. Described as a solid defensive player with excellent offensive aptitudes, at 5' 9" and a soaking wet 150 lbs, he was thought to be in the wrong league.
Due to injuries, Gilmour was limited to 35 points in 51 games, in his initial junior season, which saw the Royals surprise all hockey experts by winning their second straight Memorial Cup. He followed his rookie season up with totals of 46-73-119. He was drafted by the St.Louis Blues in the 7th round, 134th overall. NHL GM's still thought his size to be a concern. Gilmour was returned to the Royals for a final season of junior.
As a 19 yr old, Gilmour added two inches to his height, and began to tip the scales nearer to 170 lbs. The Royals had transferred from the QMLHL to the tougher and more defensive OHL. The change had no effect on Gilmour, as he registered league leading totals of 70-107-177 on route to becoming the OHL player of the year. Along the way, he recorded a 55 game point scoring streak, a canadian major junior record broken only by Mario Lemieux two seasons later.
At training camp with the Blues in 1983, Gilmour was about to spurn their best offer and play in Germany, when injuries conspired to up the Blues offers. Gilmour signed and made the team.
Years later, Blues coach at the time, Jacques Demers, recalled his first meeting with Dougie. During training camp, he had invited the rookie out to a one on one lunch to get to know his player. Seated in the restaurant for only minutes, the brash youngster, got up and went to the bar, and returned with a brew in each hand for himself and his coach. Demers was stunned and somewhat delighted by the nerve of this green rookie to do such an unabashed thing, having just met his coach. Demers instinctively knew, Gilmour was a player who could walk the walk.
Gilmour went on to the career we all know, a Cup in Calgary in 1989, five seasons in Toronto and then on to New Jersey, Chicago, Buffalo, and finally Montreal.
Gilmour played his best hockey as a Leaf. He was alternately a pesky defensive forward, fearless in his checking role and the offensive focal point of an improving team. He set a franchise record with 127 points in his first full season with Toronto in 1992-93. He became only the second Leaf to register 100 points in a season, leading the team within a game of the Stanley Cup finals. He placed second in playoff scoring and led the league with 25 assists. He finished second to Mario Lemieux in the race for the league's MVP and won the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward, a remarkable achievement for a player with such offensive numbers.
Gilmour had 111 points the next season, and once again led the Leafs to the semifinals in the playoffs. Gilmour became team captain in 1994-95 before the shortened season, and remained a popular player in Toronto even as the team began to struggle. The Leafs went into rebuilding mode midway through the 1996-97 season, and Gilmour was sent to the Devils with Dave Ellett for Steve Sullivan, Jason Smith, and Alyn McCauley. He spent one full season with the Devils and was signed as a UFA by Chicago in 1998 for a whopping 18M over 3 years.
Before his third Blackhawks season, Gilmour returned to Cornwall to participate in an alumni reunion for the Royals. My best friend Shawn called me at 8 p.m. that night telling me to get my tail down to the corner bar. It was July 7th, 2000, and lo and behold, Doug Gilmour was there shooting pool.
I grabbed a stack of hockey cards and ran right over. It wasn't a crowded night at the bar, and we got a chance to chat with Dougie about a bunch of stuff. We talked to him about his time playing in Cornwall, and joked that the Memorial Cup win allowed me to go easy on him for undoing my Habs in '89.
He began talking about coaching junior players one day (owning a franchise) and how he would like to end his playing career. He admitted to a desire of finishing off his playing days in Otttawa or Montreal. I told everybody I knew about this. Not many figured it likely.
That season, the Hawks dealt him to Buffalo. A year and a half later, he became a free agent and signed with the Canadiens.
Gilmour was, for all intents and purposes, the Habs captain that season. With Saku Koivu missing the entire regular season with stomach cancer, Gilmour wore the "A" on his jersey and guided an injury depleted Canadiens team into the playoffs. Koivu had promised Gilmour that if the team made the post season he would be there. The "Killer" said Koivu's rehad and quick return to play was the most courageous hockey story he had ever witnessed.
Gilmour then resigned on as a free agent with the Canadiens and went on to play one more season with the Habs before he was dealt back to Toronto at the trading deadline in 2003.
In his first game back with the Leafs, Gilmour injured his knee and his season and career came to an abrupt end.
In the summer of 2003, Gilmour had booked icetime to rehab his knee injury and showed up to find it cancelled by Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. It was the GM's way of showing the Leafs had no more interest in Gilmour.
To amend the situation, the Leafs honoured him with "Doug Gilmour Night" in a game against Edmonton, completely ignoring the fact that his team of the past two seasons, Montreal, were in town to play the Leafs only days later. No one was impressed!
Over the course of his distinguished playing career, Gilmour registered 1414 points on the strength of 450 goals and 964 assists.