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A Tale For The Grandchildren, And An NHL Record Too!

By Thom Racine

The best part about a site like this, is that anyone can tell stories that would otherwise be locked away, known only to the people involved.

In the giant scale of NHL history and folklore, this is one of those stories that have to be told because it belongs in those history vaults, just as the best told stories we all have known over the years.

As most Saturday nights go in the NHL, November 18th, 1995 had the usual heavy schedule.

In the original six city of Boston, the Bruins were hosting an original expansion team in the St. Louis Blues. On the Blues bench was a goalie that had been in this position for five years total, 3 in Pittsburgh and 2 in Toronto.

Good enough to be there on that bench, but never called upon, and wondering if he ever would be.

The Blues were his third team. In fact, he had dressed for about 15 games in his NHL career to this point, playing only exhibition games over the years, yet oddly he did have a Stanley Cup ring from his first year in Pittsburgh. He is seated at the right hand of Mario Lemieux in the 1990-91 Stanley Cup photo.

There have been a few interesting moments along the way as well.

One particular exhibition games was in Tampa Bay, played in an open-air stadium in front of 25,000 fans. The Kings and Wayne Gretzky were the opposition and the Penguins showcased their newest star Jaromir Jagr. He would get the win that night, sealed when "JJ" scored into an empty net with six seconds to go.

In his excitement, Jagr never retrieved the puck from his very first NHL goal, and at the final buzzer, the goalie scooped it up - having won his first NHL game. Exhibition game as it was, it made no difference to him.

When Jaromir realized his gaff, he tried to arm-wrestle that biscuit away on the flight home. The goalie would not let go, almost as if he knew "JJ" would score a few more, and he may never win another.

That night in Boston was one in a long string that found him sitting on that bench, still holding on to his dream.

He was now 28 years old, and 8 years earlier had stormed onto the college hockey scene in Boston. An unknown, who would carve out a name for himself at the "Safety School" on Huntington Avenue and lead the Northeastern Husky's to two Beanpot Championships. He'd win the tournament MVP and Eberly award for top goalie twice.

In his senior year, a blocker save made late in the game off current Canucks GM Dave Nonis of Maine, resulted in the first ever Hockey East Championship.

They would vote him an All-American twice, and years later into the Beanpot HOF. He was named to the Hockey East team of the decade and the Husky HOF as well.

He was a surefire prospect and no one thought he would have to toil harder than most for his opportunity.

Ten minutes remained in the Bruins game when they took a three-goal lead. This was the realization of every Canadian kids dream. It is ironic that it would be in the very same city where it all started, when he was set to make his NHL debut - insignificant at the time to all except himself.

Who would have ever thought, that a one in a million chance happening, would be the first of two rather strange incidents in NHL history? The first of the oddities for this career minor league goalie, came a few minutes after entering the game.

Cam Neely took a snap shot from the slot, and there it was - his first save. It was similar to one's he'd made thousands of times on the backyard rink, or house league games back home.

After the ensuing draw, the next whistle stop a few seconds later was for a puck out of play, which happened to land in the Blues bench. Quick thinking by the Blues trainer led to the puck being saved for that goalie.

Now goalies keep momento's of their first wins and other milestones. yet I have to wonder how many goalies have the puck from their first save!

It would be the first game of 11 he would play in for the remainder of the season. A brief playoff appearance would bring the total to 12.

In one of those games, Dino Ciccarelli scored one of his 600 plus NHL goals on him.

Dale Hawerchuk would score his 500th goal in Toronto one night and that goalie would be the last of the Blues to congratulate his teammate on the ice.

The Blues relied heavily on Grant Fuhr who would set a modern day record for consecutive starts in one season, that year. Fuhr recorded his 300th win along the way, and for some reason, gave that goalie the puck as a memory of the season he spent backing him up, spelling him when coach Mike Keenan had seen enough.

At the end of that year he'd had a bird's eye view of Steve Yzerman's double OT winner in game 7 of the playoffs. From his vantage point, he knew before even Stevie Y did, that it was going in.

He traveled to Japan with the Sharks a few years later as the NHL opened the season in the land of the rising sun.

He'd also travel to London, England with the Leafs in 1994, for a couple of pre-season games against the Rangers.

Not a bad journey for 11 regular season games.

Oh, and of those games, he never won any.

He never started any either.

As a result, he currently holds the dubious NHL mark, or record if you wish, of having played in the most NHL games without a start.

For Bruce Racine, the man surely wishes some things had turned out different.

In a recent conversation with him, he admits he has a few regrets, and looks back on all of it with great memories for what the game did for him along the way.

Fifteen years playing the game, the game we all dream of playing.