Chris Drury retired from the NHL today. He's been one of my favorite NHL players since he came on to the scene with the Avs. I still remember the day we traded him--as Dater points out in today's post, it was really the only boneheaded trade Pierre LaCroix ever made for the Avs. Even after this past season--where Chris was banged up, injured most of the year, slow and ineffective after two years of injuries and surgeries--I and a lot of other Avs fans were hoping he might re-sign for a third- or fourth-line/penalty killer role. (I think some of the Sabers fans wanted to see him back, too) However, he decided his body just couldn't do it any more, and he hung 'em up.
Robbie's middle name--Christopher--is taken from Chris Drury. I loved the way he played, but I always respected the man he was off the ice as well as on it. He played hard, but never dirty. He never responded to crap in kind. I remember an incident in Buffalo where he was hit into the board from behind with his head down and he missed some time with a serious head or neck injury (sorry, don't remember exactly which). When asked by a reporter what he thought of the guy who did it to him, he only responded that it was in the past, there was no point dwelling on it, and he was going to put in the work he needed to get back on the ice and do his job. He never sank below his own level of integrity.
I won't go on and on about the guy, because there have been much better (and more concise) tributes posted today, and I'll just give you those. First, Avs beat writer Adrian Dater's blog. Second (and more highly recommended for the uninitiated), Puck Daddy editor Greg Wyshynski.
Drury was known for scoring "clutch goals." He always seemed to come up big in the playoffs. His four playoff overtime goals puts him in the company of Hall of Famers. When Joe freaking Sakic says you're the most clutch player he's ever seen, that's saying something. Sure, people got tired of hearing that he pitched the winning game of the Little League World Series when he was 10, but that's just because every channel mentioned it every time his name came up. The man did win the LLWS. He also won a Hobey Baker Award, a Calder Trophy, two Olympic silver medals, and a Stanley Cup. He also spent his day with the Stanley Cup visiting his college teammate Travis Roy, a guy whose career ended when he was paralyzed on his first shift of college hockey. While his career was on the decline, he was named to the US Olympic Hockey Team roster in 2010. Said GM Brian Burke, "We picked Chris Drury because he's Chris Drury." And of course, he scores two clutch goals in that tournament as well.
Look, there were always better players than Drury, I know that. But if you look at how many NHL personalities today put out congratulations or "best captain I ever played with"/"one of the classiest guys I've ever known" comments on their Twitter throughout the day, how many tribute blogs and stories were posted by sports networks across North America, and how many fans who wish he could have had one last year to end his career on a higher note than his 2010-11 season, you get the feeling that the guy is special.
Incidentally, I do have a Top 7 Drury moments. I won't make it as big a deal as my usual Top 7's, but here you go:
7. Drury's response to the hit from behind in Buffalo
6. Skating around all 5 Vancouver players for a last-minute goal against the Canucks
5. Drury and his boyhood idol, Ray Bourque, throughout the 2000-01 season. Lots of great hijinks/stories there
4. Jeremy Roenick publicly apologizing for questioning the selection of Drury to the 2010 Olympic squad
3. Game 5 vs Detroit in 2002, overtime winner. (We lost the series anyway, but that was a glorious moment)
2. Telling Travis Roy's story on national TV
1. Of course, the Cup in 2001. Drury's retirement leaves only 3 guys from that team (Hejduk, Tanguay, Reinprecht) still playing in the NHL.
So, thank you, Chris, for being a role model and a leader. Thanks for the Cup in '01 and the consistent presence at USA Hockey. Thanks for being the kind of guy I'd want to name a kid after.
*sound of alone stick tapping against the ice*