May 06, 2006

Geoff Courtnall

Geoff was an exciting hockey player, combining great speed and enthusiastic physical play. He was also a streaky scorer who tallied an impressive 367 goals in his career, and a good playmaker, collecting 432 assists for 799 points in 1048 NHL games. His younger brother Russ also played in the NHL, and for a short time the two played together on the Vancouver Canucks.

Russ was a highly thought of prospect when he broke into the NHL, being selected 7th overall in the 1983 Entry Draft. Geoff on the other hand had to scratch and claw his way into the league. Despite being bigger and more physical than his brother and despite posting 114 points in his final year of junior, Geoff was never drafted. Instead he signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins as a 20 year old in 1983.

After spending most of his rookie pro season in the minors, Geoff cracked the Bruins lineup in a limited role in 1984-85. That year, and in 1985-86 and 1986-87, he played a largely a third or fourth line role, excelling as a forechecker and agitator.

By 1987-88 Geoff finally had the opportunity to display his goal scoring abilities. He made a name for himself by lighting the lamp 32 times in 62 games while continuing his high speed, hard hitting style of play. The rest of the league, and for that matter the Bruins, finally noticed that Geoff was a very good player.

When people realize you are a good player, they naturally want you to play on their team. Geoff's name suddenly popped up in trade rumours as many GMs were interested in energetic and streaky left winger in Beantown. The strongest rumour turned out to be more than a rumour however. Much speculation had Geoff being part of a package heading to Edmonton in exchange for unhappy goalie Andy Moog. On March 8, 1988 that deal went through as Moog went to Beantown for Courtnall and a young goalie named Bill Ranford..

Courtnall added 4 goals and 8 points in 12 games to finish the year with 36 goals and 66 points. However come playoff time the Oilers played him in a minor role en route to the Oilers 4 Stanley Cup, Courtnall's first and only. He collected 3 assists in 19 games of very limited ice time, but he still counts that as his career highlight..

Geoff's stay in the Alberta capital city was brief however, as he was was traded to Washington in exchange for rugged but slow LW Greg C Adams in the off-season. It was a good move for Geoff who didn't want to play a minor role in Edmonton, a role that Adams would eagerly accept although ultimately be unable to fulfill either. Geoff went on to two strong seasons in Washington, scoring 42 and 35 goals respectively. It was important for Geoff to register good numbers because he had a reputation as a streaky scorer. This gave him 3 solid seasons and recognition as one of the league's upper echelon left wingers.

Washington was looking to shake up their lineup by 1990 however, and Geoff was traded to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Peter Zezel. Geoff was on pace to score 30 goals in St. Louis but before the end of the season he was traded to Vancouver along with Sergio Momesso, Robert Dirk, and Cliff Ronning.

That trade proved to be very beneficial for the Canucks, as all players would play well and the Canucks became a league powerhouse. Geoff scored over 30 goals in a Vancouver uniform just once in 4 years, but continued to be an offensive force, scoring 77 points in 1992-93, and 70 points in 1993-94. More importantly Geoff was a top player in the playoffs for the Canucks. He scored a very respectable 61 points in 65 playoff games with the Canucks, and was a major part of the team's 1994 Stanley Cup finals run, scoring 9 goals and 19 points in 24 games.

In his final season in Vancouver, the Canucks acquired his brother Russ. For the first time the duo played on the same team, and at times even on the same line. Both players called it a dream come true, but the dream was short. Geoff left the Canucks as a free agent in the summer of 1995, opting for the big money that the St. Louis Blues were offering.

Geoff's return to St. Louis proved to be his final stop in the NHL, as he enjoyed 5 seasons in the Gateway City. At first it looked like the Blues had overpaid for a declining player. Courtnall struggled at times, scoring just 40 points in his first season back, and more importantly just 3 assists in 13 playoff contests. In 1996-97 he improved to 57 points, but had just 17 goals. In 1997-98 Geoff returned to form strongly, notching 31 goals and 62 points and adding 10 points in 10 playoff games. Despite being 35 years old, Geoff had his best season in years.

1998-99 was a year to forget for Geoff, and quite possibly he doesn't remember all of it. He played in 24 games, scoring five goals and adding seven assists. Then on November 27, 1998 Courtnall's season was stopped immediately when he suffered a severe concussion. In the coming weeks he would still feel after effects of the concussion, better known as post-concussion syndrome. Geoff missed 57 games but returned late in the season and for the playoffs.

Perhaps foolishly, Geoff returned to the league for the start of the 1999-2000 season. He had doctor's clearance to play but it wouldn't take much to jar his head and cause another concussion, perhaps leaving him severely injured for life. Geoff took that chance, and just six games into the season suffered another concussion, and was forced to retire.

Geoff was a favorite wherever he played. His energetic hustle, his aggressive fore-check and his tendency to score key goals will be missed.

Geoff was an entrepreneurial type even when he played - always dabbling in non-hockey interests. He's an expert carpenter and often spent his off seasons working on construction projects he also financed. He's also got a taste for fine foods, as he and his brother used to own a popular restaurant just outside of General Motors Place in Vancouver.

Hockey gave Geoff lots of money, and he has invested that money into a computer company south of the 49th parallel. The company has lots of promise. Just like everything else Geoff gets involved with, it looks like another success story for the older Courtnall brother.

No comments: