July 14, 2013

Gord Kluzak

The 1982 Entry Draft was an exciting time for hockey fans who followed the up and coming stars of tomorrow. That draft featured a young phenom named Brian Bellows who was considered to be the best player available and was widely expected to go 1st overall to the Boston Bruins, who acquired the pick from the Colorado Rockies.

However the Minnesota North Stars however drastically coveted Bellows and were prepared to do whatever it took to get him in a Minnesota uniform. The Stars first acquired the 2nd overall pick from Detroit in one trade. Then they traded a promising youngster in Brad Palmer along with Dave Donnelly to the Boston Bruins in exchange for "future considerations." Palmer and Donnelly, neither of whom amounted to much in the NHL, were given to the Bruins in exchange for Boston's promise not to select Bellows. Instead, The Bruins went after a big, physical defenseman, Gord Kluzak, first overall in that Entry Draft.

For Kluzak, being the first overall selection was definitely a surprise.

"I had injured my knee playing playing junior hockey in Billings, Montana. And up until that point, I thought I had an excellent chance to go number one. But once I got hurt, even though it was a relatively minor injury, I sort of felt that that had hurt my chances. And I think most people at that time were expecting Brian Bellows to be drafted number one. And I was actually expecting to maybe go third that year," Kluzak explained.

While being chosen number one was a definite honor, it certainly had its flip side as well.

“I think it’s sort of a double-edged sword in a lot of ways and I think you see it happening time and time again with guys that struggle for a while with it. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure. It’s much easier being the second pick. The economics aren’t much different but the pressure seems to be a lot less in the sense that the media is so focused, so obsessed almost with the first pick and so from that perspective there’s a lot of added pressure. On the other hand, it’s a unique experience and it only happens to one person every year and so it’s very special on that level.”

As mentioned earlier, the Climax, Saskatchewan native began his hockey career with the Billings Bighorns of the WHL. There he was selected to the WHL’s Second All-Star Team in 1982, the same year he helped Team Canada win a gold medal at the World Junior Championships. Gord was selected to the World Junior All-Star Team and he was named the best defenceman at the tournament.

Gord made the immediate jump into the NHL with the Bruins in 1982-83, collecting seven points in 70 games. The hulking d-man was never expected to be much of an offensive force, but he was an imposing physical figure who wasn't afraid to hit hard.

Gord scored career-high 10 goals in his second NHL season before knee injuries forced him to sit out the 1984-85 season. Kluzak returned to the Bruins lineup in 1985-86 and he finished the year with career-highs in assists (31) and points (39).

Unfortunately knee injuries forced Kluzak to sit out the 1986-87 season but he returned to the lineup in 1987-88 and helped Boston reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Gord scored six goals that year while matching his career-high in assists with 31.

For Gord, making the finals was his career highlight.

"Ray Bourque and I played together on defence and we had a great year. We beat the Canadiens for the first time I think in 40-some years, the Bruins finally beat the Canadiens that year. It’s become commonplace since then but, believe me, up until that point in Boston there was the quote-unquote Forum jinx and we couldn’t beat the Canadiens. I think the Bruins had lost 19 consecutive playoff series. For a young kid like me who was a big Bruins fan when I was a kid and had sort of endured a lot of the Canadien defeats, it was really nice and really special to do that. So beating the Canadiens and going on to the Stanley Cup Finals, that’s probably the year and the time that I remember the best about my career. It was a very special time.”

Injuries again limited Kluzak’s play as he only managed to play in 13 games over his final three NHL seasons. But Gord’s perseverance and dedication to the game and his efforts to return to the NHL did not go unnoticed. In 1990, he was honoured with the Bill Masterton Trophy for his dedication to hockey.

“It was nice to be recognized by the media as being someone who really had dedicated his life to hockey, which in my mind, I had really sort of done everything I possibly could to keep playing. I loved the game that much. It was that passion about it. And when I finally had to retire, it was painful. But I think the Masterton Trophy sort of … it was hard at that time because I was only 26 and I thought, ‘Geez, this isn’t the kind of trophy you want to be getting when you’re 26.’ But now that I reflect back upon it, it means a lot to me because it sort of signifies in my own mind how hard I worked. And I did everything possible to try and play and I think those people around me recognized that and I think that’s why I was given that award.”

Gord finally had enough of knee surgeries and rehab appointments and after the 1990-91 season he retired. Gord turned to the world of education, attending Harvard University and later Harvard Business School, earning a degree in economics. He now works for a financial management firm in Boston and has done some broadcasting on the side.

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