July 14, 2013

Reggie Lemelin

Rejean "Reggie" Lemelin was one of a number of goalies from the 1980s that always perplexed me.

Though goaltending in the 1980s is historically regarded as weak at best, Reggie was an above average goalie who was capable of great performances. Yet he was never able to truly establish himself as an elite goalie, like say Grant Fuhr, Billy Smith and Ron Hextall. Instead Lemelin was regarded to be a level below that, along with names like Bob Froese, Bob Sauve, Brian Hayward, and former teammates Pat Riggin and even Andy Moog. I'm even inclined to include Pete Peeters on this list.

Lemelin was an old-school stand up goalie. That style is basically instinct today, but it was still accepted practice back then, and Lemelin excelled at playing his angles and directing pucks into the corners. In many ways he was blocking shots rather than saving them. By virtue of his playing style he often made stops seem easier than they probably were.

The problem with that theory of goaltending of course is the goalie is very susceptible if he has to move around. Force the goalie to move and he will lose his angles, and Lemelin fit this textbook definition of stand up goalie to a tee as well. Though he had great balance and was quick when forced to scramble while off his feet, he was slow in moving across his crease and often relied on the unreliable stacked-pads attempt to stop 2 on 1's.

Drafted by Philadelphia way back in 1974, Lemelin signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Flames in 1978. He did not become a Flames regular goalie until 1980-81, the first year the Flames relocated to Calgary.

Though he was a constant in the Calgary crease for much of the 1980s, he could never secure himself the #1 starting goalies job. Not even after his magical 1983-84 season where he went unbeaten in 19 straight games and was voted as runner up to Buffalo rookie sensation Tom Barrasso for the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the league. Lemelin was even asked to play for Team Canada at the 1984 Canada Cup following his 21-12-9 season, and would improve his numbers in 1985-86.

Correctly believing organizational depth was a key to success, the Flames always had someone pushing Lemelin for playing time. There was Pat Riggin, Don Edwards, and finally Mike Vernon, who would finally establish himself as the undisputed king of the Calgary crease.

In 1987-88 Lemelin was moved to Boston where he was essential in their voyage to the Stanley Cup finals. Most people will of course remember the Bruins started Andy Moog for the final series against Moog's old Edmonton Oilers teammates. But Lemelin actually played the lion's share of games that post season, posting a 11-6 record in 17 post season games.

Lemelin would remain in Boston until 1993. As time went by his status as the back up goalie behind Moog was cemented. Regardless, the Bruins featured one of the strongest tandems and therefore strongest teams in the early 1990s. The Bruins returned to the Stanley Cup finals in 1990, but would once again fall short to the Oilers.

Lemelin would hang up his skates for good in 1993, famously saying that he knew it was time to retire when his teammates were asking him for permission to date his daughter. (by the way, Lemelin's daughter is actress Stephanie Lemelin.) In actuality, Lemelin chose to retire rather than accept Boston's decision to demote him to the minor leagues.

Lemelin would go on to the world of coaching after his playing days. In 1993-94 he was the goalie coach in St. Louis before moving the next season to Philadelphia where he would serve as the long time goaltending consultant.

I guess history will not be as kind to Reggie Lemelin as perhaps it should be. He was an above average goalie, and for a couple of seasons he may even have been elite. But success and therefore that magical defining moment was tough to find. Consider this - Lemelin was the back up goalie for 3 Stanley Cup finals. Perhaps that is his defining moment.

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