August 05, 2013

Steve Sullivan: Undersized Underdog

Steve Sullivan was one of those guys every hockey fan loves. He was always an underdog thanks to his diminutive size, yet he overcame that with speed and skill and his own brand of fearlessness to emerge as a nice scoring threat for years in the NHL. He was a shifty, creative flyweight who showed tremendous grit, even through debilitating injuries.

Steve Sullivan's career can be subdivided nicely based on the organizations with which he played. 

A ninth round (233rd overall) draft pick of the New Jersey Devils in 1994, Sullivan was an undersized long-shot who over came the odds, but ultimately not with the Devils.

A junior and minor league sensation, Sullivan was traded to Toronto along with Jason Smith and Alyn McCauley for superstar Doug Gilmour. There was a little bit of Doug Gilmour in Steve Sullivan. Neither were very big but played with big heart and without fear. They got the most out of their undersized bodies while excelling with speed and puck skills.

Ultimately Leafs fans did not get to see much of that. Though he played 2 and 1/2 seasons in Toronto he only flourished in flashes and never with any great consistency.

That promise finally came through shortly after Sullivan left Toronto, of course. The Chicago Blackhawks picked him up on waivers early in the 1999-2000 season and he quickly surprised as both a sniper and excellent penalty killer. In fact he led the entire league in short-handed goals that first season in Chicago. The following season he erupted for 34 goals and 75 points, both career highs. He remained a 60 point threat throughout his time in Chicago.

Sullivan came to Nashville in a mid-season trade in 2003-04 and transformed himself into a fan favorite not just with his exciting offense but with his leadership and grit that would redefine him as a grizzled journeyman. 
Sullivan was a rare offensive threat for the Predators until a scary back injury threatened his career. It was a long, long haul but Sullivan returned to great fanfare. For his efforts he won the Bill Masterton Award for perseverance in 2008-09 after missing all of the 2007-08 season and the first half of 2008-09 due to the injury.
Sullivan bounced around the league a bit at the end of his career. With his reputation as a veteran leader, a great special teams player and a resume that included 8 consecutive seasons of 20 goals or more and 7 seasons with at least 60 points, he was a good unrestricted free agent gamble for Pittsburgh, then Phoenix and finally New Jersey. 
All told Steve Sullivan amassed 290 goals and 747 points in 1,011 games, in addition to nine goals and 23 points in 50 playoff games
But ultimately his career will always be remembered for his interaction with a fan in the front row one night in Colorado:

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