September 26, 2013

Leave It To Beezer: John Vanbiesbrouck

In the case of John Vanbiesbrouck good things very much came in small packages. The 5'8" 175lb goalie from Detroit retired as the winningest American born goalie in NHL history. He also won the Vezina Trophy once (was the runner up another time), was a Hart Trophy finalist, and a two time NHL all star.

The John Vanbiesbrouck story is pretty much a tale of two cities, or at least two hockey teams. He equally well remembered for his play with both the New York Rangers and the Florida Panthers.

In Manhattan the cocky kid battled with Mike Richter over the starting goalie job for years, with Richter eventually winning out.

But "the Beezer" went on to spectacular heights with the expansion Florida Panthers, almost single-handedly leading them on a spectacular run to the Stanley Cup final in 1996. Leading the third year team to the Stanley Cup final earned Vanbiesbrouck recognition as one of the game's very best. His odd-shaped Panthers goalie mask remains one of the great masks of all time.

The Rangers drafted Vanbiesbrouck 72nd overall in the 1981. Beezer had just completed a fantastic season with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario League. Amazingly, that was the last season John played while wearing glasses under his birdcage goalie mask. He switched to contact lenses the following season.

In New York Vanbiesbrouck shared the net with most notably with Bob Froese and then Mike Richter. He would enjoy 9 strong seasons in Manhattan, none better than the 1985-86 season. Vanbiesbrouck was a bit of a surprise winner of the Vezina trophy that season thanks to a league leading 31 win season.

Beezer was known for his extreme confidence. It was a big reason for his success.

"You can't play goal in the NHL without confidence, and Vanbiesbrouck has always had his fair share. He has always been known for being strong on his angles, and he certainly challenged shooters. I like that in a goaltender," observed goaltending legend Johnny Bower. Bower probably was drawn to Vanbiesbrouck because the two shared the love of the pokecheck.

Another former NHL goalie of note, John Davidson - then a Rangers' broadcaster - said that cockiness never interfered with his ability to get the job done.

"John was always very energy efficient with his movements. He would always just make a series of small movements that were designed to let the puck hit him. He always had a lot of composure"

Beezer had an exciting glove hand, often making highlight reel saves with it. But he was at his best when he did not have to make such spectacular saves. You knew he was really on top of his game when he squared himself to the shooter. He was an excellent positional goaltender.

Vanbiesbrouck was the victim of a couple of freak injuries while with the Rangers. Beezer missed the start of the 1987-88 season with a broken jaw courtesy of teammate Tomas Sandstrom's shot in training camp. The following summer he had a real freak accident at home. He was experimenting with a new video camera he had purchased to film the birth of his first child. Somehow he fell through a glass coffee table and lacerated nerves and tendons in his arm/wrist, requiring five hours of surgery. Amazingly the injury healed in time for Vanbiesbrouck to start the season.

The intense Vanbiesbrouck thrived on a heavy workload, but he was not going to get that in New York with Mike Richter around. The two split the games often almost equally. In fact in the 1990-91 season the two literally alternated starts literally for 76 consecutive games. That is believed to an unofficial NHL record.

NHL expansion finally forced the Rangers to pick between the two stars, and they chose Richter. Vanbiesbrouck would join the Florida Panthers in 1993 and immediately legitimized the franchise. With his fierce competitiveness and a sense of maturity he became one of the league's brightest stars and, quite arguably, the greatest player in Florida Panthers history to this day.

Vanbiesbrouck ended his career in 2002 with brief stints with the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils. All told he played in 882 NHL games with an all time record of 374 wins, 346 losses and 119 ties. He sported a 2.98 GAA and .899 save percentage.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

J'ai beaucoup aimé John lorsqu'il jouait pour les Rangers et prenait pour lui lors des séries de 1986 contre le Canadien malgré le fait que je sois Canadien. C'était un gardien de but complet et très technique, j'ai appris beaucoup en l'observant. Les séries de 1992 contre les Penguins et la finale en 1996 contre l'Avalanche ont été de grands moments du hockey où John a joué.
- SM