March 20, 2014

Marc Chouinard

Marc Chouinard's NHL career as a giant faceoff and defensive specialist lasted 320 games, but I don't think he got a lot of respect from NHL fans.

I guess that can happen to a hulking 6'5" 215lb center with a very limited offensive game who was drafted 32nd overall and linked forever in the trading of Teemu Selanne from the Winnipeg Jets.

Yes, young Marc was a very intriguing prospect with his size, deceptive skating and work ethic. He never put up fantastic numbers in junior but size is the NHL scouts great equalizer. So the Winnipeg Jets drafted him 32nd overall in 1995.

But Marc never had a chance in Winnipeg. He was returned to junior immediately and during that season he was traded with Teemu Selanne to Anaheim for Oleg Tverdovsky and Chad Kilger.

Chouinard's arrival in the NHL was a long time coming as he proceeded to apprentice in the minor leagues for four seasons before finally getting a chance with the Ducks.

Mind you, Chouinard was just happy to be playing hockey anywhere. Just 8 games into his first season in the minor leagues near tragedy struck.

"It was Halloween night, a Friday night, in the second period, against the Kentucky Thoroughblades, and I went to finish my check against one of their players," Chouinard remembered. "Somehow, when I hit him, his skate blade cut through my boot and severed my Achilles tendon. I limped back to the bench, knowing something was wrong but not knowing it was going to be that bad. Later on, they told me my foot was being held on by my skate because it was so tight.

"When it came time for my next shift, I told them it felt like my heel was missing and they didn't understand what I meant by that so they told me to take off my skate. With the pressure off, the blood started flowing out and they knew something wasn't right. I went to the clinic at the rink and then the hospital. The team surgeon came in, took one look and said, 'Sorry, Marc, but your season is over.' He put his finger in my wound and showed me how deep it was. He stitched me up and did the surgery on Monday."

The tendon pulled back on both ends so, after the doctor rejoined the ends, the therapy was designed to stretch it out over a long period until it was at or near its original length.

"It took eight months to get back skating," Chouinard said. "I had six different casts with different angles to keep flexibility in my foot. I had a special boot for another four weeks. Then they put a heel lift in my shoe, then a smaller one, then a smaller one, and so on. I took five-to-sixth months before I could walk again and eight months before I could skate. It was pretty frustrating.

"The thing they made me realize was that the tendon on that leg was always going to be shorter than the other because it was basically missing a piece," Chouinard said, explaining that the ends had to overlap a bit to be connected. "It was hard the next season because I felt a little off-balance and I kept spraining it, four sprains in the first two months. I'd get hit and it would sprain. I had to have insoles put in my skate and kept working on my therapy."

Chouinard put in the work, learned to play with the injury and learned how to become a good pro hockey player. He was rewarded with 320 games in the NHL, including playing in the 2003 Stanley Cup final. He even scored a big goal in game 3.

"I had to work double-overtime to get back. It was frustrating but I was fortunate to be able to get back and work hard enough to earn another chance.

After three seasons in Anaheim he had two solid seasons in Minnesota. He even got off to a strong start in his first season with the Wild, scoring 6 goals and 11 points in the first 10 games of the season. That caught the attention of the Canadian Olympic team who included Chouinard in the team's ridiculous list of 81 players for consideration for the 2006 Olympics.

Chouinard did cool off offensively and no he never got any closer to going to the Olympics, but still it was an exciting time for big Marc.

"I got up from my nap, we played that night, and my agent had sent me a text message on my phone saying congratulations. I said, `Congratulations for what?' Then I found out it was for making the preliminary list on the Canadian Olympic team. I sort of laughed, but I was honoured. It was unexpected to be honest. But I appreciate it, it's like a tap on the back."

He also had a short stint in Vancouver before heading overseas to finish his hockey career.

Marc's uncle, Guy Chouinard, was an NHL star for 10 seasons from 1974-1984 with the Flames in Atlanta and Calgary and the St. Louis Blues. He was one of the Flames' best players, scoring 50 goals and adding 57 assists for l07 points in 1978-79. In all, he had 205 goals and 370 assists for 575 points in 578 NHL games.

Marc's father Pierre centered the great Guy Lafleur in junior, leading the Quebec Remparts to the Memorial Cup in 1970. Unfortunately an injury would end Pierre's playing days soon thereafter.

Despite the connections to the great Montreal Canadiens, Marc grew up as a a fan of the Quebec Nordiques.

"I liked Michel Goulet and Peter Stastny and I remember Joe Sakic as a rookie. Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan and Peter Forsberg and those guys were all there the last game the Nordiques played at the Colisee. I remember getting an autograph by Joe Sakic when I was a peewee."

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