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September 18, 2015

Reggie Savage

Washington's first round (15th overall) draft pick in 1988, Reggie Savage was once considered a can't miss prospect. While he went on to a very interesting career in hockey, he would only play in 34 career NHL games, scoring five goals and twelve points.

Reggie began playing hockey at the age of six in St-Hubert, Quebec. His adopted mother operated the arena restaurant there, so he naturally became a rink rat. In no time at all it became obvious he was a natural hockey player. He really stood out on the ice, in more ways than one.

Reggie was born to a single Haitian mother in Montreal. Unable to raise her son, she placed him in an orphanage shortly after birth. A month later he came under the care of Rita and Jean-Guy Savage, a French-speaking white couple who had three children of their own. The arrangement was only supposed to be short-term, but he became their son, officially being adopted at the age of five.

The family would teach him all about values, French and English and, of course, hockey.

Reggie always was a big scorer. As a 16-year old he scored 82 goals and 57 assists in 42 games for the Richelieu Rivierains, and almost single-handedly led them to the Canadian midget championship in 1987.

From there he joined the QMJHL's Victoriaville Tigres in 1987. Under the tutelage of coach Guy Chouinard, a former NHLer, Savage overcame an early shoulder injury to lead the Tigres in scoring with 68 goals in 68 games, adding 54 assists for 122 points.

Suddenly Savage was one of the top prospects in all of hockey. The Capitals were happy to land Savage with the 15th overall pick at the draft, though they would ultimately return him to junior for two more seasons. By the end of his junior career he had amassed an amazing 177 goals and 329 points in 185 NHL games.

NHL stardom seemed imminent, but it never happened.

Everything was set for him to become a good NHL player. This never happened though. Reggie struggled in the NHL during the few chances he had. He only played a total of 17 games for Washington before they traded him to Quebec in 1993 where he played 17 games as well.

Why?

"I think I was drafted by the wrong team," Savage said. "Washington was always a very defensive organization, but I was an offensive player. It seemed like they didn't know what to do with me. They always wanted me to do something else. They said I wasn't defensive enough, I wasn't this, I wasn't that. I just didn't fit in their system."

The Capitals buried him in their minor league affiliate in Baltimore, trying to teach him their tight defensive philosophy. But Savage was not just another checker. He lit up the minor leagues, and by his third season he made it impossible for Washington to not give him a chance. With 37 goals in just 40 games. Yet in 16 games he scored just twice with the Capitals.

In the summer of 1993 Washington finally decided they did not know what to do with Savage moved him to the Quebec Nordiques along with Paul MacDermid for Mike Hough. This time he was going to an offensive team - but a team that was loaded with talent such as Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, Valeri Kamensky, Mike Ricci, and Martin Rucinsky among others. Savage got buried behind these more established stars and never got a real chance in Quebec, either.

"It was so great just to be on the ice with those guys," he said. "I learned so much about what it means to be a pro. Conditioning was never a problem for me, but when you see how hard these guys work, especially in the off-season, you know what you have to do. Sakic isn't even as big as I am, but it's amazing how strong that guy is. With the Nordiques, he was in the top three in every strength and conditioning category."

Savage continued on his hockey career in a vagabond journey through the minor leagues and Europe.

Special thanks to Pat Houda.

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