October 06, 2015
There was no mistaking the lack of subtleties in his game. He was always going to be remembered for his physicality and his ability to fight. He made a name for himself in his very first NHL fight, ending the career of long time tough guy Nick Kypreos.
"I came in as a rookie, and I had nothing to lose, really. I just had something to prove," Vandenbussche told WildXtra.com. "It was my second exhibition game, and they didn’t bring me up there to score goals, so I had to show what I could do.
"My target was actually gonna be (Tie) Domi, but he wasn’t playing that game. Nick Kypreos was the next one I figured I could show my stuff. So yep, the game started, and I’m a young guy trying to prove myself. Nick was a guy that’s been around for a long time, and he’s just trying to keep his job. Unfortunately, I did tag him on the jaw with a decent one, but it could’ve easily been me. I’ve been hit like that before too, and lemme tell ya, it doesn’t feel very good. But I’m glad everyone is okay now."
Kypreos, left unconscious and bloodied on the ice, never returned to the game, while Vandenbussche and this incident became a national headline in the hockey violence story.
“You never, ever want to end a guy’s career, especially in that nature,” VandenBussche said. “I’ll never forget that feeling of going to the penalty box, looking back and seeing what I saw. And I’m going to be quite honest with you, it made me sick to my stomach."
But it did not stop him from continuing to fight in order to achieve his dream of the NHL.
Vandenbussche understood what his job was.
"I want to bring energy to the team whenever I take a shift. Whether it's forechecking or dropping the gloves, I want to provide a spark for the guys and make sure everything is kept honest out there."
The fear of concussions never stopped him either.
"A guy that’s used sparingly in the lineup, and when he does get in the lineup, and say I were to drop the gloves and I were to take a blow to the head, and it did give me a concussion, unless it was real obvious, I’m not saying nothing. I kept it to myself. I didn’t tell the trainer. So that was my doing, because I wanted to stay in the league. I didn’t want the team to have any excuse to get rid of me."
Vandenbussche grew up not far from Toronto, idolizing Wendel Clark. You could see Vandenbussche's game was patterned after the Maple Leafs' great, if only in physicality. Vandenbussche never had the shot or offensive instincts of Clark.
Though drafted by Toronto Vandenbussche only toiled in the minor leagues. He signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers in 1996 and made sporadic appearances over the next few years.
It was not until Vandenbussche joined the Chicago Blackhawks that he became a NHL regular, playing from 1999 through 2004. He participated in 310 games, though he proudly proclaims he was on the roster for over 600 contests. He spent as much time on the injured list or, worse yet for any hockey player, a healthy scratch.
Vandenbussche retired in 2007, after brief stints with Pittsburgh, the minor leagues and Finland.
Vandenbussche and his wife have become real estate agents in Ontario. He was also looking for opportunities to coach.
"I want to use what I've learned through my 10-year NHL career to help young people. I am hopeful I will be given another opportunity to coach so I can not only help young men become better hockey players but also better people."