February 06, 2016
Joe Zanussi was a wonderful skating defenseman out of junior hockey. They nicknamed him "Crazy Legs" because of his impressive speed but short stature. That did not deter him from attempting spectacular hits, as he was built like a fire hydrant. He also had a darting shot.
Joe Zanussi - who was of no relation to Ron Zanussi who also played in the NHL in the 1970s - was born in Rossland, British Columbia.
After his storied junior career with the Edmonton Oil Kings and Swift Current Broncos, Zanussi toiled in the minor leagues for four seasons. He never got a shot at the NHL despite being named as the Central Hockey League's Most Valuable Player in 1971.
Originally Detroit Red Wings property, he jumped to the upstart World Hockey Association's Winnipeg Jets. He played in the Jets' first two seasons, recording 50 points in 149 games. Jets fans dubbed him the Tazmanian Devil and voted him as the most exciting player one season.
In 1974-75 Zanussi returned to the NHL. He would play in only eight games with the New York Rangers that season, but would have a fantastic year in the minor leagues. He won the Eddie Shore Award as the best defenseman in the American Hockey League with a very impressive 22 goal, 58 point campaign in 68 games. He was also the runner up as the entire league's Most Valuable Player.
That was enough to catch the eye of the Boston Bruins, who insisted on including Zanussi in one of the biggest trades in National Hockey League history. The Bruins had traded - almost unthinkably - Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais to the Rangers in exchange for two future Hall of Famers in Jean Ratelle and Brad Park, along with Zanussi.
Ultimately Zanussi lived up to his billing in Boston, as he was not much more than a throw-in in the deal. He was used sparingly - sometimes on the wing - in 60 games in the 1975-76 season. He record only one goal and seven assists.
He was moved to St. Louis for defensive defenseman Rick Smith early in the following season. Zanussi could not catch a break in St. Louis either, playing only 11 games with the Blues. He was back to the minor leagues for one more season (as a all star on defense yet again) before hanging up his skates.
Joe eventually returned to British Columbia and settled in the small community of Warfield.