February 06, 2016

Mark Osborne

All through his youth Mark Osborne was told he was too small to play hockey.

As a fifteen year old he stood five-foot-seven and weight 140 pounds. He was a gifted, offensive hockey player, but he was already being dismissed because of his size.

Then he grew six inches and, through a heavy weights workout routine, put on 35 pounds in his last minor midget year, 1977-78, with the Toronto Young Nats.

Fast forward to 1981-82 when a six-foot-two, 200 pound rookie winger, playing with veteran center Walt McKechnie, led the Detroit Red Wings in scoring with 26 goals, 41 assists and 67 points. He - along with super rookie Dale Hawerchuk - was one of only two rookies to lead their NHL teams in scoring that season.

"Playing pro hockey never even crossed my mind back then," Osborne said of his minor hockey days. "But I just sort of shut up, I worked with a weight program and did a lot of running to build myself up But even after my first junior year, I didn't give myself much chance to become a pro."

The fact that Osborne even made it to junior was a bit miraculous, as no OHL team drafted him out of midget hockey. Osborne was invited to Niagara Falls only because Sam McMaster left the Toronto Young Nats to become the general manager of the Flyers at the same time. McMaster was always one of Osborne's biggest fans, comparing his to Bob Gainey.

McMaster's gamble paid off. Though Osborne had a quiet first two seasons in Niagara Falls, he blossomed in 1980-81 when he scored 39 goals and 80 points. The Detroit Red wings drafted him in the third round in 1980, though a hip injury perhaps prevented him from being drafted even higher.

Osborne continued to take it all in humble stride.

"In my final year, I heard all kinds of talk about being drafted but I never let it raise my expectations too high," he told The Hockey News. "When you are 18 or 19, it's easy to let that sort of stuff go to your head and affect your play. I didn't want that and I couldn't afford to let it happen."

Osborne continued to focus on improving his game, and was rewarded with a fourteen year career in the NHL with more than 900 games on his resume.

Surprisingly, the Red Wings moved Osborne after his sophomore season. Detroit traded Osborne in a bit of a blockbuster withWillie Huber and Mike Blaisdell to N.Y. Rangers in exchange for Ron Duguay, Eddie Mio and Eddie Johnstone.

Osborne, who became a born-again Christian as a teenager, would play four seasons in Manhattan, though hip and leg injuries hampered him.

The Rangers moved the rangy Osborne to Toronto for Jeff Jackson and a draft choice in 1987. He would go onto have three strong seasons in Toronto, often playing with Ed Olczyk and Gary Leeman. Osborne would enjoy his best offensive seasons in Toronto.

"Ozzie" and Olczyk would be traded to Winnipeg for Dave Ellett and Paul Fenton in 1990, though Osborne would return to Toronto a year and a half later.

Interestingly, Osbourne came back and became a different player. Under new head coach Pat Burns, Osborne accepted a checking role alongside Peter Zezel and Bill Berg. His offensive numbers dried up, but he garnered great praise for his selfless play and leadership in his new role.

He would play in Toronto for two more years before one final NHL season back in New York with the Rangers.

"When I was a kid I dreamed of playing one season, and I got play until I was 37 years old. As Mike Gartner said, you get to play a game as you love as a kid and get paid for it, what a great deal it was.

"I look back and saw, 'Wow!'"

Mark Osborne would stay involved in hockey coaching and then broadcasting, while remaining active with Hockey Ministries International.

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