March 08, 2016

Joe Szura

Montreal once had visions of the second coming of Jean Beliveau when they secured Fort William, Ontario's Joe Szura as a prospect. He was big, skilled center who absolutely dominated at the junior level. He was particularly noted for his creative passing ability, not a whole lot unlike a latter day Joe Thornton.

But Joe Szura would not emerge as the next great star. He would play in 90 games in his lengthy pro career that saw him be a reliable scorer in the AHL for many years. Late in his career he played two more big league seasons in the World Hockey Association.

Szura had size and good strength, but he did not have any inclination to play the game as physically as everyone of his coaches and fans wanted him to. Combine that and his awkward skating and plodding foot speed and he was quickly written off by the Canadiens.

It was not until the expansion era that Szura got a chance, playing two seasons with the Oakland Seals.

The first year, 1967-68, he was coach Bert Olmstead's whipping boy. Nothing he did was good enough for Olmstead. Szura finished the year with just one goal and four points in 20 contests.

A coaching change saw Fred Glover take over in the 1968-69 season, much to the delight of Szura. He had a good history with Glover in the minor leagues. Glover teamed Szura and Norm Ferguson together on an effective line, especially in the playoffs. Zura chipped in nicely with two goals and five points in seven post-season games.

But Szura's lack of speed and snarl saw him out of the league by the start of the next season.  He continued to play on, with three more years in the AHL and then the two campaigns in the WHA. He skated with the Los Angeles Sharks and Houston Aeros.

Szura returned to Thunder Bay after he retired, working with the local parks and recreations department. He passed away in 2006 at the age of 67.

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