April 27, 2016

Uwe Krupp

Uwe Krupp was born in Cologne, Germany, making him one of the few German NHL players in his day. Cologne only had one ice arena at the time. Hockey players - even the kids - had to play at odd times as the rink was usually used for figure skating and public skating.

While most of his friends were drawn to the soccer pitch, Krupp was drawn to hockey because he loved to skate and he loved winter sports. Yet Krupp did not play organized hockey until he was a teenager, partly because of the lack of opportunity in his hometown. Yet Krupp soon established himself as one of the top players in Germany. And, after a growth spurt that left him as the very noticeable six-foot-six defenseman, he caught the eyes of NHL scouts.

The Buffalo Sabres took their chances on the German giant with the 223rd overall draft in the 1983 draft. A lot of teams did not even know who Krupp was. In fact, Krupp did not even know he was drafted until later.

The Sabres brought Krupp over to North America in 1986. They were very impressed with his skating and his natural instincts, but had to spend a lot of time teaching him some of the finer points of the game. Krupp was a quick and eager learner.

Krupp played primarily in the American Hockey League that first season, helping the Rochester Americans win the Calder Cup. He also got an extended 26 game look with the Sabres.

"You just knew that he was going to be a player," remembered Scotty Bowman, Buffalo's boss at the time.

The lanky defender stuck with the Sabres for the next four seasons, emerging from a pounding physical defender to a well rounded defenders who played on both the penalty kill and power play. The biggest player in the league for much of his career, he emerged as a tough but very clean defender. He was a very efficient puck mover who had a heavy slapper from the point.

Krupp was a part of one of the biggest trades of the 1990s. Krupp, Pierre Turgeon, Dave McLlwain and Benoit Hogue were sent to the New York Islanders in exchange for Pat Lafontaine, Randy Hillier, Randy Wood and a draft choice.

Krupp lasted two years on Long Islander before a draft day deal send him to Quebec in the summer of 1994. The NHL lock-out prevented players from playing in the NHL until early in 1995. In the meantime Krupp returned to his native Germany where he played 5 games with EV Landshut.

Upon the NHL's return to work, Krupp and the Nordiques moved to Colorado and became the Avalanche in 1995-96. The Avalanche - much to the chagrin of Quebec fans - emerged as league power upon their arrival in Denver. They made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final in 1996, playing against the upstart Florida Panthers. It was Krupp who scored the memorable Stanley Cup clinching goal in the third over time period of the final game.

Krupp had actually missed all but six regular season games after shattering his knee cap and severing two knee ligaments in the first game of the season. Krupp was no strangers to serious injuries. He had to deal with the routine hockey injuries like knee and ankle ailments, as well as herniated discs in his back. He also once took a puck to the head that required surgical reconstruction of his forehead.

"They cut you from ear to ear then they fold flesh from your skull forward and rebuild with titanium mesh," he said. "I'm the bionic man."

Another highlight of Krupp's career was representing German at the 1998 Olympics. He had previously represented Germany at two World Juniors and two World Championships. His appearance at the 1990 World Championships was sullied by a failed drug test. It turned out he was taking a diet pill that contained an ingredient that violated the drug rules of the time.

In 1998-99 Krupp signed a lucrative four year, $16 million dollar contract with the Detroit Red Wings. But Krupp suffered debilitating injuries that were all linked to his bad back, and limited him to just 32 games over the course of the contract.

The Red Wings, who did not insure the contract, tried taking Krupp to court to have his contract voided, saying that Krupp's injuries were not hockey related but due to a dog sledding accident. Krupp, known to be a serious dog sledding enthusiast, and the Red Wings settled out of court.

Greatly embarrassed by the whole affair as he felt his whole reputation was smeared, Krupp repeatedly said "I want my reputation back." He worked hard to return to the ice, even though it was only for a few games. He ultimately had to get the double spine fusion surgery that he avoided for so long as he definitely would not be allowed to play again.

Krupp retired having played in 729 games. He scored 69 goals and 281 points.  He would go onto become a coach.

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