July 26, 2017

Hockey Heroes: Dennis Maruk

Dennis Maruk turned out alright for a guy who was supposed to be too small to play professional hockey. He played in 888 National Hockey League games, accumulating an impressive 356 goals and 522 assists for 878 points. Included in those totals are back-to-back seasons of 50 and 60 goals respectively, and a 136 point season!

So how does a 5'8" center thrive in the National Hockey League?

"I remember as a 19-year-old being worried when I went to pro camp, so I asked Dave Hutchison what it was going to take for me to make it," Maruk said. "He told me that I could score goals and make plays, but that I had to stay aggressive -- always be aggressive. I always remembered that and it helped me stay in the NHL."

Dennis was an aggressive player, almost chippy at times. But he was a clean player too, only picking up more than 100 PIM in a season just once. Ironically that was Maruk's best year. Maruk scored 60 goals and 136 points in 1981-82, and had 128 PIM.

Dennis was drafted by the California Golden Seals in 1975 after a spectacular career with the OHA's London Knights. In his final year of junior he scored 66 goals and 145 points in 65 games.

Dennis stepped right into the NHL the next year, and did not disappoint. Right from that first season he showed he had what it took to play in the National Hockey League, despite his lack of size. He scored 30 goals and 32 assists in a full 80 game schedule.

The Seals franchise relocated to Cleveland where Dennis played the next two years. He scored 28 goals and 78 points in 1976-77 and 36 goals and 71 points in 1977-78.

The Cleveland Barons entered the NHL's graveyard after 1978 and Maruk became a member of the Minnesota North Stars. But not for long. After only 2 games in a North Stars jersey, Dennis was traded to Washington in exchange for a first round pick. Minnesota used the pick to select highly regarded Tom McCarthy. Maruk went on to become a superstar.

Maruk elevated his play to 90 points in 76 games in his first season with the Caps. However his second season was forgettable. He was on pace for another 80-plus point year but injuries shortened his season to just 27 games.

Maruk came back with vengeance in 1980-81 and showed the North Stars how wrong they were to give up on him, and showed the Caps how right they were for picking him up. Maruk played in all 80 games and scored 50 goals and 97 points!

Maruk dwarfed his own numbers in 1981-82 when he turned in one of the best single season performances in National Hockey League history. He scored 60 goals and 136 points in 80 games, still team records.

Maruk failed to reproduce his incredible season a year later, and slipped back to a point a game level of production, scoring 81 points in 80 games. However for the first time in his stay in Washington, the Capitals made the Stanley Cup playoffs. Despite his incredible efforts in the past, Maruk finally got his first taste of post season action. It was short lived as the Caps lasted only 4 games.

The North Stars tried to correct past wrongs in the summer of 1983 when they traded their 2nd round pick to Washington in exchange for Maruk. The Caps felt that despite being only 28, Maruk's best days were behind him, as experienced in his 55 point decline from the year before.

Maruk's arrival meant a glut at center ice in Minnesota. Bobby Smith and Neal Broten were already there which meant that Dennis would be a third line center. The Stars ended up trading Smith to Montreal during the season but Dennis never did find his scoring niche in Minnesota.

Maruk played parts of the next 6 years in Minnesota, scoring 60 points in each of his first two years and 58 in his third. He slipped to 46 in year 4 before a severe knee injury all but ended his career. He played in only 28 more games over the next two season before his shattered knee forced him to retire in 1989.

Ten years after his retirement from hockey, the name Dennis Maruk once again appeared on professional hockey box scores. Maruk, who was living in Lake Charles, Louisiana, suited up for eight games this season with Lake Charles Pirates in the Western Professional Hockey League, a very low minor league made up of teams from Texas and Louisiana. However Maruk's story was not about an old player making a silly comeback. Maruk reasoned he was just "filling in because the team had some injuries and were short a few players." Maruk picked up two assists.

Maruk and his wife Kim opened an antiques store in Louisiana. Dennis also keeps busy with the developing hockey programs down there.

Dennis Maruk quietly was one of the most electrifying athletes in hockey during his hey-day, yet in many ways he slipped away without anyone noticing. Why is that?

"I never played for teams that were very good, or that got a lot of coverage. Those teams never seemed to be in contention. Even the Washington teams (that) I had 50 and 60 goals for, (they) weren't very good teams. One thing I did do -- played the game at 100 per cent all the time."

Maruk will likely never join the Hockey Hall of Fame, but three of his sticks reside there. They included an all-star game stick and the sticks he used to score goal 351 and his 60th in 1982.

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