September 30, 2017

Legends of Team Canada: Brian Savage

There was a time in his youth when Brian Savage may have dreamed of playing in the Olympics, only as a golfer or a track star, not a hockey player.

A nephew of former NHLer Larry Hillman, Savage grew up in Sudbury and played many sports. In fact, he even gave up hockey between the normally important development years of ages 15 through 17 in order concentrate on golf full time. He won three consecutive Northern Ontario junior golf championships and once capture the longest drive competition at the Canadian junior golf championship.

Savage, who along with his brother Dave are legendary high school track and field stars in Sudbury, actually attend Miami (Ohio) University on a golf scholarship. He just so happened to make the hockey team as well.

Savage had decided to return to hockey after attending a Sudbury Wolves junior game. He was inspired to play again because he saw childhood friends excelling at this level and he wanted to return to the ice.

It was a good decision for Savage. He went on to be drafted by the Montreal Canadiens and became one of the top players in American collegiate hockey. By 1994 he was playing with the Canadian Olympic Team, capturing a silver medal in Lillehammer. In his career he would also compete in two world championships for Team Canada.

Savage joined the national team in the fall of 1993 after attending the Montreal Canadiens training camp. 

``The understanding was I'd go to the Olympic team if I didn't make the NHL club,'' he said. ``I'm glad things worked as they did. I'd have spun my wheels in the American league. With the nationals, I played a tough schedule against top opponents all over North America and Europe - with excellent coaching and lots of practice. I came a long way that year.
He had previously played with Team Canada at the 1992 Spengler Cup and 1993 World Championships.
"I really believe the NHL is giving up an excellent development tool in exchange for what it's gaining by taking over the Olympics.''
``Nine of us are now regulars in the NHL. Every guy would tell you his career advanced a great deal because of that experience. In particular, I'd mention Todd Warriner of the Leafs, Todd Hlushko in Calgary, Adrien Aucoin on the Vancouver defence and Philadelphia's Chris Therien.
The heartbreak of losing the gold medal game still stings, but it was a great time for Savage.
"Looking back on it, I wish we could have won the gold," Savage said. "It's still in the back of my mind that we didn't win, but it's still been an amazing year.

"It seems like every morning I wake up, I have to ask myself what hotel I'm in. It seems like I wake up in a different city every day. I think the longest I've spent in one spot all year was three weeks at the Olympics."
Savage would never get to return to the Olympics once the NHL dream teams started playing in 1998. He was quite opinionated on that topic.

``I can see how important this is to the NHL, in making the game truly international,'' he was saying the other day. ``I realize the Olympic people want their competition to be best against best. And if asked, I'd want to participate.
``But part of me feels the Olympics should be left to the level of athlete we've seen at Albertville in 1992 and Lillehammer - amateurs, eh? The Team Canada I played for made a really important contribution to hockey across this country and gave a terrific account of itself at the Olympics. I can't imagine Canadians being prouder than we made them.''
Savage would go on to a lengthy NHL career known as a streaky scorer most notably with the Canadiens.

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