September 13, 2017

Legends of Team Canada: Fabian Joseph

Fabian Joseph faced heart break and set backs, but he persevered with heart much bigger than his tiny size. He never fulfilled his dream of playing in the National Hockey League but probably wouldn't trade his 11 year career hockey career for anybody else's, either. 
The undersized Joseph became the first Nova Scotian to represent Canada at the Olympic hockey tournament. He won silver in 1992 and in 1994 after being one of the final cuts for the 1988 team.
Joseph, the youngest of fourteen siblings, was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, but he travalled far away to play his junior hockey. He split three seasons between the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League and Toronto Marlboros of the Ontario Hockey League. In total the scoring sensation had 292 points, including 126 goals, in 201 career games in major junior.
"Victoria from the WHL took me, so did the Toronto Marlboros of the Ontario League and the Quebec Remparts of the Q. I went to Victoria and had a real good first season, setting a rookie record with 42 goals and had some great teammates, guys like future NHLers brothers Russ and Geoff Courtnall."
A real big reason why Joseph went so far west as his youth hockey friend Jack MacKeigan was Victoria bound. When MacKeigan decided to switch to the OHL Marlies Joseph followed, too, though it was not easy.
It might have been better to stay in Victoria because I knew the league, and I was one of the top scorers," he said. "Going to Toronto, everything was new and there was an adjustment factor. Also, it was one of my most difficult years injury wise.
"I always say it's not so much the injury, but the timing of the injury. I had my nose shattered at the Marlie training camp so I missed the Maple Leafs' camp later on. Then I got invited to the Team Canada world junior camp in December, but two weeks before it started, I sprained my ankle. For sure, it was one of the most disappointing times in my career. You always hear the story that if you play on the Canadian world junior team at Christmas time, you have to work your way off an NHL team in the future."
Regardless Joseph's junior resume was good enough to get Joseph drafted as a sixth-round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1984 NHL draft. He never really came close to making the big leagues, but enjoyed many stops along the way in his hockey journey. 
"After finishing my junior career, I had an opportunity to sign with Toronto or go with the national team program," he said. "I felt that I wasn't ready for the AHL (with Toronto's farm team). My game was speed and skill and I thought the best place for me to develop at that time was the national team program."
Joseph dedicated himself to the Canada's national team program in 1985-86 and 1986-87. But then he was dealt devastating news when he was released from the team before the 1988 Olympics in Calgary because the IOC changed the rules to allow NHL teams to lend players to national team rosters. 

Joseph's tenure with the national team was broken up with stints in Italy and Switzerland, as well as a three year stint in the Edmonton Oilers organization. Though he never got a chance to play with Gretzky and the boys, he jumped at the opportunity to play with the Oilers farm team near his home in Nova Scotia.
Undeterred, he rejoined the national team program in 1991-92 and 1992-93 and experienced the ultimate thrill by suiting up in the 1992 and 1994 Olympics. He was Canada's captain when the country lost to Sweden in a shootout in the gold medal game in 1994.
"Both were very special experiences. Being on the global stage and representing your country at the Olympics is truly an opportunity of a lifetime. I have so many great memories of my time with the Canadian national team. That was a very special time in my life."
"We were fortunate to get to the gold medal game in both Olympics, losing to Russia in 1992 and Sweden in 1994," he said. "We were very proud of the fact that we were ranked seventh going into both Olympics and we made it to the championship game in both of them.
"The 1994 Olympics was extra special for me because I had family there for it. My brother and his wife were there. My wife was also there and she was pregnant with our first child."
Of course those '94 Olympics ended in dramatic fashion as Sweden's Peter Forsberg ended the game with a memorable shoot out goal. 
Joseph's thoughts on the shootout are predictable.
"I can see games being decided in shootouts in the regular season, but you shouldn't win or lose a championship that way," he said. "I think if you asked all the players before the Olympics they would say they want to decide games as a team and not with an individual skills competition.
"It took me a long time to get over that, but it's like anything else in life. Time heals."
Playing for the National Team, even in non Olympic years, was very special to Joseph, too.
"Back then, it was amateur players in the Olympics and we had an ongoing national team based out of Calgary," he said. "We played 60 games per year. Probably 10 were in North America and the rest were in Europe so it was an extensive travel schedule.
"I played over 200 games for the national team in my four years there. I was very fortunate to play in two Olympics. It was definitely the highlight of my career. I got the chance to develop as a player and see the world. I saw a lot of different cultures and had great experiences."
Joseph extended his career in the American Hockey League and International Hockey League, as well as playing seasons in Italy and Switzerland.
He returned to the Canadian maritime provinces after retiring and coached at many levels of hockey, including major junior and university.

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