October 12, 2017

Legends of Team Canada: Dave Tippett

"He's the sort of player only a coach would appreciate."

Those are the words used by Dave King to describe his star shut-down center and team captain Dave Tippett at the 1984 Olympic games in Sarajevo.

Tippett of course would go on, like King, to his own lengthy and successful coaching career and probably appreciates that comment now more than ever.

When Tippett returned to the Olympic in 1992 as a grizzled NHL veteran, the ecstatic King said, "Dave Tippett is one of my favorite players. He's also the best defensive player I've ever coached."

Dave King loved defensive forwards to a fault, so singling out one as the best is quite the compliment for Tippett.

A native of Moosomin, Saskatchewan, the left wing played for the Prince Albert Raiders before heading south to play collegiate hockey. Between 1979 and 1981, Tippett was an offensive standout helping the Raiders win the Century Cup in 1981.

Tippett then notched 28 goals, 59 assists and 87 points in his two years at the University of North Dakota. As captain, he helped lead a squad full of future NHLers to both the MacNaughton Cup (regular season championship) and the NCAA championship in 1982.
Despite his record, Tippett was overlooked in the NHL draft.  Instead, he played a full season with Dave King's national team and was chosen as Team Canada's captain at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. And he built a great reputation for shutting down the opposition's top players.

Tippett was tasked with shutting down a young American superstar named Pat Lafontaine.

''We wanted to neutralize him so he wouldn't be a big factor,'' Tippett said. ''Dave wanted me to work on him. He wanted me to talk at him, too, to get him upset, but I decided not to do that. ''The largest part of it involved staying high and letting my wings do the forechecking so I could pick him up at his blueline and stop him from getting the fast centre drives he does so well.'' 

He also played well against the top Soviet players, who were as good as almost every NHL superstar.

"You just can't make mistakes in front of them or they capitalize. We know about the drop passes, behind-the-back passes and lateral feeds. The biggest difference will be the skill level," he said.

Tippett was no miracle worker. The Soviets ended up winning gold that year, while Canada finished without a medal. But Tippett was finally able to catch the attention of the NHL, signing with the Hartford Whalers. He immediately played the last 17 games of the 1983-84 season.
While unable to become an offensive leader at the NHL level, over the next six years in Hartford Tippett built a reputation as a solid defensive winger who could contribute a handful of goals and assists. His efforts did not go unnoticed by the team, as he was named alternate captain, and earned Community Service, Unsung Hero, Mr. Hustle, and Best Defensive Forward awards.
In 1990, he was traded to the Washington Capitals, where he spent another two years as a steady third and fourth line wing.
Chosen to represent Canada again at the 1994 Albertville Olympics, he came home with a silver medal, not to mention painful torn rib cartilage that he played through.

"I`m grateful for the opportunity," Tippett told The Washington Post at the time. "It`s tough not playing here every night. But it`s an opportunity to go play very competitive hockey. Anybody would be crazy to think playing in the Olympics isn`t a great thrill. The `84 Olympics were one of the biggest thrills of my career."

''At the start of the year I wasn't playing much and the whole season we haven't run into any injury problems, so I just wasn't getting the games,'' said Tippett, a veteran of seven NHL seasons. ''I talked to Dave (Poile, Washington's GM) and we agreed that me coming here would be a win-win situation for both of us.

''Coming here is good for me personally. I'll get three weeks of high-quality competition and then return to Washington in time to contribute to the stretch drive.''
Tippett then spent just two more years in the NHL, signing one-year deals with first the Penguins, then the Flyers.  In 1994, he moved to the IHL Houston Aeros, first as a player/coach, and then as head coach.

Of course Tippett would go on to become a top NHL coach himself.

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