January 02, 2019

Bob Gainey: The Perfect Hockey Player

Take a look at Bob Gainey's career statistics. This is perhaps the most obvious case that statistics do not tell the whole story.

An impressive 1160 games played but "only" 239 career goals, 262 assists for 501 points. Throw in 25 more goals and 73 more points in 182 playoff games, and it appears Bob was a fairly average player.

Gainey never scored more than 23 goals or 47 points in a single season, yet the Russians once called him the greatest player in the world.

Gainey was a defensive specialist. He was constantly bumping, grinding, tormenting, frustrating and nullifying his opponents. The NHL didn't hand out an award for the game's best defensive forward until 1978, and Gainey's awesome largely responsible for the creation of the award. Gainey was the first recipient of the Frank J. Selke Trophy and won it 4 years in a row.

" I am happy to be the kind of player that this trophy honors, but hope to round off my all-around abilities," Bob said when he won the Selke Trophy for the first time. " Because of all the great scorers in the game, he added, " this trophy was an added incentive for a player like me to work towards. First I just wanted to make the team, and next to play regularly. But then to be given a major award by the league...it's quite an honor."

When Gainey played as a junior for the Peterborough Petes he had a reputation of being a defensive player with great potential. Montreal drafted him as their first choice, 8th overall in 1973. In his final season under coach Roger Neilson he still wasn't an outstanding goal scorer, netting 22 goals and 21 assists in 52 games.

Gainey regarded his own goals and assists as icing on the cake. Because of his specific role with the Canadiens, he was never able to really get a chance to show he could contribute offensively. But nonetheless he was an extremely important cog of 5 Stanley Cup championships and a Canada Cup championship. Bob was also awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the 1979 playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens fourth consecutive Stanley Cup. Bob participated in four NHL All-Star games, despite not being a prolific scorer.

" Bob Gainey is just as important to the Canadiens as Guy Lafleur," teammate Larry Robinson once said.

Bob Gainey was a key member of Team Canada during the 1976 and 1981 Canada Cup tournaments. He also impressed during exhibition games between Montreal and the touring Soviet clubs. Red Army and Soviet National Team coach Viktor Tikhonov described him as technically the world's best player.

When Montreal played a classic against the Red Army team on New Year's Eve in 1975 (3-3) it was Bob who set the tone for the entire evening.

A few seconds after the opening face-off, the puck slid into the Soviet end, where Alexander Gusev picked it up, nonchalantly wheeled, and then waltzed down the right side, his eyes on the puck. Bob came roaring across the ice and smashed Gusev into the boards, rattling his bones. The hit was so hard that both players fell to the ice. It was a typical Bob Gainey play.

Bob was an all-around athlete who enjoyed any sport. He retired in 1989 after 16 years with the Montreal Canadiens, and five Stanley Cup championship rings. Bob also served as the Habs' captain from 1981 to 1989, conducting himself with utmost class, both on and off the ice.

In retirement he became one of the NHL's most respected coaches and managers.

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