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‘Savour Every Moment’: Dionne always played bigger than her size

Throughout his career, many people mentioned Marcel Dionne’s height, or lack thereof.

Dionne was never one of them.

In fact, very little bothered this leg-scrambling rain barrel on his way to induction into the 1992 Hockey Hall of Fame. Dionne wasn’t simply one of the great little men in NHL history, he was one of the greats, period.

“I’m 5-foot-3, I’m shrinking,” the 70-year-old said with a smile from his home in Niagara Falls, Ont., his measuring tape 6 inches shorter than the one he commonly uses against his NHL career. . “I never, ever had a problem with my height. That’s very important. Never. Everybody else had, but it never crossed my mind.”

Marcel Dionne and Star in March 2022 loving the great outdoors in Chippewa, Ontario.

Playing 1,348 NHL games for the Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers between 1971 and 1989, the center forward was a tower of offensive ability, scoring 1,771 regular season points (731 goals, 1,040 assists) and 45 others. points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 49 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Dionne won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading point scorer with 137 in 1978-79 (53 goals, 84 assists), won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1974-75 and 1976-77 for sportsmanship and gentlemanly play and in 1978 -79 and from 1979 to 1980 he received the Lester B. Pearson Trophy (since 2010 the Ted Lindsay Award), voted the most valuable player in the NHL by members of the NHL Players Association.

He never won the Stanley Cup, but Dionne’s offensive power saw him set what was then the NHL rookie record of 77 points (28 goals, 49 assists) in 1971-72 and amass 366 points (139 goals, 227 assists). ) with the Red Wings from 1971 to 1975. Up to that point, it was the highest point total by a player in his first four seasons in the NHL.

The Los Angeles Kings Triple Crown lineup of Dave Taylor (left), Marcel Dionne (center), and Charlie Simmer in the 1981 NHL All-Star Game.

With the Kings, Dionne scored at least 130 points in three consecutive seasons, from 1978 to 1981, the line of the Triple Crown with Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer, one of the best of the moment; he racked up six 50-goal seasons in seven years, scoring at least 100 points eight times in 11 seasons (one with Detroit, seven with Los Angeles) before being traded in 1987 to the Rangers, where he would finish his career.

The Kings retired Dionne’s number 16 on November 8, 1990.

If height was never an issue, and the Drummondville, Quebec native was never short on confidence either, his superb stats are backed up by his direct thoughts and opinions as a player and in retirement.

“I never had a problem winning, from when I was a peewee to a junior major,” he said. “I knew what the game was about, but I didn’t know what level I could play at, and that started right when I was playing with Guy Lafleur and Gilbert Perreault.”

The 1971 NHL Draft was almost going to be a coin toss for the No. 1 overall pick, Lafleur a superstar with Quebec of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Dionne a scoring machine with Ontario’s St. Catharines. HockeyAssociation. Perreault had entered the NHL to great fanfare the previous year, and the Buffalo Sabers made him the top pick in 1970.

As it turned out, the Montreal Canadiens drafted Lafleur No. 1 in June 1971, the Red Wings were all too happy to carry Dionne right behind him.

“Being No. 2 never bothered me, I didn’t care,” said Dionne, who grew up 65 miles east of Montreal listening to the Canadiens’ games on Saturday nights on the radio. “Guy and I had followed each other when he was playing Junior B at Drummondville and he was in Quebec (in 1967-68). We kicked his ass, it was awesome, but Guy was a late bloomer.”

St. Catharines won the 1970-71 Ontario title with a 4-0 sweep of Toronto, which featured future NHL forwards Steve Shutt, Billy Harris, Steve Gardner and Steve Vickers. By then, Perreault was in his first season with the Sabers, bound for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year, and Dionne remembers being impressed by the big center’s puck handling, playmaking and stick handling.

But more than half a century later, Dionne can still remember a Toronto executive from the OHA predicting her future.

“When the series ended, he said he would never have an NHL career as good as Perreault’s,” he said. “It’s kind of an evaluation of talent. You have to be careful what you say.”

Perreault would score 1,326 points (512 goals, 814 assists) in 1,191 games, 1.11 points per game, along with Dionne’s 1,771 points, 1.31 per game.

“Turning pro was absolutely a nightmare,” Dionne recalled, arriving at her first Red Wings training camp in the fall of 1971. “I wasn’t prepared. My first day of camp, I never got on the ice. They sent me to Detroit … to do a press conference. More than 100 players were on the ice in Port Huron, divided into four teams. Physicals were the next day, so I missed my second day. I dressed by myself, without any locker room atmosphere .”

But Dionne stood his ground, his roller coaster ride taking him to 534 NHL wins, 617 losses and 197 draws, scoring on 169 different goalkeepers along the way.

“I studied the game early in my career,” he said. “When I got to Detroit, they told me, ‘Now you’re a pro, you need to know what to do.’ I was dying. He didn’t teach me anything except Johnny Wilson (Detroit coach from 1971-73), who came up to me on the road in Vancouver and said, ‘Marcel, if you try a little harder, you’re going to be a 40-goal scorer. .’

“I never thought about it. But after I left practice that day, things changed for me. Johnny is the guy who gave me confidence. He put me on point on the power play. I wasn’t getting the amount of time ice “I had in junior, but you have to make the best of what you get. It was chaos. Gordie Howe had just retired (after the 1970-71 season).

“I’m a thinker. I think about the future. I knew the teams I played for and against in my career. The coaching rotation: I had 16 coaches in 18 years, it’s ridiculous. They weren’t bad people, but they weren’t. . It’s not in the right place.”

Dionne also needed a program to keep track of her teammates, all 308 during her 18 seasons. Upon his retirement after the 1988-89 season, he ranked second all-time in goals (now sixth) and power play goals (ninth) and third all-time in assists (11) and points (sixth). ).

Marcel Dionne takes position between Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Michel Larocque and defenseman Barry Melrose during a game on January 9, 1982 at Maple Leaf Gardens.

His idol in his youth had been the tall and elegant Canadian center Jean Beliveau. But by now Dionne knew she had to look at him a little differently. She needed smaller role models, at least in stature.

“I saw Yvan Cournoyer and Henri Richard (each of the Canadiens) and Davey Keon (of the Toronto Maple Leafs),” Dionne said. “I asked myself, ‘How do they do what they do? How have they managed to survive against bigger guys?’ That’s where I started to focus. A lot of people had trouble accepting a guy my size doing what I was doing, but I’m not a guy you can compare to anyone.”

Dionne signed as a free agent with the Kings before the 1975-76 season, his five-year, $1.5 million contract. In 11 full seasons with Los Angeles, he never scored fewer than 36 goals, but the team didn’t fare that well, winning three playoff series during his tenure, four times holding a winning regular-season record.

“People said I only cared about myself, about the points I was scoring,” he said. “But no matter where he played, he hated losing.”

Coach Scotty Bowman, whose 1970s Canadiens teams won five Stanley Cup titles with Lafleur their biggest star, merely sniffed out Dionne’s critics.

“Marcel can play for me anytime, anywhere,” he said, comparing him to Richard, Cournoyer, Keon and Stan Mikita of the Chicago Black Hawks.

Dionne was lethal around the net, his low center of gravity and powerful legs putting him in scoring position.

“Some of it was natural ability, but a lot of it was also positioning,” he said. “It was moving, reacting, putting yourself in the right place. Position himself so that he always knew where the defender’s stick was. They always told me, ‘You have to get to the corner first to get the puck.’ You’re crazy? I’m not going to go in first, I’ll be right behind the other guy, but I’ll come out with the puck.

“He was good at protecting the puck, keeping it away from the big guys, and he knew who was on the ice. Playing against (defensive defenders) Bobby Orr and Don Awrey with [the] Boston [Bruins], Awrey would cut me off and I was like, ‘Why are you doing that? Don’t I deserve that?’ and he was like, ‘If you don’t want to get cut, go over to Bobby’s ice side.'”

Steve Yzerman (left) and Marcel Dionne, both former Detroit Red Wings captains, on November 6, 2006, at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

Dionne retired without fanfare after 37 games with the Rangers from 1988-89, going on to a successful life in a variety of businesses. He was adamant that he would always be his own boss, an unrestricted free agent forever.

“I left the game and never looked back,” he said. “I said I would never work for anyone again.”

Dionne is as energetic and busy as ever, interacting with clients, nurturing relationships, negotiating deals, matching investors, advising. She doesn’t have a job description and she never knows what’s next when her phone rings, which is exactly how she likes it.

“Anything that makes money,” Dionne joked. “I like to do a lot of things, and it’s not all about the money. More than anything, hockey educated me. I paid attention. I’m very lucky to have played this game.”

“I stayed with the right people. When I played, a lot of people criticized me. They didn’t like me, but they didn’t hate me.”

And then, laughing again: “They knew it was good.”

Photos: Hockey Hall of Fame; Marcel Dione; fake images