Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Inspired: Favorite All-Time Player

When I was young, around the age of 7, I decided I wanted to play hockey. Most kids wanted to be the Wayne Gretzky's, Steve Yzerman's, and Pavel Bure's but I was different. I would go watch my dad play floor hockey in an old school gymnasium and see him making these lightning fast glove saves and throw down a two-pad stack and I began mulling over the idea of becoming a goaltender. He tried convincing me for a while to start skating and learn the game of hockey, I wasn't having it quite yet. That extra push would come shortly after...

One thing we don't get nearly enough of these days is iconic goalie helmets. While growing up I had the pleasure of witnessing "The Statue of Liberty" worn by Mike Richter, Ed Belfour's famous "Eagle" design, Curtis Joseph's rabid "CuJo" creation, and even one still being used today in Martin Brodeur's "Devil Tail". There was one helmet that stood head and shoulders above the rest and it wasn't until he joined an expansion Florida Panthers team that it saw the light of day.

John "Beezer" Vanbiesbrouck.

It was a combination of things that made me enjoy watching him as much as I did and at that time the biggest reason was his mask. My love for art led to my love for hockey and my favorite player to this day. I wound up playing 13+ years of ice hockey as a goaltender. More than half of that time was spent playing for a team called the Westland Panthers. Coincidence?

John Vanbiesbrouck, to me, will always be a Florida Panther due to never having the fortune of watching his New York days. In 93' he was picked up in the expansion draft by the Panthers and quickly become a fan favorite. He really began growing on me when my dad took me to my first hockey game, a pre-season tilt between the Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers for my birthday. Something I'll never forget. I found out later on that he was also a native of Detroit, Michigan. My reasons for watching this goalie continued growing.

In 1996 The Beezer solidified his spot at number 1 in his amazing run to the Stanley Cup Finals. The team came out of nowhere as underdogs and they were consistently carried on his back throughout the playoffs. The only problem for Florida and Vanbiesbrouck was the goaltender at the other end. If he had a Kryptonite, it would be Patrick Roy. In the 85-86 season, while he was a member of the Rangers, Vanbiesbrouck came across a rookie Roy who at the time, nobody was going to beat. This same problem occurred a decade later as Roy's Colorado Avalanche came in and swept the Panthers in the Finals. The Beezer posted phenomenal numbers throughout the playoffs and into the finals but every other position on that under-the-radar team was outmatched by a stacked Av's team. It was Vanbiesbrouck's last shot at the cup as a starting goaltender. It was also a memorable run which stands as one of the best goalie performances I have had the pleasure of witnessing.

The Beezer was an undersized warrior with an amazingly quick glove hand and loads of athleticism. Early on I modeled my game after him. When I was in middle school I drew a picture of him on my wall behind my dresser(My parents weren't too fond of the idea) and was later grounded. He inspired me to join a hockey team and pursue goaltending. His helmet inspired me to become an artist. He is, without a doubt, my all-time favorite player.

For those of you who need to brush up on your knowledge of Vanbiesbrouck, here's a fantastic little video I came across while writing the article.

And his cover for EA's NHL 97. If I remember correctly, they had a gallery in this game where you could view images of the entire NHL's collection of goalie helmets. It was amazing.

1 comment:

  1. awesome article. incredible video and illustration too. i loved everything about this post.