Saturday, October 8, 2016

Donald Brashear Autographed Card

After featuring the Vancouver Canucks' best pest of my lifetime, I thought I could talk about one of the toughest enforcers of his generation, Donald Brashear.

Brashear went undrafted after three decent and extremely busy seasons - in terms of time spent in the sin bin:
Yes, in that last season, that's 98 penalty minutes in 18 playoff games.

Still, his hometown Montréal Canadiens signed him as a free agent and, soon enough, he literally tore through the AHL with the Fredericton Canadiens, first by putting up a whopping 261 penalty minutes in 70 games in 1992-93, but more impressively, with 38 goals, 28 assists, 66 points and 250 PIMs in 62 games in 1993-94. Many saw a budding power forward where once they may have seen a goon or a liability on the ice.

He made his place with the Habs under head coach Jacques Demers, but when Mario Tremblay took over in 1995, everything changed; most people remember Tremblay's final (and most public) altercation with superstar goalie Patrick Roy, but the people in Québec know of an even rougher one as the Canadiens, being close to a religion in the province, was the first team to have full media coverage even during their practices.

On November 9, 1996, Brashear showed up to practice two minutes late. He was still allowed on the ice, until the team wasn't performing to Tremblay's liking and he singled Brashear out as an example and scapegoat/punching bag, yelling at him to get off the ice and back into the dressing room. But he didn't stop there, as he kept yelling even as Brashear had his back turned and was skating away. Out came a few swear words and the French version of "the N word", which made Brashear turn around, skate forward towards center ice, then turn back around and leave. In that split second, he knew he could demolish Tremblay with one or two or 50 punches, but also quickly realized he'd had to face justice if he did, so he changed his mind, full aware he'd just lost his dream job for something that probably wasn't his fault at all, just another one of Tremblay's impossible-to-understand weeding out the team of its leaders.

Four days later, GM Réjean Houle traded the poor tough guy as far West as he could, for defenseman Jassen Cullimore. Brashear's stint with the Canucks would be the longest he's played with a single team; his team record 372 penalty minutes in 1997-98 led the league (obviously) and ranks 10th all-time in NHL history, surpassing teammate Gino Odjick's mark of the previous season by a single minute.

Ahead of him on the all-time list at #5 is Marty McSorley, whose dangerous hit to Brashear's head had nasty consequences. From Wikipedia:
During the February 21, 2000 game between the Canucks and the Boston Bruins, Brashear was involved in a fight with Marty McSorley. Brashear handily won the fight and on his way to the penalty box taunted the Bruins bench.[16] Later in the game, Brashear collided with Bruins goaltender Byron Dafoe, who had to be taken off on a stretcher with a knee injury. For the rest of the game, McSorley attempted to fight Brashear, who refused.[17] With 4.6 seconds left in the game,[18] McSorley struck Brashear with a two-handed slash to the temple with his stick;[16] Brashear collapsed, and his helmet fell off upon impact. He suffered a seizure on the ice and the slash resulted in a grade three concussion.[17] Goaltender Garth Snow would later try to fight McSorley, but McSorley was ejected with 2.8 seconds left in the game. McSorley later received an indefinite suspension from the NHL[19] and was charged with assault with a weapon as a result of his actions.[20]
The case went to trial in British Columbia, where Brashear testified that he had no memory of the incident.[21] McSorley testified that he tried to hit Brashear in the shoulder to start a fight with him, but missed, resulting in the head shot.[22] McSorley was found guilty but avoided a jail sentence. He was required to complete 18 months of probation, in which he was not allowed to play in a game against Brashear.[23] Brashear returned to play prior to the end of the season.[16] McSorley, who missed the remaining 23 games of the regular season, had his suspension officially set at one year following the conviction.[24] However, he ultimately never played in another NHL game during his career.[25]
In 2001, the Canucks sent him to the Philadelphia Flyers, where he enjoyed three and a half decent seasons before the Washington Capitals requested his pugilistic talents to protect Alex Ovechkin. As for many NHLers in my lifetime, his NHL career ended with an unsuccessful stint with the New York Rangers.

He wasn't done lacing them up, however, and he returned to play in Québec's semi-pro league, the LNAH, where he'd also played during the 2004-05 lockout. His fist two seasons with the Riviere-du-Loup 3L were alright, save for a post-game incident where he lost his cool after the entire Trois-Rivières Caron-Et-Guay team taunted him and wouldn't let his car leave the parking lot, and idiot Éric Labelle continuing even after his teammates had boarded the team bus, prompting Brashear to exit his car and punch him in the noggin. Labelle sued for $215,000.Then $378,000. Ultimately, Brashear was acquitted of most accusations and had to pay $9280, essentially legal fees, as the judge rightfully not only decided Labelle had been the instigator, but that the punitive damages he was suing for due to post-concussion symptoms were actually attributable more to the punches to the face he'd suffered in his entire hockey career.

For instance, the year he faced Brashear, he'd accumulated 44 penalty minutes in just 5 games. He'd had 193 in 36 games the previous season, and 150 in 29 before that. And so forth since his 335 penalty minutes in 60 games in his first year in Juniors in 1999-2000, with a notable 390 PIMs in 67 games with the UHL's Rockford IceHogs in 2004-05.

Brashear was also suspended for running into goalie Julien Ellis that year, and again in 2012-13 for sucker-punching Gaby Roch (who had injured two of Brashear's teammates in the same game and refused to fight).

Off-ice, however, he's usually seen as affable, nice, and sweet - when he's not defending his family. He's currently involved with a company, Brash/87, that is striving to sell affordable quality hockey sticks.

Here he is wearing the Canucks' mid-1990s white (home) uniform, on card #190 from Topps' 2001-02 O-Pee-Chee set:
He signed it in blue sharpie during one of his first two seasons with the 3L.

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