Friday, March 5, 2010

Chris Simon Autographed Card

The potential was always there; he could have been among the best power-forwards of all time. So strong, he was rarely injured, physically, at least. But when you have to fight alcoholism at the tender age of 19, you know you're in for a long, hard life. Such is, indeed, the case of Chris Simon.

The son of an Ojibwa tribesman, a major component of the Anishinaabe peoples - which also includes the Algonquin - he first struggled out of the gate in Junior hockey, with only 6 points in his first season (36 games) with the Ottawa 67's, as he struggled being away from home at so young an age. But by the second season, he was on a rampage - 36 goals, 74 points in 57 games, prompting the Philadelphia Flyers to pick him with the 25th overall pik of the 1990 NHL draft. In his third season in Juniors, he was traded after a mere 20 games to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, where he continued to put up points (66 in 51 games total for the season) but, more importantly, met head coach Ted Nolan, also of the Ojibwa tribe, who led him on the road to sobriety.

Part of the Eric Lindros trade, he moved to the Québec Nordiques, although he had trouble making the team until they moved to Denver, where he won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche. He didn't have much time to celebrate, though, as he was soon sent to the Washington Capitals, who needed someone of his skill set and stature to cement their top-6 forwards; in parts of 7 seasons there, though, he only managed to score 29 goals once, only reaching the 10-goal mark two other times.

He then played for 5 other NHL teams, always closely followed by controversy, as he has been suspended no less than 8 different times in his NHL career, notably during his stint with the New York Islanders, what with the Ryan Hollweg (where he hit Hollweg in the face with his stick, resulting in a 25-game suspension) and Jarkko Ruutu (where he stomped on Ruutu's leg with his skate) incidents. He now plays in the KHL, where he still collects penalty minutes as if they were gold nuggets and he was a prospector.

Such a knack for scoring opportune goals, such an imposing physical presence, decent speed - and a tendency to go nuts that got the better of him too many times to even attempt count. I could have seen him post Theo Fleury-like statistics and, therefore, be eligible to think about the Hall Of Fame, but as far too many stories have shown us, talent and determination alone don't get you there, luck and mind state have something to do with it as well.

This card, # 473 from the 1993-94 Score set (by Pinnacle Brands) with a Top Rookie insignia, sees his wearing the Nordiques' white jersey, back to the boards with a French-language ad at Le Colisée, probably on his way to elbow someone in the face before scoring a huge goal. Notice the kid in the stands behind him, wearing glasses, looking asleep: opponents on the ice would know better than not to look when Simon's on the surface of play.

He signed it in thick black sharpie after a game at the then-Molson Centre, in the late 90s, as a member of the Capitals. In retrospect, although I did tell him I was a huge fan of his (and a huge Nordiques fan), I wish I would have given him more words of encouragement, telling him just how good I thought he was, how much of an example of determination he was, not just for aboriginal people but people from all walks of life, how when he puts his mind to one thing, he always gets it done and how focusing on trying to do the right thing can get great things done, like being a centerpiece to my favourite team winning a Cup, or beating alcoholism.

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