Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Réal Cloutier Autographed Card

A lot of people forget just how amazing Réal Cloutier was. And looking at his numbers, it's plain dumbfounding...

As a 17-year-old Junior with the Québec Remparts in 1973-74, he scored an astonishing 75 goals (along with 123 assists and 216 points) in just 69 games, plus another 26 goals and 50 points in 26 postseason games (!!!), leading his team to the Memorial Cup final for the second straight year, losing to Clark Gillies' Regina Pats 7-4 in the decisive game.

From then on, he was drafted by the Québec Nordiques, who were part of the WHA at the time. In five seasons in the "other league", Cloutier put up 283 goals, 283 assists, and 566 points in 369 games. He had four consecutive 100-point seasons, winning two scoring titles - in 1976-77 with 141 points and in 1978-79 with his second consecutive 129-point season - and his 75 goals (in 77 games) in 1978-79 were the third-most in pro hockey history at the time, and remains the second-highest total in WHA history to Bobby Hull's 77).

He also led the Nordiques to the Avco Cup (the WHA championship) Final in both 1975-76 and 1976-77, losing to Gordie Howe's Houston Aeros the first time and winning against Hull's Winnipeg Jets the second.

He also had an impact when the team was absorbed by the NHL in 1979-80, scoring a hat trick in his very first game on his way to a 42-goal, 88-point season (in 67 games). He also had a 97-point season in 1981-82 (in 67 games as well), but he grew depressed from the endless comparisons to Guy Lafleur, the constant losing on a team that the league had depleted of many of its star players as a "penalty" for entering through the back door of the WHA folding, and a slew of debilitating injuries.

With depression came a drop in his interest in the game, heightened alcohol consumption and a bit of a statistical regression, not just of his own fault, but also as punishment by his coaches, who were less lenient and took away some of his ice time when he'd show up to practice hung over.

He was traded to the Buffalo Sabres prior to the 1983-84 campaign, and while he did okay with them with 24 goals and 60 points in 77 games, the team elected to send him to the minors the following season, which prompted him to retire at the age of 28.

He was inducted in the LHJMQ Hall Of Fame in December (along with Mario Marois, José Theodore and Daniel Brière), signing this beautiful card in blue sharpie in the process:
It's card #279 from O-Pee-Chee's 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him wearing the Nordiques' beautiful blue (away) uniform; he is now immortalized as #9 in my Nordiques Numbers Project.

Cloutier ranks fourth of all time in WHA scoring, though he only suited up for five of the league's seven seasons.

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