Thursday, August 1, 2019

Marc Savard Autograph Card

Marc Savard was a terrific hockey player. In Juniors, he collected points at the same rate as any future superstar, with two 130-point seasons sandwiching another one at 87... in just 47 games. He was a point-producing machine for the Oshawa Generals, and even holds the franchise's points record (413, in just 238 games); notable Generals alumni include the likes of Eric Lindros, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Delvecchio, Ted Lindsay, Bobby Orr, John MacLean, Derek King, Jarrod Skalde and John Tavares.

It was the mid-to-end of the 1990s, when the New Jersey Devils and their god-awful, anti-hockey trap ushered the NHL into the Dead Puck Era of clutching and grabbing the best players to not let them pick up any speed nor give them room to make plays. It was the age of the 6'3", 220-defenseman who was allowed to do just about anything short of murder to stop any forward from even coming into their defensive zone.

It was a time when a natural talent like Savard could fall to the fourth round (91st overall, New York Rangers) because he was "just" 5'10" and 170 pounds.

The top five draft picks that year were Bryan Berard (6'2", 195 pounds, Ottawa Senators, 323 career points in 619 games), Wade Redden (6'2", 210 pounds, New York Islanders, 457 points in 2013 ganes), Aki-Petteri Berg (6'3", 216 pounds, Los Angeles Kings, 85 points in 606 games), Chad Kilger (6'4", 215 pounds, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, 218 points in 714 games), and Daymond Langkow (5'11", 185 pounds, Tampa Bay Lightning, 672 points in 1090 games). None have won a Stanley Cup.

The top five career points leader from that draft are Jarome Iginla (11th overall despite being 6'1" and 210 pounds, 625 goals, 675 assists and 1300 points in 1554 games, one Cup Final as team captain), Shane Doan (7th overall, 6'1" and 220 pounds, 402 goals and 972 points in 1540 games, decade-long reign as captain of the Phoenix Coyotes and Team Canada captain as well), Petr Sykora (18th overall, 6'0", 190 pounds, 323 goals and 721 points in 1017 games, two Stanley Cups in five Finals), Savard (706 points in 807 games, a Stanley Cup), and Langkow.

Although Savard had fine numbers in his "true" rookie season with the Rangers (45 points in 70 games in 1998-99), he was still sent to the Calgary Flames where he had an even better output (three straight seasons with point-per-game ratios of 0.59 or better with a high of 0.84, i.e. 65 points in 77 games in 2000-01) and even then was moved to the Atlanta Thrashers for the rights to Ruslan Zaynullin, who never played an NHL game.

In Atlanta, head coach and fellow Franco-Ontarian Bob Hartley told him he was going to give him a chance, and that if he seized it, his talents would forever be recognized and no one would be able to take it away; true to his word, Harley paired him with a duo of superstars in Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk, and Savard went on to have a 1.16 point-per-game average in 2003-04 (with 52 points in 45 games), but it was coming back from the locked-out lost season that he posted a 97-point season that was good for eighth in the league.

Following that, the Thrashers would be unable to meet his salary demands as a free agent, and he signed a four-year deal with the Boston Bruins, with whom he continued his top-ten point-racking for three more years.

Until The Hit by the coward Matt Cooke:

Want to hear him talk about it?
I wish I could give you my perspective on the hit that changed my life, but I don’t have a perspective. I have no memory of the actual event. Anything I tell you would just be me going off of the same YouTube clip that everybody else has seen. Even when I watch the video now, it’s like the hit is happening to a different person. 
I was out cold for 29 seconds. Or at least that’s what my trainer told me when I came to and asked him what had happened. My head hurt, bad. My vision was cloudy.
The only only memory I have is of being taken off the ice on a stretcher, and then realizing that my kids were at home watching the game. So I put my hand up to let them know that Dad was O.K.

I wasn’t O.K.
I had experienced three or four minor concussions before, but nothing like this
It took him a while, through dark times, at times punctured with suicidal thoughts, sleeping all day with blinds to shut the sunlight out, getting up at 11PM with pounding headaches and off-balance to survive until the next day, exhausted and aching all over, but he came back.

The thing that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy is the moment when you know that it’s all over. Everything you’ve worked for since you were a kid … it’s really over, and you can’t fool yourself anymore.
For me, that moment came in Colorado on January 22, 2011.
I was coming down the wing at full speed. Matt Hunwick leaned in and hit me clean. Unfortunately, he caught me just right, and my head whiplashed off the glass. Back then, Colorado’s glass was seamless. It was notoriously unforgiving.
I immediately dropped to my knees. I had my eyes wide open, and I couldn’t see anything. Everything was black. I shut my eyes, and then opened them again. All black.
That’s when I started to panic. Because I knew it was over. I just knew. I remember hearing the voice of our trainer, Don DelNegro, asking me what I felt.
And I just kept saying, “Why me? I don’t understand, Donny. Why me?”
My teammates escorted me to the dressing room, and I had a tough couple of minutes in there. I was sobbing. I remember my coach, Claude Julien, coming in and trying to console me. But I couldn’t be consoled. I knew I had just played my last game in the NHL. I kept thinking: “I have kids. I have a family to worry about. I’m only 33. What am I going to do? I can’t go through this pain again. I can’t go through these dark days. Again.
33 years old, a second near-death experience, the inability to compete in any type of sporting event ever again, perhaps not even exercise ever again. And six months later, his Bruins won the Cup. He had to watch it on TV, sound muted, brightness at "0".

It had to be bittersweet. Yet it's never the first thing people think about when he comes up in a conversation, and it's never the first question he gets asked; it's always about the Cooke hit.

I'll let him have the final word on his playing days:
It was an honor (to be an NHL player) for 14 years. Then one night, it was over. Maybe right now, a lot of people remember me for that night in Pittsburgh.
But you know what?
Every time someone looks at the Stanley Cup, for the rest of history, they will see a name engraved along with the rest of the 2010–11 Boston Bruins.
That’s forever.
Indeed it is. And I wish I had a card of his from his days with the Bs, but I can't find one at the moment, so here's one where he's sporting the Thrashers' best-looking uniform, the dark blue barbs, on card #I-MS from Fleer's 2006-07 Flair Showcase set and Showcase Inks sub-set by Upper Deck:
It features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph.

About a week ago, Savard - who had been doing analysis for Sportsnet and NHL Network - accepted a job as an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues where he will focus on special teams.

Best of luck.

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