Thursday, August 22, 2019

Nick Fotiu Autographed Card

From tough guy Craig Berube to a former amateur heavyweight champion, I thought we could take a minute to talk about Nick Fotiu, a payer who started skating at the age of 15 after going to his first New York Rangers game in the nosebleeds at Madison Square Garden, who had already earned accolades in soccer and was two years from a local boxing championship.

How did he make up for lost time to compete against guys who had a ten-year head start?
I’d go anywhere where I could get ice – Coney Island, Long Island, anywhere. I’d go at 3:30 in the morning three times a week so I could get extra ice time. And I took the ax because I was 15-16 years old and didn’t have anyone to take me anywhere. I had to do it all by the subway system, so coming home at 11-12 o’clock, I needed something for protection. People don’t even want to get on the train at 6 o’clock much less (past) midnight.
He also put time in summer camps, which is where he met Rangers GM Emile Francis and Blueshirts superstar Rod Gilbert, both of whom would help him reach the lower tiers of the Rangers' system, until a call from the WHA's New England Whalers came, to have him released to play in a WHA postseason run.

He spent two years with the Whalers, then re-signed with the Rangers in the summer of 1976. He was a fan favourite at MSG, not just as the first NYC-born Ranger but also due to his thunderous checks and relentless play (which involved a lot of "sticking up for his teammates", to the tune of 1754 total major-league penalty minutes. He was so appreciated that he was claimed in the expansion draft three years later... by the Whalers. They eventually traded him back to the Rangers, with whom he played for parts of five additional seasons.

He was sent to the Calgary Flames for the 1985-86 season - which had them fall to the Montréal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final; says Fotiu:
Calgary traded for me at 34 years old for a sixth-round pick (in 1987) because they thought I was one of the ingredients to beat Edmonton. And it turned out they were right. We outscored (Wayne) Gretzky’s line, beat them in the playoffs and then lost to the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final. That was pretty neat.
Flames Assistant-GM Al Coates goes further in his analysis of the 1986 Final:
If Nick hadn’t gotten hurt, we may well have beaten Montreal in the finals. (Habs tough guys) John Kordic and Chris Nilan weren’t afraid of Tim Hunter. They were terrified of Nicky.
After another year in Calgary, Fotiu spent the 1987-88 season with the Philadelphia Flyers - themselves a year removed from the 1987 Cup run - and 1988-89 with the Edmonton Oilers, a season sandwiched between two Cup-winning Oilers teams... the year the Flames won theirs. So close.

Here he is on card #26 from Topps' 2001-02 Topps/O-Pee-Chee Archive set, wearing the New England Whalers' white (home) uniform:
He signed it in black sharpie during his time as an assistant-coach with the the Rangers' AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack (2002-05).

One thing that comes to mind when I think of Fotiu - apart from the near-Cup misses - is the fact that he'd throw or shoot puck into the cheap seats after each home pre-game warm-up, a nod to the only place where he was able to afford tickets as a kid, a wish to have less economically-fortunate folks have a chance at being close to the action, and taking a chance that it might one day inspire a kid to lace up the skates. This is partly why he was named the recipient of the Fan Club Favourite Award for most of his years in Manhattan.

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