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Goodbye Cujo

It’s sometimes difficult in this day and age for athletes to leave the game held in higher regard than when they started their careers. However, Curtis Joseph may be on of those rare individuals.

Joseph formally announced his retirement today in Toronto, the city where he has been so well thought of. He’s a bit of a local boy who “did good”.

Perhaps more than anything he did while with the Leafs, which was quite a bit during the 1998-2002 time period, I will remember him for the series he played as a young goalie with St. Louis against the Leafs. That of course was in the spring of 1993, when the Leafs were on their way to meeting the LA Kings in the 7-game semi-final series under Pat Burns.

Going into that St. Louis series, I don’t know how much everyday hockey fans knew about Joseph, but they certainly knew about him when the series was over. At one point in the series he looked unbeatable, and seemed to be in the head of the Maple Leaf forwards.

Toronto’s experience (and home ice advantage) was enough in the end, and Toronto won going away in Game 7 at Maple leaf Gardens, but Joseph had established himself in the minds of hockey people.

Cujo later had some wonderful moments with the Oilers, and was a bit of s surprise free agent signing by the Leafs in the summer of 1998, who he helped get to the “final four” on two separate occasions.

Some fans, maybe understandably, criticized Joseph for his decision to leave the Leafs to sign as a free agent with the Red Wings in the summer of 2002. But as he said at his press conference today, that’s hindsight now, and his decisions have taken him to where he is—a family guy at peace with where life has taken him. He is an individual who has always been very active in the communities where he played, using his celebrity to help others.

The thing that stands out for me, about Joseph, is that his career path to the “big leagues” was a bit unusual. He was playing Tier II Junior hockey, if I’m not mistaken, in Saskatchewan, at the age of 20 before a scholarship opportunity took him to the United States. From there, he was signed as a free agent by the Blues, and a 19-year career ensued.

Travelling the road less travelled is a lesson, perhaps, for young athletes who may not always be looked upon as the ‘best’ when they are 16, 17 or 18. Joseph worked through his challenges, and became an outstanding NHL’er.

From a Leaf standpoint, the organization has done a better job in recent years trying to integrate former players into their organization, formally or informally. Former captains Darryl Sittler, Rick Vaive and Wendell Clark, for example, have been involved with the club in some capacity over the years. Hopefully the trend will continue. Joseph would be an ideal guy to bring into the fold.

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