NHL goaltending great reflects on his time as a junior, playing at the Olympics, and his stint in Las Vegas
Curtis Joseph is the owner of one of the most famous nicknames in NHL history: Cujo.
Although its an obvious mash-up of the first two letters of his first and last name, it also perfectly described his tenacious and feisty demeanour in the crease. He played 19 seasons in the NHL for the St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Phoenix Coyotes, and the Calgary Flames. He has 454 career wins to his credit.
On Sunday, Joseph was a guest of the Timmins Rock at their afternoon matchup against the Blind River Beavers. Fans were able to visit with him, get some items signed, and take photos, as part of a fundraising effort to support the local Junior ‘A’ franchise. It was his first ever visit to ‘The City with the Heart of Gold.’
“I’m from a small town myself, so I can always appreciate a small Canadian town,” he said.
Growing up in Keswick, north of Toronto, he recalls venturing up as far north as Sudbury for games during his time as a junior hockey player. Joseph didn’t play Major Junior, as he was focused a little more on his academics.
“I was trying to get a scholarship, and I played three years in Ontario, in the OJHL.”
After playing junior in both Newmarket and Richmond Hill with mixed results, Joseph ventured out west to Wilcox, Saskatchewan to play a year with the Notre Dame Hounds of the SJHL. He was 20 years old, and it was quite possibly his last real shot at getting noticed.
“I was talking to a few of those kids down there today, and I said stick with it guys, you never know when somebody’s watching. Always put in your best effort. I got mine as an over-ager, and the rest is history,” said Joseph.
He stumbled upon a fantastic situation.
“I went to a team that was stacked with potential. I didn’t realize how much potential that team had. So when I went out there, we won all of Canada, and we were the youngest team in the league – I was the old man.”
That 1987-88 Notre Dame Hounds squad boasted future NHLers Rod Brind’Amour, Dwayne Norris, Joby Messier, and Scott Pellerin. Defenceman Jason Herter was taken 8th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft.
“We had a lot of good players. We had 16 NCAA Division-1 scholarships that year. It was incredible. And we won the Centennial Cup, so it was a good move.”
One often forgotten chapter of Joseph’s career is his stint playing for the Las Vegas Thunder of the now defunct International Hockey League. It was the fall of 1995, and Joseph’s tenure with the St. Louis Blues had come to an end.
“I was traded to Edmonton, but I hadn’t signed a contract. So I went to Las Vegas and played for their IHL team. We got great crowds, tremendous crowds, and we had a winning team. We won every night. We had a bunch of guys who couldn’t quite make it (NHL) but they were very skilled.”
Joseph played just 15 games for the Thunder, posting a dominant 12-2-1 record, before reaching an agreement with the Oilers. It was obvious he belonged in the NHL, but he still remembers his time there fondly.
“It was a good time. It honed my skills and got me ready to go to Edmonton.”
He isn’t at all surprised at the success of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights in their first few seasons in the league, both on the ice and at the box office.
“They’re sold out every game. I know the guy who runs the tickets. I’ve been to a game there, it’s a lot of fun. Kudos to the NHL for being the first pro league in there and tapping into that market, because its been tremendous.”
One of the highlights of Joseph’s career is the Olympic gold medal he won with Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“Any time you play for Team Canada, there’s tremendous pressure. The weather was like 65 degrees, it was beautiful for the Winter Olympics. We lost the first game (5-2 to Sweden) and we squeaked one out against Germany (3-2 win) and then we built from there as a team. We had all the talent, but we got better as the tournament went along. Winning that gold medal, with that group of guys, all the Hall of Famers on that team, it was really special.”
It was Canada’s first Olympic gold medal in hockey in 50 years. Joseph credits head coach Pat Quinn with having a great awareness of how to get the most out of an absolutely stacked roster.
“Pat had tonnes of experience. He knew what kind of team he had, and he just let the guys play. He didn’t try to ‘over coach’, he just let the guys play, and he did a great job.”