Sunday, 10 April 2011

Martin Lapointe's NHL career and his Côte Saint-Luc connection

I enjoyed a very nostalgic evening last week. As the guest of Montreal Juniors owner Farrel Miller, I attended the annual Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Dinner at the Hyatt Hotel. Martin Lapointe (pictured with me at the left), Vincent Damphousse and Robert Desjardins were three of the inductees with a local connection; the other was Harold McKay from the Maritimes.Lapointe, Damphousse and Desjardins played at a time when I followed the QMJHL on a very serious basis. The league had some true superstars at the time, from Pat LaFontaine and Mario Lemieux to Stephane Richer, Patrick Roy, Claude Lemieux and Sergio Momesso.

In the case of Lapointe, I literally saw him grow up. A native of Ville St. Pierre (now part of Lachine), Lapointe was one of the top players for the Westluc Saints hockey organization. Teams were composed of players from Cote Saint-Luc, Hampstead, Montreal West and Ville St. Pierre. Most of the games were played at the Samuel Moskovitch Arena in CSL. I first met Lapointe, now a youthful looking 38 years of age, when he was the PeeWee level. I covered the team for a local community newspaper called The Monitor, served as the game timekeeper and public address announcer and hosted the annual awards banquet.

I followed Lapointe through four PeeWee and Bantam seasons. He then graduated to the Lac St. Louis Midget AAA Lions. CSL’s Solly Levine, the team’s director of operations, had previously been involved with Westluc and played a role in his development. Lapointe starred for the Lions and was drafted by the QMJHL’s Laval Titans where over the course of four seasons he scored 149 goals and added 189 assists for 338 points in 195 games. He was selected in the first round, 10th overall. In 1991 NHL entry draft by the Detroit Red Wings for whom he helped win two Stanley Cups. Ville St. Pierre celebrated his rise to stardom by naming the local arena after him. He played in the NHL for 16 seasons, scoring 181 goals and adding 200 assists for 381 points in an incredible 991 games.

Lapointe left Detroit when he became an unrestricted free agent. The Canadiens were interested in his services, but the Boston Bruins came up with an offer he just could not refuses: a five year, $25 million contract. Lapointe found himself with the Chicago Black Hawks and the Ottawa Senators at the end of his career. After the 2007-2008 season Lapointe still wanted to continue his career. But no offers were forthcoming. He told me then it was probably related to the salary cap.

Married to the beautiful Tanya, whom he met while playing junior, the happy couple have four children. Martin is devilishly handsome, built like a truck and extremely personable. After taking some time off early on in his retirement, he got an offer to become a full-time scout for the Black Hawks. He accepted the challenge and moved his family to Chicago, one amazing city I might add. “It really keeps me on the road a lot,” he told me. “I think I will scale back next year.”

I asked what he likes to do best when returning to Montreal, he of course focused on visiting with his parents and sisters. But he loves dining on a steamy hotdog and fries at the legendary Lafleur’s Restaurant. He has great memories of his years with the Westluc Saints, the annual banquets at Bill Wong’s Restaurant on Decarie and the people he met along the way.

It was his mom, Lapointe reveals, who taught him how to skate. “I was five years old,” he said. “My mom went in the backyard and watered it down to make ice.”

Damphousse (right), who looks like he can still step on the ice and play, grew up in Anjou. He played three years for Laval and was selected in the first round, sixth overall, by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He spent 18 NHL seasons with Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal and San Jose and tallied 432 goals and 773 assists in 1,378 games. He now operates four spas across Canada and does charity work.

Desjardins, from Verdun, was a standout goalie in the QMJHL and played with four teams: Shawinigan, Hull, Longueuil and Victoriaville. He then went on to play for the Concordia Stingers for four seasons, turning pro with the Wichita (Kansas) Thunder of the Central Hockey League. It was a short three year career, but in an emotional address he told the audience that he met his wife there and still calls Kansas home. He was even a bit worried he might have lost some of his French.

Also at the awards banquet, Montreal Juniors star Louis Leblanc was named the league's personality of the year. The West Island native and a 2009 first round draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens, Leblanc added some sizzle to the league this year. When I met him last summer, before the season I began, I asked if he would visit some public schools. Well, he was good on his word and made a few appearances. Look for him to start next year off with the Canadiens farm team in Hamilton. He will make his way to the big club in no time.

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