Sunday, August 2, 2009

Norm MacIver

Most people have a soft spot for huge underdogs. Maybe that's why I cheered on Norm MacIver so much. At 5'11" and 180lbs MacIver was a small defenseman by NHL standards, but he often carried a big load on his shoulders.

He was a fantastic catalyst from the blue line, generating offense with strong clearing passes, by rushing the puck out of the zone or by jumping into the zone for the extra attacker. He handled prime minutes quarterbacking the power play. He was a superb puckhandler and a quick skater who used his wits and intelligence to survive in the NHL.

The problem was he was not physically able to withstand the rigours of the NHL. That is why he was ignored at the NHL draft. He survived trades, demotions and injuries, reappearing with a team equally as bad as the previous one. He would wear down as the season progressed, and fizzled out before crunch time.

Give the Rangers credit - after he graduated with a communications degree in 1986 they signed MacIver out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth where he was an all star and finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as best player in US College hockey. Two years later he was off to Hartford, then Edmonton the year after that. He would earn AHL defenseman of the year status in 1991, finally forcing the NHL to give him a look-see.

The Oilers called him up for their lengthy playoff run in 1991 and played him regularly in 1991-92. He showed he could play in the league by scoring 8 goals and 47 points in a total of 79 games in Edmonton.

The Oilers left MacIver unprotected for the 1992 NHL expansion draft, and the Ottawa Senators were quick to grab him. He became a workhorse for the Senators, who at that time were one of the worst teams in NHL history. MacIver gave it everything he had, and on many nights was the most noticable Senator on the ice for both his effort and creativity. He actually led the Sens in scoring in their debut season of 1992-93 with 17 goals and 46 assists for 63 points in 80 games.

MacIver's magical season came to a dramatic end, though. While representing Canada at the World Championships, MacIver was crunched with a body check and immediately had breathing problems. Doctors discovered his heart was bruised.

He made a full recovery, but he could not reach the heights of his previous campaign in year two in Ottawa. The constant losing must have zapped the energy and drive out of all those players. Even MacIver looked worn down at times.

The Sens moved MacIver to Pittsburgh in 1995. He subsequently jumped around with Pittsburgh, Winnipeg/Phoenix and the minor leagues before hanging up the skates in 1999. The vastly underrated MacIver finished his career with 500 games played, 55 goals, 230 assists and 285 points. Not bad for a undersized defenseman nobody wanted in the first place.

MacIver stayed in the game after retiring, first coaching in the minor leagues and with Boston then serving as Chicago's director of player development.


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