You know who I suddenly really miss - out of the blue? Felix Potvin. The Cat. Suddenly I miss him a lot. He was a wonderful talent and a big part of the Leafs' back-to-back playoff runs to the Final Four in '93 and '94. Those teams had a lot of big names, like Dougie and Wendel, Andreychuk and Borschevsky, even Creepy Glenn Anderson and Leapin' Mike Foligno, not to mention the larger-then-life personality of head coach Pat Burns (nor the comedic wit of Bill Berg, and the stratospheric improvement of the legendary Todd Gill). Yet quietly Felix also sold a lot of jerseys and stole a few shows, and backstopped the Leafs brilliantly for several years. Of course, he also had a super-cool nickname.
Leaf goaltenders have had a history of really good nicknames. In my lifetime, there's been Bunny Larocque, Felix the Cat, Cujo, Eddie the Eagle, and "that bastard" Raycrap. The always enigmatic Toskala has found his most suitable nickname is simply his first name with the word "the" in front of it. The Vesa. It works because it's hilariously aloof and singularly vague. (Starting in January, I'm going to be referring to him as The Vesa-2010, but I don't expect anybody else to do that, it's just gonna be my thing, ok.) Now the Leafs have added Jonas the Monster from Sweden, which is another great nickname, but Felix still comes away with the best of the bunch. The Cat is cool, it's classy, and it reminds me of cats which I also like a lot.
Video time. Check this out:
This is one of my favorite Potvin saves. Watch during the replay (0:39) as Felix doesn't just block the shot with his leg while lying on his belly, he actually kicks out his pad to angle the rebound away from the Jets' Steen.
How good was the Cat? I learned the word "larcenous" from hearing Joe Bowen calling saves like this one:
Here's the Cat in the playoffs, making Leaf-history by, stopping a penalty shot:
First Leaf netminder to do that in a playoff game. Save number 42. And a great quote from Harry Neale:
"I think they could give a 2-on-nothing and Potvin wouldn't let it in. If he doesn't get all 3 stars tonight then we are not being fair because he has been absolutely phenomenal."
When do we get to see the Potvin-Hextall fight? Yes we'll get to it, but first let's look at an important moment that came long before that. Felix often made me proud with his defiance and I think this was the first time and the most surprising:
Check the video specifically from 1:37 to 1:52. I could watch those 15 seconds over and over again for 15 years. Amazingly, that's about how long it's been since those 15 seconds took place. Hard to believe. Some things are timeless. Like a great song or a really good movie, a political idea or a religious belief, some things just never lose their ability to ignite people's spirit and passion.
For instance, Potvin vs. Hextall:
Other things you should know about the Cat:
*1996-7, the first year the Leafs missed the playoffs after 4 straight appearances, Potvin set an NHL record for most shots faced in a season (2,438).
*Two All-Star Game appearances. Hard to believe, but he was the first Leaf ever voted to the starting line up of the All-Star Game.
*1993-4, in the first round against Chicago, Potvin had 3 shut-outs, all by a score of 1-0, over Eddie Belfour and the Blackhawks.
*His 3rd shut-out in the series eliminating the Hawks in game 6, closed a chapter in the NHL history books, with Felix as the winning goaltender of record for the last game ever played at the old Chicago Stadium.
*Felix is currently a goaltending coach for the AAA Magog Cantonniers in Quebec.
So don't forget the Cat. He was a wonderful goalie whose star dimmed a little too quickly. Cool, feisty, defiant - an excellent model for the Vesa and the Monster to emulate this season.