Saturday

Dale McCourt

Dale McCourt entered the NHL with impressive enough credentials to be dubbed the next NHL superstar. He would never achieve those lofty expectations, but had a productive NHL career followed by a lengthy career in Switzerland.

Born in Falconbridge, Ontario, McCourt was a junior superstar in the OHA. He was a perennial 50 goal scorer who captained the the Hamilton Fincups to the Memorial Cup in 1976. He was also honored as the Stafford Smythe Memorial trophy as Memorial Cup MVP. In 1977McCourt also represented Canada at the 1977 World Junior Championships where he was tournament all-star and helped the nation win a silver medal. That season he was named the Canadian Major Junior player-of-the-year in 1977. He graduated junior as the all time leader in many scoring categories in all of Ontario (all records since broken).

The struggling Detroit Red Wings opted to select McCourt with the first overall pick at the 1977 Amateur Draft, passing on the highly rated defenseman Barry Beck and a future Hall of Famer Mike Bossy. McCourt stepped in immediately, and playing on a line with Paul Woods and Bill Lochead, he impressed with 33 goals. He was the toast of Detroit after helping the Red Wings return to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

McCourt's sophomore year was marred by a weird court battle that went all the way to the US Supreme Court. McCourt became property of the Los Angeles Kings as it was ruled he would be the compensation for Detroit's signing of former Kings goalie Rogie Vachon. McCourt refused to report to Los Angeles, and after a lengthy legal debate that was resolved with McCourt remaining in Detroit. However the affair seemed to effect his play as he got off to a slow start. He finished strongly, with 28 goals and 71 points. McCourt would later say that the lengthy court battle and the subsequent blackballing by the NHL and many NHL players cost him his love of the NHL. That loss of love would become evident over the coming years.

McCourt continued to be a solid point producer for Detroit, upping his scoring totals to 81 and 86 points in the following years, but the team never built on its success enjoyed in 1977-78. With Detroits failure to make the playoffs, the Red Wings became impatient and traded youngsters McCourt and Mike Foligno to the Buffalo Sabres early in the 1981-82 season. The trade would be one of the most famous in Buffalo history, as Foligno became a team leader and fan favorite.

McCourt, meanwhile, was a bit of an enigmatic center in Buffalo, often playing with Tony McKegney and Alan Haworth. McCourt struggled under coach Scotty Bowman, and after two seasons of just 20 goals each, McCourt was released.

McCourt, the nephew of hockey hall of famer George Armstrong, signed as a free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1983-84, but his offensive struggles continued as he scored just 19 goals

With his NHL teams often missing the playoffs, McCourt had a taste of international hockey by twice representing Canada at the World Championships. In 1984-85, McCourt decided to give the European game his best, by joining Ambri Piotta of Switzerland. He would stay in Switzerland for seven seasons before retiring in 1991.

In retirement McCourt has remained in Europe, coaching in Italy, including as an assistant in 1994 Olympics, and in Germany. He returned to Canada in 2000 and got a job as a truck driver.

2 comments:

jaxtigerfan 7:21 AM  

I was just a teenager when McCourt came to play for the Red Wings. He was a terrific player, and he was my favorite player. I was very sad when he was released.

wolfleadr,  1:40 AM  

Indeed, McCourt was never the same player after the court fight. It seemed that, with McCourt, the Wings and their fans could see a light at the end of the 'Dead Things' tunnel. With McCourt's talent and Paul Woods' attitude, plus an aggressive-minded GM in Ted Lindsay and Fiery coach Bobby Kromm (in fact, the Wings had a new advertisement slogan promulgated by Lindsay: "Aggressive Hockey is Back in Town"), there were good things in store; then the roof fell in. The Vachon-McCourt deal seemed not only to take the life out of McCourt, but also the entire organization. McCourt's energy and brilliance in front of the net faded; he began to get pushed around a lot. Fans questioned Lindsay's motivations, and the whole hopeful, optimistic aura surrounding the Wings vanished. When I think of Dale McCourt, I mourn a chance wasted at having someone like him and Steve Yzerman on the same team. Of course that may be nonsensical in that had McCourt returned to his customary style of playing, the Wings' fortunes might have risen to the point where drafting Yzerman wouldn't have happened. Still, the idea of both players on the same team tantalizes.

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