Saving a little for Bruins
Moffat got results, but he didn’t have ice in his veins
Another in an occasional series on memorable Boston sports figures who had their 15 minutes of fame.
TORONTO - The brittle, yellowed newspaper clippings are buried in a closet in the basement near the Legos and the fairy tale books.
In some ways, Mike Moffat’s story is a fairy tale. In 1982, when he was barely 20 years old, the Bruins called up the inexperienced goaltender after his junior hockey season. Not only did he help the Bruins win the last two games of the regular season, he was outstanding in starting all 11 playoff games.
There were signs for Moffat everywhere in Boston Garden and chants from the Gallery Gods. He was anointed Bruins goalie for the next decade. But it ended as quickly as it began.
The next season, the Bruins turned to Pete Peeters, who would go on to win the Vezina Trophy that season as the NHL’s top goaltender. Moffat, playing poorly, was sent to the American Hockey League. He would play only four more games for the Bruins before retiring at the tender age of 22. After becoming the toast of the hockey town, he was simply toast.
That is why Moffat never looks at those clippings.
“I guess it would make me cry,’’ he says with a smile. “You know, I’m a big believer in not living in the past. I do my damnedest not to live in the past.’’
The hard truth is that Moffat couldn’t mentally handle the job. He suffered through horrible pregame nerves, insomnia, chronic headaches, and homesickness. He was a tortured soul.
“That would not be inaccurate,’’ he says, sitting in a Toronto restaurant, sipping tea. “Hey, professional hockey is a tough, tough world. There’s a dozen goalies lined up outside the dressing room door if you don’t want the job.’’
Today, Moffat, 47, is a successful outside sales representative for Rona Lumber Supply in Toronto.
“I’m extremely lucky,’’ he says. “I was young enough to start a second career. Am I damaged goods? Absolutely not. It wasn’t a lot of fun and I needed to do something else.’’
He has a beautiful house with a swimming pool on two acres in the suburbs. He married Nikki, the girl of his dreams, 10 years ago.
Their two children, Karina, 6, and Nicholas, 3, love to go ice skating with their father in an open-air rink in downtown Toronto. Every Sunday night, Moffat plays defense for Jake’s Pub & Grille in an over-40 league that raises money for charity. He’s in tip-top shape, but he never plays goal.
“I’m out,’’ he says with a smile. “I don’t want to be in.’’
In fact, most of his teammates don’t even know that he played in the NHL. He waited nearly five years to get a spot in the league, never flashing his NHL credentials to cut the queue.
“He keeps it pretty well hidden,’’ says teammate Rob McKay, who happens to be the nephew of former Bruins president/general manager Harry Sinden. “It wouldn’t be fair for him to be our goalie. He’s too good.’’
“I don’t have a big burning desire to get into my hockey history,’’ he wrote in an e-mail. “I was treated very well by the Bruins and given many good opportunities to play. I just did not perform very well.’’
He is surprised and flattered that anyone would remember him, and he’s too nice a guy to say no. He just doesn’t consider himself a one-hit wonder.
“I don’t think I’m a hit of any sort,’’ he says.
But that’s not exactly true.
At 19, Moffat helped Team Canada win the gold medal in the 1982 World Junior Championships. Canada went undefeated and Moffat was nearly flawless in net, shutting out the Soviet Union and then tying the Czechs to clinch the championship. Moffat was chosen the best goaltender of the series.
In early April 1982, the Bruins goaltending unit of veteran Rogie Vachon and Marco Baron had given up 23 goals in three games. Moffat, who had just completed his third season in junior hockey with Kingston, Ontario, was called to the club. He had been practicing with Team Canada since August and was exhausted.
“I was absolutely coming down with the mind-set that I was going to put on the pads, skate a few practices, and lay low,’’ he says. “I was just trying to be part of the furniture.’’
But Bruins coach Gerry Cheevers, a Hall of Fame goalie, had other ideas for the mopped-top rookie.
“We had our morning skate and Gerry Cheevers says, ‘Moff, you’re gonna play tonight. Get out there and have some fun,’ ’’ says Moffat. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m playing,’ and I said, ‘Are you sure?’
“And he said, ‘Absolutely, bud. You’re gonna have a great time out there.’ Then I went mute.’’
The Bruins, with Moffat in net, won two games, and Cheevers decided to stick with the hot hand against Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs.
Between the pipes, Moffat excelled. Between the sheets, he tossed and turned, a bundle of nerves. He was playing on adrenaline. He even questioned his coach’s strategy.
“We got to Buffalo,’’ he says, “and I said to Cheevers, ‘Are you nuts?’ ’’
Meanwhile, the media started comparing him to a young Ken Dryden playing for Montreal in 1971 on the way to a Stanley Cup and the Hall of Fame.
Moffat would have none of that. He credits the Bruins defense for his success.
“The hockey club killed themselves to protect me,’’ he insists. “They were smothering guys. I wasn’t getting peppered in the net, make no mistake about it.’’
Moffat and the Bruins easily won the division series against Buffalo, three games to one.
Next up were the Nordiques. The Bruins took Quebec to seven games before being eliminated. Moffat saved his best for Game 7, when he stopped three breakaways in a 2-1 loss. Cheevers said Moffat’s save against Real Cloutier “should go down as one of the great ones of all-time in Stanley Cup history.’’
“I liked it,’’ he says. “It kept me in shape. I never made much money in hockey. Money was irrelevant.’’
He regrets not getting counseling that summer.
“My mental game needed massive rebuilding,’’ he says. “I should have dealt with that in the offseason, but I just kind of denied it, put my head down. I was fighting the demons and it was nobody’s fault but my own.’’
After two mediocre seasons in the AHL, he signed with the Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers in 1984. They assigned him to Nova Scotia in the AHL. He played just one game, allowed nine goals, and then retired on Oct. 15, 1984.
“It wasn’t fun anymore,’’ he says. “It broke my heart to let other people down along the way. There’s a few people who really stuck their neck out for me and it’s heartbreaking to not see it through for them.’’
He enrolled at Wilfrid Laurier University and began work toward his business degree.
“That was the right thing to do,’’ he says. “I was not a gifted student, but I adapted. I thought, ‘My God, you’ve got some people freaking out here because they’ve got to write an exam paper,’ and I thought, ‘This isn’t stress. If you guys want to know stress, come over here and let me tell you what it’s like to have a puck screaming at your head.’ ’’
On this night, the Crosby Arena in Unionville, Ontario, is devoid of spectators, except for a young boy practicing a wrist shot with a rolled-up ball of electrical tape.
On the ice for the over-40 team, Moffat is very competitive. He has been warned that his next fight will be his last. He picks up an assist in an easy victory.
After the game, the players from Jake’s Pub & Grille retreat to the locker room, where one of the hockey bags is filled with cans of cold beer. The aging players have a few brews, tell a few lies, and head for the exits.
“This is great fun,’’ says Moffat, grabbing his sticks and smiling broadly as he heads into the night, right past the kid who is beating an imaginary NHL goalie with the flick of his wrist.
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.