ALSO ON SLAM!
Saturday, December 4, 1999
Back in the bigs
It's been a long while since Greg Hawgood and Chris Joseph had significant roles at the National Hockey League level.
Well, they both do now as members of the Vancouver Canucks, but they clearly prefer not to consider it a comeback. The former Edmonton Oilers are enjoying their newfound prosperity with the Canucks after the NHL seemed to have passed them by.
"I like to say I took a two-year sabbatical out of the league," chuckled Hawgood, the small but offensively gifted rearguard who wore Oil blue for 55 games between 1990-93.
"It wasn't really by my choice. It's just that any situation that came up before this year it kind of looked like the team was just signing me for the minors and I had had enough of that."
STABILITY ... FINALLY
After graduating from the Kamloops Blazers and having two semi-productive years in Boston, the Edmonton native toiled in Maine, Italy, Philadelphia, Florida, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Las Vegas, San Jose and Germany. Hawgood finally had enough of the nomadic life and settled into an all-star role with the International League's Houston Aeros, leading them to the playoff title last season.
"It brought a little bit of stability for me and my family the last two years in Houston. I got a lot of ice time and confidence back and winning the championship certainly helped," Hawgood said. "If you can't be in the NHL, it's the next best place as far as flying and not taking the bus, and nice cities.
"Houston was a wonderful place for us and Vegas was the same thing. Both places you don't need to own a pair of pants and there's no state tax."
It wasn't hard to give up the IHL beat, however, when the Canucks made it clear to Hawgood that he would have a legitimate chance at cracking their lineup this fall. He's since repaid them with 10 points in 25 games and a solid plus-5 rating.
"You're never really sure how those tryout agreements are going to go when you come to training camp. You see a lot of guys go in on tryouts and five or six days in they're sent on their way," noted the 31-year-old (fourth oldest on the Canucks), who hit the 400-NHL-games-played plateau on Nov. 27.
"But the Canucks were honourable with what they said - that if I came and played well I'd get a chance - and with a couple of guys being out and injuries, I got a ton of ice time in the exhibition season and things have gone well. Everyone's excited to come to the rink every day and it's been great so far."
Joseph, 30, never had the kind of career that was expected of him as the fifth overall choice in the 1987 draft. Another crafty-with-the-puck blueliner, Joseph has also been around the hockey block with stops in Tampa Bay, a second go-around with Pittsburgh, a first visit to Vancouver and then Philadelphia since leaving the Oilers during the 1993-94 campaign.
Claimed on waivers from Ottawa at the beginning of this season, the Burnaby, B.C., native seems to have finally become a fixture.
Though he's only notched eight points in 23 games, Joseph has pulled his fair share of duty as the Canucks have struggled through many nights of depleted rosters.
"It's definitely another chance but with the year I had last year, I think I deserved another chance," said Joseph. "I had a good year in the minors (Philadelphia of the American league) but I'm grateful for the opportunity. Hopefully this year will go well and I can stay in the league."
ANOTHER GO AT THE SHOW
Joseph thought he'd found a permanent gig with the Flyers in '97-98 but played in only 15 games, a healthy scratch for about 60. Once he got a routine together in the minors, he was prepared for another go at the show.
"Last year was probably the most I'd played in the last five or six years so it was good. I really got to know my game and what I'm capable of doing and where my weaknesses are because I played so much," said Joseph, whose best year in Edmonton saw him score 22 points in 49 games back in '90-91.
"I discovered a little bit about myself, and any time you learn your limitations and your strengths it'll help ... I think I've carried that into this year."
*Vegreville product Zenith Komarniski, who played bantam hockey in Fort Saskatchewan before heading to the Western League's Tri-City Americans, is out of the Canucks' lineup for about another week with a shoulder injury.