Interview with Dennis Maruk

Interview with Dennis Maruk
27 Nov
2014
Not in Hall of Fame
The amount of players who have participated in the National Hockey League who have managed to make the elusive 50 Goal Club is an elusive one.  It is one of those magical numbers in sports, akin to a .300 Batting Average in Baseball, 1,500 Rushing Yards in a season in Football, and a 20 Points per Game Average in the National Basketball Association. 

Anyone who accomplishes those above feats receive All Star recognition of some kind, especially if you do that more than once, or take it to the next level; a feat that former Hockey superstar, Dennis Maruk accomplished when he had consecutive 50 Goal seasons and became one of the rare players to net 60 Goals in an NHL campaign. 

Although this is a man who achieved those numbers and had an NHL career that nearly gave him 900 Points, he did so playing for three teams that no longer exist in their original incarnation.  Maruk was a member of the California Golden Seals, the Cleveland Barons and the Minnesota North Stars (twice), and his greatest feats with the Washington Capitals, while although proved to be a good hockey market, still took a back seat to the glamour teams of the 1980’s.

Saying that, as a man who grew up watching the National Hockey League intensely in the 1980’s and one who studies the evolution of the game from the 1970’s, talking to a man who not only rose to prominence in the 1970’s, but what was one of the men who made the Washington Capitals relevant, a team that has emerged as one of the healthiest franchises in the National Hockey League in recent years.

Maruk is the holder of multiple records with the Washington Capitals, is the all time leading scorer for one defunct franchise, and was one of my favourite interviews that I have done. 

I had the chance to speak with Dennis about his time in Oakland and Cleveland, his records in Washington, and the adversity he had to overcome as a smaller player in the NHL.



         One of the first things I wanted to talk to you about, and this may sound a little weird is that I love 1970’s Hockey.[i]

         “(laughs) Okay.”

         For whatever reason, I watch a lot of it on YouTube or through other methods.  With that in mind, you played for the London Knights in the OHL, a great hockey town, and in the National Hockey League, you went to Oakland to play professionally for the California Golden Seals.  I have never talked to anyone who played there and I am really curious what the hockey culture was in Oakland and how you liked playing there?[ii]

         It was a real exciting time for me because they drafted me out of junior hockey, the first pick of the second round, 21st overall and they gave me the opportunity to show what I could do.[iii]  It was a young team, and not a team that was very strong but it gave me an opportunity to make the team, first of all and I had a pretty good season.[iv]  Things worked out pretty good.

         There was some older players, but there was a lot of young players, some of which coming up from the minors from Salt Lake City.  We lost a lot of close games, but it was really exciting to play in Oakland Coliseum as a nineteen year old to play in California.”

         So you had some really good fans then?

         “Oh yeah, really good.  We had quite a few sellouts, and the fans were really good.  They (the Seals) had been there for seven years but they never had really strong teams.  We had a fellow by the name of Krazy George, I don’t know if you remember him?”[v]

         Yeah, I know he is.

         “He would go around banging a snare drum.  He would climb up on the glass and get the crowd riled up.  He would do it for football games and other events too.  He was very instrumental in getting the fans going in the building. Were the fans educated in the game of hockey?  I think they were at times, but it was going to take more time to get them really invested.  Then all of the sudden we had to move.

         Did you or any of the other players see that coming?

         “Not really.  The owner at the time, who has since passed away, Mel Swig was looking to build a new arena in San Francisco on the other side of the BART, which is the big train system there.[vi]  There was going to be a big shopping mall built there but at that time it was Mayor (George) Moscone and it was voted down 13-2 or something like that.  So they decided to move the team.” 

         How was it moving from the exciting place of the Bay Area to Cleveland, Ohio? 

         “(Laughs) The mistake on the Lake?  Is that what they call it?”

         (Laughs).  Yeah, I have been to both places and there is definitely a difference between the two!  Now, granted, in my early 40’s I have a different perspective on things, but I can imagine that you being in your very early 20’s at the time had to have a very distinct experience.  I know that at 22, I would have rather have been in California than Cleveland!

         “Well, I think it was a shock at first for all of the players but we all knew that this was our job.  Living in California and being able to go to San Francisco and have a lot of fun, not to mention San Jose and Oakland, and enjoying the nice weather, and now we’re going to Cleveland, which has had only a minor pro hockey team, we didn’t know how that would go.

         We were in a beautiful building, the Richfield Coliseum, which was in the middle of nowhere land.  It was a big building that seated about 21,000 and we didn’t get a lot of response there.  I would say 10,000 in the building looked empty anyway.  It was a beautiful rink but the people just didn’t go there.”

         So you found the fans in Oakland far more receptive than the people in Cleveland?

         “Yes.  At that time yes.[vii]  The support was not there in Cleveland and again, we were not a strong hockey club and maybe that part to do with it.  That could have been it, but I just didn’t think it was the right fit.  We even went through a situation where we were going to fold.  I think we did for half a day.  The NHL took over the insurance so that we could play.”

         That’s got to be frustrating as a young hockey player, and not just for you but for the entire team.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to go to work every day and have that uncertainty hanging over your head.

         “I think at one point in time that they missed a pay check.  We would normally get paid every two weeks and we didn’t get paid one time at the end of the month.  That was frustrating, not knowing if it was going to last.  As players, we didn’t know if we were going to put into a draft or be traded or where we were going to be. 

         There was one time when the team was going to fold and we were at a press conference and we were all sitting at the tables, and I put our pencils in there and said ‘three for a nickel’ or something.  Let’s get some money to keep the team in Cleveland!  We all knew at that point that this was going to happen until the league took care of the insurance.  We had to play that night.  Buffalo was in town and we had no idea whether the game was on or not until we finally got a phone call that said insurance was taken care of. 

         Those things were really frustrating as a player.  You didn’t know where you were going to wind up, you didn’t know if your teammates were going to be with you, and that was exactly what happened.  In the second year (in Cleveland) we merged with Minnesota.”

         I believe that’s the only time in NHL history when that happened.  You were only in Minnesota for a brief time until you returned in the mid-80’s.  It’s funny how you think of the state of Minnesota, hockey is a sport synonymous with it, but the North Stars did have to relocate eventually.  I am curious what your early memories were with the North Stars.

         “I was told I was going to be traded in the summer, that they were going to stay with their centre and Lou Nanne (the North Stars GM) was looking for a first round pick for me.  It went all summer and then he (Nanne) told me to come to Minnesota and that the people are going to love you. 

         I of course talked to my lawyer and found that there was a couple of teams were interested in me and that something was going to happen soon.  I went to training camp and would only have one or two shifts in the games.  After the second game of the season I was traded to Washington.[viii]

         Would it be safe to say that this is the team you still identify with today?

         “Yes, very much so.  Washington, and Minnesota when I was traded back there from ’83 to ’89 and we had a strong club there.  There were some great players there; Dino Ciccarelli, Neal Broten, Craig Hartsburg, Don Beaupre in net, Brad Maxwell, we had a good team.  We made the playoffs and we did well in the Norris Division against St. Louis, Chicago, Toronto and we just couldn’t get by the Edmonton Oilers.[ix]  They (the Oilers) were so powerful and strong in the mid-80’s and won all those Stanley Cups.  It was very exciting to be in the playoffs and have an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup.”

         A lot of people are not aware that you hold the single season scoring record for the Washington Capitals, a record that most people probably think is held by Alex Ovechkin.  You actually hold that distinction by a wide margin.[x]

         “Well, records are made to be broken.  I was skiing in Aspen, Colorado when he broke my (single season) goal scoring record of surpassing 60 goals.  He had 65 that year and he’s a great goal scorer.  I’ve met him a few times and as matter of fact, I’m going to Washington this Saturday to be honoured as one of the top forty players of all time.[xi]  That’s going to be my night, and that will be really nice.

         He (Ovechkin) told me that there would be no way that he would get my Point total.  That year I had 76 Assists along with 60 Goals, and of course I said that records are made to be broken, but maybe that one will be there for a long time.”[xii]

         You also hold the distinction of being the last member of the California Seals and Cleveland Barons to be a member of the NHL.[xiii] 

         “Right.  Longevity.  That’s great I guess!”

         I think so!  Actually, you answered a question that before that I was going to ask you, which was what relationship you still have with the Washington Capitals, and obviously it’s a pretty good one.

         “Yeah, it is pretty good.  I go down there periodically and watch a few games.  I will be going down there for the Winter Classic, where they play Chicago.  They’re (the Capitals) are big in my heart, and I had great seasons there.  They were extremely helpful in my situation and took care of me and I have a lot of respect for the Capital organization.  Of course the teams I cheer for are Washington, Minnesota now Dallas and the Toronto Maple Leafs.”

         And you just got a major mention in pop culture too!  Your name was used on the show, “The Americans”.[xiv] 

         “(Laughs)  Yeah, it’s kind of funny.  My daughter and a lot of people were calling me about that.  My daughter lives in Los Angeles and she’s got a Screen Actor’s Guild card and we made contact with them (the producers) and they said any time you are in New York to come by the set.

         I said if you need a former 60 goal scorer for a cameo appearance let me know!  It is always an honor when your name comes up, and then you hear it from other people and then there was a mention in the Washington Post about it.”

         Actually, I could see you having a cameo as a Soviet spy!

         “(Laughs)  Yeah, with my fu manchu!  That would be fun.  I spoke with someone there, Joel Fields was his name, and the people there on set wanted me to send some autographed pictures and hey you never know!”

         One thing I wanted to ask you is something I find a common thread in the NHL, where the league constantly doubts undersized players.  You are 5’ 8’’, and you were overlooked to a certain level much like Theoren Fluery and Doug Gilmour who became stars, after posting huge numbers in Junior and then doing the same in the NHL.  Did this add additional motivation for you to excel in the National Hockey League?

         “It goes back to when I was 18, and I thought I was going to get drafted then, but they said I was too small but then my last year in junior I won the Red Tilson Award, which is the Most Valuable Player in junior and I had great numbers.[xv]  I had 66 goals or something like that and then when I went to Oakland and they told me that I was going to play in the minors because I was too small and that I needed to get stronger and beef up.[xvi]

         It just pushed me harder.  There was an exhibition game against Los Angeles where I was matched up mostly against Marcel Dionne and I scored a couple of points and at that time I had no contract and I was told I was not going to be on the team and sent to the minors and (one of the executives) late Munson Campbell and the GM, Bill McCreary told me when we got back to Oakland that we would sign a new contract. 

         There you go!  I always had to prove myself right to the last day and it was because I was a small guy that I had to prove it over and over.  Things didn’t come easy.  You had to work for it, you had to hit, you had to be aggressive at a time in the game when it was very aggressive hockey and to survive I had to do all that kind of stuff.  That’s how I got respected.  Not only could I score goals and make plays, but I could dish it back even at 5’ 8’’.

         I always love asking athletes what they would do if they would wake up one morning and were the commissioner of the league.  Asking you that question, what would you do if you had that role?

         “(Laughs).  As of today the one thing that the game is too wide open.  I would go back to the rule where you can have interference.  I don’t mean clutch and grab but slow a player down as it is too wide open.  These guys are powerful and young players and they are so fast. 

         I would definitely go to three-on-three, come back with centre ice, I don’t like that long pass where a guy can go to the blue line and tip it in, you know, and start over again.  I think they need to come back over the red line and come back that way.  Bring back the center ice where there are more plays in the neutral ice and then go three-on-three when there’s a tie.  It would pretty exciting to watch.  I’ve done three-on-three before in games.  It’s fun, there is going to be a goal and it would cut down on shootouts.”

         Do you like the shootouts?

         “I like the shootouts, there’s no doubt about it.  I was involved in it years ago when I was coaching in the minors.  I think as a fan it is entertaining, you have the great players going against top goalies, but I think again they really need to go right into the three-on-three.”

         Is there anything that you are doing now that I can promote?

         “I’m involved with a company called Drenchit.  It’s a product that cleans equipment and gets rid of the bacteria and fungus.  I’ve started up with that and it is a great company and we have been working with York University and taking care of their equipment.  We’ve started working with different arenas and it’s going well.  They are on line at www.drenchit.ca.”

         I checked that out before our interview.  It is one of those things that made me think, ‘how come nobody thought of that before?’

         “It’s amazing.  It’s a vegetable based product that is safe to use.  One wash pack and your gear is bacteria and stink free for five weeks.  The kit comes with a maintenance spray that can be also used on the skates and helmet and they include a mouth guard spray to keep the bacteria and yeast out of the mouth guards.  The kit lasts five months and is great for fundraising for associations.  Things are going very well with it.

         I also have a hockey school in the summer called “Winning Techniques” just outside of Huntsville (Ontario) for five weeks of the summer; I’m there for the last two weeks of July and first three weeks of August.  It is at www.winningtechniques.com.”

         Thank you so much for your time!

  


[i]Incidentally, I had just watched Slap Shot prior to calling Dennis and saw the 30 for 30 Shorts on John Wensink taunting the entire Minnesota North Stars on December 1, 1977.

[ii]The California Golden Seals were part of the first wave of expansion in 1967.  They joined the NHL along with the Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues. 

[iii]That was in the 1975 NHL Draft. 

[iv]Dennis finished third in Calder Trophy Voting that year, finishing behind Bryan Trottier (who won) and Glenn Resch both with the New York Islanders who were building a team that would dominate the NHL in a couple of years. 

[v]“Krazy” George Henderson would gain fame as a professional male cheerleader.  Living in the Bay Area, Krazy George was a staple at Seals games.  He alleges that he created the “wave” which remains a popular activity done by fans to this day.  This is a piece on him done by local television: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALuYj3ewRMQ

[vi]BART stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit, a name that became known to sporting fans during the 1989 World Series between the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants when an earthquake transpired during the Fall Classic.

[vii]History proved Dennis right.  Eventually, the Bay Area had a proven franchise in the San Jose Sharks, and Cleveland has yet to support a NHL franchise.   

[viii]Maruk would in fact be traded for a first round pick, which was one acquired from Pittsburgh which was 10th overall.  That choice would be used on Tom McCarthy who would eventually be a teammate of Dennis in Minnesota. 

[ix]The North Stars made the Conference Finals in 1984 where they lost to Edmonton.

[x]Maruk had 136 Points in the 1981/82 season.  Ovechkin’s high is 112, which he accomplished in the 2007/08 season.

[xi]This is coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the franchise.

[xii]Here are the other single season records that Maruk has with Washington: Assists (76), Goals Created (53.1), Assists per Game (0.95), Points per Game (1.70), Goals Created per Game (0.66), Total Goals on Ice for (168).  It should also not be noted that when Ovechkin broke Maruk’s goal record he took 446 Shots on Goal compared to Maruk’s 268.  As a Capital, Dennis Maruk never had a Shot Percentage less than 16.8.  Alex Ovechkin’s most efficient season in that category was 14.6. 

[xiii]Even though Maruk was only there for three years, he holds the all time Points record for the Seals/Barons franchise. 

[xiv]The Americans is a show on FX, set in the early 1980’s in Washington D.C., where there are Soviet spies who are living in D.C. as a regular family.  The father on the show bonds with son over their mutual love of Hockey and the Washington Capitals. 

[xv]The Award is for the MVP in the OHL.  This was won by such legends as Frank Mahovolich, Rod Gilbert, Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall, George Armstrong, Doug Gilmour, Yvan Cournoyer, Gilbert Perreaut and Eric Lindros.  Not bad company!

[xvi]Maruk had exactly 66 Goals that year in London and 145 Points.



Last modified on Thursday, 22 March 2018 15:48
Committee Chairman

Kirk Buchner, "The Committee Chairman", is the owner and operator of the site.  Kirk can be contacted at [email protected] .

Add comment

Three ways to comment:

1) Login with your social account:


2) Register an account with us:

Click here!
Benefits of Registering

1) Comment on articles without restriction!  No more captchas or spam-filters!


2) Have your say!  Make your voice heard by voting in the polls.


3) Discuss in the forum.  Join the conversation, or start your own.


4) Start a social group or fan club.  Join one that already exists.  Share photos, events, updates, private messages and more with people who have similar i
nterests.


5) Customize your profile to make it your personal space on the web.

3) Or post as a guest:


Security code
Refresh