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Biofile Denis Potvin Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: New York Islanders Hall of Fame defenseman from 1973-1988. Currently serves as a TV analyst for the Ottawa Senators.

DOB: Oct. 29, 1953 In: Ottawa Ont.

Ht: 6-feet Wt: 205 pounds

First Hockey Memory: “Backyard. My dad used to build a rink. And one of the reasons why I think things went the way they did was I had an older brother and he brought in a lot of his friends and I always played against bigger kids and the competition was there. Definitely the backyard. That’s the first time I ever really got the feel of skating and actually playing hockey.”

Hockey Inspirations: “I was a French kid growing up in East Ottawa and we used to watch the Montreal Canadiens. To me, it wasn’t collecting cards or watching my hero on the ice every night, it was just playing and I loved it. And right ‘til the day when I said, you know, I don’t love it as much as I did for 36 years of my life, it’s time to retire. I think the inspiration was playing.”

Last Book Read: “Actually I read Adelphi by Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian writer. I just like his style very much. It’s kind of warm, loving and it’s translated to English. But I’ve read all his books. He, of course, wrote The Alchemist.”

Greatest Sports Moment: “I really think, when you’re blessed as I’ve been throughout this game, there are many great moments. But winning the first Stanley Cup and really understanding what it’s like to win as a team. I think it took me, like most players, it takes time. You know, you’ll always win individual awards, but I think 1980 was extremely special. Bobby Nystrom’s goal and winning the first of four Cups. I can say that every Cup was fantastic, every one was different, but winning it the first time was pretty neat.”

Most Painful Moment: “Probably one day when I walked in the dressing room and my brother Jean got traded and we played like five years together with the Islanders and he was my roommate. My brother Jean and I have always been very close, up ‘til this moment. And that was a real low point. I thought, ‘Why?’ The game that gave me so much…it felt like it took something away then. And it actually did. Eventually my brother came back a couple of years later with Butch Goring, about that same time. And he was a member of two of the Stanley Cups. So it all worked out well.”

Most Memorable Goal: “That’s pretty easy. In 1980, again, it was the first game of the final. I scored the overtime goal to win the game in Philadelphia. And it switched the series around in that we now had home ice advantage because of the victory in Philly in Game 1. And I think that was probably as important a goal as I ever scored. And, yeah, that’s probably it.”

First Famous Player You Met Or Encountered: “Well, growing up in Ottawa, we didn’t have a professional team. I’m trying to think…I may have met Maurice Richard, The Rocket, when he came to Ottawa for an appearance at a bowling alley. I don’t know if I actually met him. I think that there was such a crowd and I was there and I got to see him. But I certainly didn’t get an autograph or anything like that. But I figure that’s as close as I came.”
Funniest Player Encountered:
 “I think in the dressing room what really kept us going…Butch Goring was very, very good. My brother was very good. Probably the guy that had the best one-liner would be J.P Parise. The dad of Zach Parise. He was fantastic in practice. He’d watch and you’d shoot the puck and miss the net. And a big bang on the boards. And I always remember J.P. coming over, in his voice, going (imitates Parise), ‘Denis, your shot sure SOUNDS good today.’ I’ll never forget that. That was great.”

Closest Hockey Friend(s): “Well, fortunately, I’ve got quite a few of them. We have a pretty good alumni. Bobby Nystrom and Clark Gillies. My brother, of course, has always been very close. Trotts and Boss. I mean, I can say that I – throughout the years of hockey – I stayed with one team and we had a core of guys that we really got along well. But overall, my closest friend in life’s been my wife Valerie.”

Fiercest Competitors Encountered: “You’re talking about the ‘70s, are you? I mean, there wasn’t anybody that gave up. And I think guys like Bobby Clarke, Phil Esposito were relentless. It didn’t matter, there was no intimidating people like that. And I think in the early goings, one that gave me the most scare probably was my year, my first scrum and the big guy Teddy Harris put his hand under my chin and I thought he lifted me right off the ice. I was sweating bullets right there, I could tell you that. So that was a pretty tough moment.”

Favorite Uniforms: “Oh, the New York Islanders of the ‘80s. The old uniform was fantastic. But I was a big fan of the Montreal Canadiens. It’s pretty hard to beat them.”

Favorite Sport Outside Hockey: “The Montreal Expos came to my house and they were gonna draft me. My dad, at the time, basically welcomed them in but pretty much told them, as an 18-year-old, I was on my way to the NHL. And I didn’t mind that. But all that to say I played baseball at a high level – loved it. Played football at the high school level – loved it. Played lacrosse, box lacrosse – loved it. So, to me, sports were just a question…I think I chose hockey because the season was the longest. Stupid me.”

Three Athletes You Like To Watch And Follow: “I’ve become more of a fan of golfers. I used to follow a guy like Lee Trevino. He was for me a great example of shaping your game, that kind of thing. (I’m) not necessarily the kind of guy that always roots for the underdog. I appreciate the guy who is consistently good for long periods of time. So when I see guys in the NHL who I’m big fans of, I think of guys like Phil and I think of guys like Gretz and Mess and Trotts, guys that have played 20 years in the game at a high level. That’s the hardest thing in the world. Becoming No. 1 is great. But as a lot of people know, it’s almost impossible to stay there for any length of time. So anybody that’s been able to do that for any length of time – the Jack Nicklaus’ of the world – I like very much.”

Strangest Game: “I have to give it some thought…we played in fog. We played when we had streakers going on the ice. That was pretty interesting. But other than that…I’ll give you my line: ‘I was always too focused on the game to notice anything else.’ “

Why Did You Love Playing Hockey: “Well, the game gave me so much, it wasn’t a question of me picking it, I think the game picked me. And just kept giving. And I can’t turn away from that. And I’m still here today, you know.”

Personality Qualities Most Admired: “Very easy for me. Because I’ve raised three wonderful kids and the most wonderful people in my life are my wife and three kids. And the one message I always felt is that good communication is good, but I’ve always said to them, I said, ‘Good manners is better than intellect.’ “

The Denis Potvin Biofile interview is part of my book 80s Hockey Biofiles, available at amazon books

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