GIMLI — Thirty-five years after his National Hockey League days with the Montreal Canadiens ended, Steve Shutt is still proud of his storied career.
Shutt, 66, played 13 NHL seasons, 12 of which were played entirely with Montreal after it selected him fourth overall in the 1972 draft, during which the Ontario-raised winger recorded 817 points (424 goals, 393 assists) in 930 games, adding 410 penalty minutes.
His best season came in 1976-77 when he racked up career highs in goals (60) and points (105) alongside his fellow Hockey Hall of Fame linemates Guy Lafleur and Jacques Lemaire.
“Everything went right,” Shutt told The Interlake Spectator. “If I was in front of the net, somehow the puck would bounce and it would be right on my stick, right in front of the net with an empty net there”
But even though Shutt, who now lives in Sarasota, Fla., had a sparkling NHL career that included five Stanley Cup victories (1979, 1978, 1977, 1976 and 1973) and was capped with a HOF induction in 1993, he loves joining the Canadiens’ alumni tour.
“It’s a lot of fun going on these tours. We were in Crystal City (on Feb. 21), very, very small town,” Shutt said. “It’s pretty interesting going into these towns because you don’t realize how much of an impact you have on people’s lives when you are playing. When you go to some of these towns, people come up to you and they remember a certain play from a certain game 35 years ago, and somehow, some way it affected their lives.
“You really don’t realize how much of an impact you are having on people when you’re playing in the NHL. While you’re playing things are happening so quick, you’re on a day-to-day schedule because you are jumping from one place to another all the time and you just don’t realize the impact you have on people.”
Shutt served as Montreal’s coach during the alumni tour stop against the Gimli alumni squad at the Gimli Recreation Centre on Feb. 22. Even though he didn’t play in the game, it reminded him of being a kid, something many of the Habs alumni players, including former Vezine Trophy-winning netminder Richard Sevigny and Montreal’s first Russian-born player, defenceman Oleg Petrov.
“There’s a lot of kid in us,” Shutt said. “When you’re playing in the NHL there’s a lot of pressure that builds up and when you come back to playing the games that we are playing right now. It’s almost like being a kid again, that’s how you were when we were kids.”
Even though the local alumni lost to the Habs alumni in front of a packed house, current Gimli Wolves peewee head coach Paul Johnson was all smiles.
The 41-year-old defenceman from Winnipeg played in the Western Hockey League with the Moose Jaw Warriors before moving onto the university ranks with the Regina Cougars. Before and after his time in the Queen City, Johnson played a handful of professional seasons, mostly in the Central Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Blazers and Wichita Thunder.
“Even (on game day), I was a little bit nervous and went back to my old routine of eating pasta,” Johnson said an hour before the game started. “I didn’t get my nap in because I had to work, but it gets the blood going because you are thinking about it and I’m nervous. I’m not nervous about playing them, I’m more nervous about maybe embarrassing myself. I haven’t played a game in about 10 years.”
He thought the event was a great way for fans young and old to be able to catch a handful of former NHLers.
“I think it’s great for the old and the young. The older peeped they get to see some of the players that they grew up watching and get to see the calibre of some of these guys, some of which haven’t been out of the show for very long,” Johnson added. “For the young guys, I guess it shows them the speed of the game. They’ll get to see some of the guys that lived their dream and maybe it will entice them to dig in and work a little harder and get somewhere, too.”