Saturday

Mark Napier

As an 18-year old Napier was rated as the top player in Canada born in 1957 by pro scouts. He had an impressive 223 points in 131 games during two seasons for his hometown team Toronto Marlboros in the OHA. In his last season with the Marlies, 1974-75, Napier led the team to the Memorial Cup as well as being named to the 1st All-Star team. He also led all scorers in goals (24) and points (48) in the playoffs.

Despite still having two years of junior eligibility remaining, he signed as an under-age junior with the WHA Toronto Toro's May 1975. Napier was an instant hit in the WHA, recording 93 points, and was the only rookie to finish among the league's top 50 scorers. He also was voted as the WHA rookie of the year. In his sophomore season Mark exploded for 60 goals, one of only 8 players to do so in WHA history.

Napier was a spectacular skater, blessed with tremendous speed and acceleration. He also had good balance, skating with his legs wide apart forming a low center of gravity. He maintained his fine speed until he was well past 30. Mark thrived on fast-breaks, transition offense and two-on-one situations.

He was drafted from the Birmingham Bulls (WHA) by Montreal Canadiens in the 1st round,10th overall of the 1977 entry draft. The Montreal fans loved his eye-pleasing end-to-end rushes and his streaky goal scoring exploits.

Often paired with fiery Doug Risebrough, Napier led Montreal in goals three consecutive season with 35 tallies in 1980-81 and 40 in back to back seasons in 1982 and 1983. On January 23rd, 1982 he set the team record for fastest two goals from the start of a game, scoring twice in the opening 38 seconds against Calgary.

Early into the 1983-84 season Napier Mark was traded to Minnesota together with fellow speedster Keith Acton a draft pick for strapping center Bobby Smith. After a short stint in Minnesota, Mark was traded to Edmonton for Gord Sherven and Terry Martin on January 24, 1985. The deal to Edmonton was a jackpot since it gave him two Stanley Cup rings. He also got to play with brother in law Pat Hughes.

His last stop in the NHL came when he was traded from Edmonton to Buffalo on March 6, 1987 with Lee Fogolin in exchange for Normand Lacombe, Wayne van Dorp and future considerations. Mark closed out his solid NHL career in 1988-89, totaling 767 games and 541 points (235 goals and 306 assists). In the WHA he had 254 points in 237 games.

Interestingly, Napier finished his career wearing jersey #65 back when such NASCAR numbers were not so common place. Since his favored #9 was already in use courtesy of Danny Gare, Napier chose 65 because of his involvement with the charitable Cystic Fibrosis Foundation where he was an honorary chairman. The terrible disease is often mispronounced by its youngest victims as Sixty Five Roses, leading to the annual fundraising and awareness campaign by the same tagline. Napier brought further attention to the cause by donning the jersey number.

Napier went on to play in Italy between 1989-93 where he continued to rely on his fine speed. He played for Bolzano, Varese and Milano becoming the Italian champ three out of the four years. Mark led the league in goals and points in both 1990 and 91, as well as assists in 1991. In 128 games Mark scored a whopping 376 points.

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Monday

Morris Titanic

Morris Titanic was drafted by Buffalo in the 1st round, 12th overall in 1973, two spots ahead of Rick Middleton.

It turned out to be the wrong choice, as Middleton went on to a long NHL career. But, hey, at the time Buffalo's GM Punch Imlach had a real streak going. His previous 1st round choices had been Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Jim Schoenfeld, three players who went on to play a total of 2823 NHL games, scoring 2454 points.

Morris only managed to play 19 games in the big league. He played 17 games for Buffalo in 1974-75 and 2 games in 1975-76, not scoring a single point. Because of Buffalo's fine drafting the previous seasons the pressure on the 20-year old winger was substantial.

Titanic had just completed a fine All-Star season for the Sudbury Wolves where he scored 121 points - including 61 goals - in 63 games. Before that Morris had played for the Niagara Falls Flyers.

Back in 1973 when Morris was picked in the 1st round it wasn't much of a big deal like today. At the draft day Morris was working at a gas station in Niagara Falls. His landlady came over to him and told him that he had been picked 12th overall by Buffalo. Later that day Punch Imlach called him and asked him how much money he wanted. Today the media scrutiny is enormous on the potential 1st round draft picks during draft day and player agents are swirling around their clients like sharks.

Morris' cool name Titanic is Ukrainian. His father emigrated to Toronto with his parents as a little child. Morris bad fortune was that he got a nagging back problem in his second professional season. After a back operation Morris almost had to quit hockey. A spinal fusion operation forced him to go through two years of rehabilitation.

When Morris came back at the start of the 1977-78 season he went on to play in the AHL and IHL. He scored a fine 70 points in 75 games for the Milvaukee Admirals in the IHL 1978-79. But early in the 1979-80 season he tore up his knee while playing for the Rochester Americans in the AHL and his playing days were over.

He had to quit at only 27-years old. He went on to coach at the Junior B levels before finally pursuing a career outside the hockey rink as a salesman in 1985.

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Tuesday

Daren Puppa

When Tom Barrasso shocked the hockey world with his incredible rookie season in 1984-85, the Sabres must have envisioned no goaltending problems for the next decade or more. Right out of high school Barrasso stepped in, pushed aside veterans Bob Sauve and Jacques Cloutier and was the best goalie in the game.

A very few seasons later, the same thing happened in Buffalo. Only this time, Barrasso was the goalie being pushed aside by another hotshot newcomer. That newcomer was Daren Puppa.

Puppa certainly didn't have the credentials Barrasso had when he finally burst onto the scene. A native of the hockey hotbed of Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Puppa earned a scholarship with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York State where he attended classes and backstopped the school's hockey team from 1983 to 1985. He left school early at the Sabres encouragement, but continued classes in the off-season and eventually earned an engineering degree from RPI.

The Sabres drafted Puppa 74th overall in 1983. He was a virtual unknown since he did not play junior hockey and had yet to attend RPI. Sabres GM Scotty Bowman had a conversation with former Montreal Canadiens star Ralph Backstrom, then the head coach of the University of Denver and also a cousin of Puppa's father. Bowman sent his scouting staff to go see Puppa play in Kirkland Lake, and selected him in 1983 as a virtual secret.

Though he would make an instant splash in his 1986 NHL debut, shutting out Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers 1-0, Puppa apprenticed in the minor leagues for 3 seasons, winning the AHL championship in 1987, as Barrasso continued to star. Puppa finally got the starting job in 1989-90. As a strong, stand-up goalie who reminded many of the great Ken Dryden, Puppa won 31 games and was runner-up to Patrick Roy in balloting for the Vezina Trophy. The Sabres traded Barrasso away to Pittsburgh, feeling that Puppa was the real deal.

But over the three seasons that followed, Puppa struggled to regain his form, thanks in part to chronic back problems. In 1993, he was shipped to the Leafs where he played eight games before being claimed by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Expansion Draft of 1993.

Puppa was able to re-establish his status as an elite goalie in Tampa, and game the young franchise instant credibility. By 1995-96 Puppa racked up 29 wins, 19 losses, and 9 ties, topped off by the Lightning's first trip to the playoffs in 1996.

The nagging back injury returned shortly thereafter. Puppa managed to hang in with the club over the four seasons that followed but was able to appear in a total of only 50 games. He then hung up his pads for good in 1999-2000.

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Sunday

Bob Boughner


His nickname was a play on his surname, but it was also very fitting. Bob Boughner, aka The Boogeyman, was a rough and tumble defenseman who was willing and able to take on all the league's toughest customers. He was very aggressive and loved to hit. He was a great teammate who would come to the aid of his friends in an instant.

And his teammates loved him for it.

"He's a total team player, he's a very tough guy and he'd always be happy to be the first guy in there to fight for anybody," said Jarome Iginla.

Boughner was by no means a goon. He 630 games in the NHL because he was a reliable depth defenseman and great teammate, first and foremost. He played a very conservative role as a depth defensive blue-liner. He could draw short-term assignments against the other teams top lines, but was more comfortable in the fifth or sixth role.

Boughner provided next to no offense (15 career goals) and was pretty much strictly a chip-it-off-the-glass type of defender. But with his physical exuberance he could set the tone of the game and for his teammates, knowing exactly when to inject needed energy into the game.

Not that anything ever came easy for the big right-handed rearguard. A second draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings back in 1989, Boughner spent five years in the minors before finally getting his shot.

Boughner had captained the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to the 1990-91 OHL championship in his final junior season but Detroit had too many veteran d-men in the early 1990s. Paul Coffey, Doug Crossman, Brad Marsh, Mark Howe and Brad McCrimmon blocked the way for any prospects.

The Wings actually let him walk after three years. He signed with the expansion Florida Panthers but still never got a shot.

Things changed when Ted Nolan, Boughner's coach in Sault Ste. Marie, became the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Nolan was sure to give his former captain a chance to make the team.

"He called me a few times and told me he was going to try and trade for me and it eventually happened (Feb. 1, 1996) ... That was my huge break. If it wasn't for Teddy, who knows? I could still be down there," said Boughner.

After his Buffalo breakthrough, Boughner was picked up by Nashville in the 1998 expansion draft before moving on to Pittsburgh, then Calgary, Carolina and finally Colorado. He never stayed anywhere too long to get comfortable. But his many teammates always appreciated him on and off the ice.

Boughner returned to junior hockey after hanging up his NHL skates in 2006. He purchased the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL and named himself president and CEO as well as head coach. He turned the Spitfires around remarkably, leading them to back to back Memorial Cup championships in 2009 and 2010, making him one of the top coaching prospects in the game.


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