Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Denis Herron

Did you know that Denis Herron was the first goaltender in NHL history to make team's roster out of training camp right after he was drafted? I know I certainly did not know that. That's pretty amazing for any goalie in any era, the list of goalies who have done that must be pretty small.

The Pittsburgh Penguins made the Chambly, Quebec born Herron a 3rd round pick, 40th overall, back in the summer of 1972. Only Bunny Laraque (6th) was drafted higher, with Mike Veisor, Gilles Gratton and Richard Brodeur also as goalies of note from that draft.

By October of '72 Herron was the starting goalie for the Penguins. Veteran Jim Rutherford temporarily had to make room for the hotshot who had an amazing training camp. Herron won his first two road starts of the season with shutouts against the New York Islanders and Vancouver Canucks.

Herron played in 18 games that season, posting a 6-7-2 record with 2 shutouts and a 3.41 GAA. Rutherford wrestled away the starting job, and the Pens sent Herron down to the farm team to finish the year. The maskless Andy Brown came in later in the season.

Despite the great start, Herron looked as though he would never fulfill his promise in Pittsburgh. He spent the next two seasons in the minor leagues, appearing in the NHL for only 8 games. By January of 1975 he was traded to the Kansas City Scouts for another goalie, Michel Plasse.

Herron headed to KC and got the ice time he needed to develop, albeit behind one of the worst NHL teams of all time. Herron played in 86 games over the next season and a half, sporting an unenviable record of 15-52-15 with a GAA near 4.00. Despite the less than flattering statistics, Herron won over some praise for his valiant efforts. Yet his reputation for a wandering level of concentration was beginning to spread.

Watching closely was his old team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Realizing they may have been too impatient in dealing the young goalie away, the Pens reacquired Herron by signing him as a free agent in August 1976.

Despite a broken arm interrupting his season, Herron had a terrific 1976-77 season. He went 15-11-5 record with a 2.94 GAA, leading the Penguins into the NHL post-season.

Herron played two more full seasons in Pittsburgh, recording back to back 20 win seasons, returning the Pens to the playoffs each season.

For his at-times spectacular play, Herron was never blessed with the opportunity to play for a team that was not labelled as mediocre at best. That changed in 1979-80 when he had the amazing chance to go to Montreal in a trade for utility forward Pat Hughes.

Montreal was looking to shore up it's goaltending situation with the early retirement of superstar goalie Ken Dryden. Everyone knows that playing goal in Montreal is one of the most pressure filled situations in all of hockey. Try doing it as a) a Quebecois goalie and b) as Ken Dryden's replacement.

That was the situation facing Herron and Richard Sevigny, the two goalies brought in to do the job. By Montreal standards they put up adequate efforts, sharing the Vezina trophy in 1980-81 (also with Bunny Laraque), back when the trophy still went to the goaltender(s) of the team that allowed the fewest goals. The trophy was rechristened the next year for the goalie determined to be the best in the league, with the William Jennings trophy created for the fewest goals. Herron and Rick Wamsley topped that list in 1981-82.

Despite the strong defensive record, fans, media and management in Montreal expected more. None of the above four mentioned goalies could emerge as the Habs top goalie, with neither bringing any playoff success to their resumes.

Still playing in Montreal was a nice reprieve for Herron. His first year he went 25-3-3, and over three years he was 43-18-17. And he did not have to face Guy Lafleur. In three of Lafleur's 6 seasons where he scored 50 goals he notched the magical 50 goal mark against Herron.

Herron's legacy be the failed 1980 playoff series against Minnesota. The North Stars upset Montreal in seven games that year, ending Montreal's four consecutive years reign as Stanley Cup champions.

Prior to the start of the 1982-83 season Montreal traded Herron to, surprise, surprise, the Pittsburgh Penguins, gaining a 3rd round draft pick in 1985 in return. Herron would play three more seasons in the NHL, sharing the Penguins nets with the likes of Michel Dion and Roberto Romano.

Herron retired after the disastrous 1985-86 season. That year he was set back by a hand injury and played almost exclusively in the minor leagues trying to get his game back though it was clear his best days were behind him.

In 462 NHL games Denis Herron faced a lot of rubber. He posted a career record 146-203-76 with 10 shutouts and a high GAA of 3.70. He only got into 15 NHL playoff games, going 5-10 with a more respectable 3.33 GAA.

But do not judge Denis Herron by his statistics. They made be bad, but the teams he played on were usually worse.

After retiring Herron became involved in hotel management in Florida and the Caribbean.


Vix said...

I remember Dennis Herron from World Championship in Prague 1978. Very good goalie, he was in tandem with Dan Bouchard.

RogueUlfric said...

I have been a Pittsburgh Penguins fan since the team joined the NHL in the 1967-68 season. In those 50 years, Denis Herron has always been and continues to be my favorite Penguins netminder. A class act who gave his best on many teams that were far below his personal talent level.

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate enough today to gold with Dennis in McMuray Pa. Class act all the way.....great guy.

kmt666 said...

Vix, I was six years old when Prague 1978 took place. I'm from Finland. Dennis Heron played amazingly in that tournament. I was a junior goalie and this guy was my hero because of his performance in Prague.

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