TORONTO (Apr. 15) — Dennis Maruk was known as “peewee” throughout much of his National Hockey League career. We can also call him “Mr. Defunct” given the teams he played for that no longer exist.
The native of Rexdale, Ont. — in Toronto’s west end — is now 60 and three of his four NHL teams are the subject of trivia. He began with the California Golden Seals in 1975–76 and played all 80 games during that club’s final season in Oakland. Maruk moved with the Seals to Richfield, Ohio for the 1976–77 season and dressed again for all 80 games with the inaugural Cleveland Barons, who performed amid loud echoes at the 20,444–seat Richfield Coliseum; rarely drawing more than 4,000 fans. After two years of financial calamity, the Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars — that franchise re–locating to Dallas in 1993.
So, yes, Maruk is a seminal part of hockey history.
He is also perhaps the most forgotten superstar of the 1980’s in the NHL.
In an era dominated by such players as Wayne Gretzky, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Peter Stastny, Denis Savard and, later, Mario Lemieux, Maruk more than held his own, erupting for 50 goals and 97 points with the 1980–81 Washington Capitals before enjoying his career–best season — 60 goals and 136 points — with the Capitals in 1981–82. Only Gretzky, Bossy (New York Islanders) and Stastny (Quebec Nordiques) finished ahead of Maruk in the NHL scoring race that year; Trottier (NYI), Savard (Chicago Blackhawks), Marcel Dionne (Los Angeles Kings), Bobby Smith and Dino Ciccarelli (Minnesota North Stars) placed behind Maruk.
Now living in Toronto, Maruk spoke to a group of hockey historians on Thursday night at St. Michael’s College School Arena in the Bathurst/St. Clair region of the city. He reminisced about his early days in Oakland and Cleveland while donning the pacific–blue–and–gold California Seals jersey (below) he wore in his rookie year and holding up the scarlet–and–black uniform the Barons wore for road games in their two NHL seasons. The jerseys were presented by Mississauga, Ont. historian Eugene Willis (“my interests are disparate: the California Seals and Rocket Richard”). No longer sporting the fu–manchu handlebar mustache that marked the early part of his career — “I shave it now because it comes in grey, like my hair” — Maruk is still active playing ice and road hockey all over the world, mostly for charitable causes.
From back issues of THE HOCKEY NEWS, I found the consecutive games in which Maruk recorded his first NHL point and goal. The former occurred on Oct. 23, 1975 (top–left) at the Olympia in Detroit during a 5–2 Seals victory over the Red Wings. Maruk and Mike Christie assisted on a goal by Al MacAdam at 16:26 of the third period. Two nights later — at Maple Leaf Gardens — occurred one of the greatest moments of Maruk’s hockey life… his first NHL goal, against the team he grew up worshiping. This time, Christie and MacAdam were the playmakers at 12:45 of the first period in a 2–2 tie with the Leafs. “It was against [goalie] Wayne Thomas — I just closed my eyes and shot,” Maruk recalled of the milestone tally. “But, to play at the Gardens in the NHL was a dream come true. I’ll never forget that night.”
Also from THE HOCKEY NEWS in Maruk’s rookie season:
ROAD JERSEY OF THE NHL’s CLEVELAND BARONS IN 1976–77 AND 1977–78.
DENNIS, SPEAKING TO THE GROUP AT ST. MIKE’S ON THURSDAY.
IN MEDIA GUIDES
MARUK’S FIRST NHL BIO IN THE LAST CALIFORNIA SEALS GUIDE.
DENNIS (21) ON THE COVER OF THE SECOND AND FINAL BARONS YEARBOOK.
HE MADE THE COVER OF THE CAPITALS 1982–83 GUIDE AFTER HIS 60–GOAL SEASON.
COVER OF THE FEB. 12, 1982 ISSUE OF THE HOCKEY NEWS.
DENNIS ADMITS HE STILL DOES A DOUBLE–TAKE WHEN LOOKING AT THE FINAL SCORING STATS OF THE 1981–82 SEASON AND NOTICING THE COMPANY HE KEPT THAT YEAR.
THE WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE SAN FRANCISCO SEALS WERE THE FORERUNNER TO THE NHL IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA. DENNIS HOLDS UP THE WHL JERSEY (BELOW) AND THE GREEN FIRST NHL UNIFORM OF THE OAKLAND SEALS IN 1967–68.
A terrific story–teller, Maruk is working on his autobiography with Sportsnet TV anchor Ken Reid. The book will be available for Christmas shopping next fall. When asked about his renowned fu–manchu, Dennis explained he grew the mustache in honor of former Major League pitcher Al Hrabosky. The “Mad Hungarian” — as Hrabosky was known — became famous in his days with St. Louis, Kansas City and Atlanta (1970–82) for talking himself into a frenzy behind the mound and slamming the ball into his glove before relief appearances. He had 97 career saves. “Hrabosky had the mustache so I grew the same one,” Dennis said, laughing. “I was quite hairy at a young age, so it just seemed to follow.”
Maruk appeared in 888 NHL regular–season games. He had 356 goals and 522 assists for 878 points.