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Backchecking: Herron's Habs days a 'dream come true'

Denis Herron played 462 NHL games with the Penguins, Canadiens and Scouts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Denis Herron played 462 NHL games with the Penguins, Canadiens and Scouts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

BY KEVIN GLEW

Denis Herron consumed his share of room service meals during his 14 seasons in the NHL, but little did he know his hotel experiences would help him launch a successful second career.

In his current post as director of leisure sales for the Radisson hotels in Aruba and St. Martin, the former netminder visits far more exotic locales than he did in his playing days.

“I spent a lot of my life in hotels, travelling from one hotel to the next, playing hockey,” he said. “It’s not suitable for everybody…My (current) job is to negotiate contracts with our tour operators from all over the world.”

Aruba and St. Martin are a long way from Chambly, Que., the small town southeast of Montreal where Herron grew up and donned his first pair of goalie pads at age four.

“They were as thin as a newspaper,” he recalled.

But Herron didn’t have to wait long for his father, a tireless factory worker who doubled as his hockey coach, to buy him a new pair. Fuelled by watching Jacques Plante and the  Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada, Herron aspired to be a pro goalie at a young age.

“I remember at the age of six years old and seven years old, I played with kids that were 12 or 13 years old,” he recalled. “When you play with kids bigger than you, you learn pretty fast.”

The Quebec Major Junior League’s Trois-Rivieres Draveurs soon recognized his talents and signed him in 1969. At that time, Trois-Rivieres was an unofficial farm club of the Toronto Maple Leafs, explained Herron.

“I remember when I played there, Johnny Bower used to come down and teach us how to play,” he said.

The Leafs planned to select Herron in the fifth round of the 1972 NHL draft, but they were beaten to the punch by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who nabbed him in the third round (40th overall).

He cracked the Pens’ roster that same year, but after playing only sparingly, Herron was shipped to their AHL affiliate in Hershey. He was shuttled back and forth between the Penguins and the minors for parts of two more seasons, before being dealt to the expansion Kansas City Scouts in January 1975.

“There were a lot of shots,” he recalled of his tenure with the woeful Scouts.

Backstopping 64 games in 1975-76, Herron says it was in Kansas City he learned to be a regular NHL goaltender.

After that season, he signed with the Penguins again and served as their first-string goalie for three seasons. In August 1979, he was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens, the team he grew up watching.

“It was a dream come true,” he recalled. “But the expectations for me were above anything I’d ever experienced.”

In his first season with the Habs, he teamed with Bunny Larocque, a tandem expected to replace Ken Dryden. Herron performed admirably, registering a team-best 25 wins and 2.51 goals-against average. His third season in Montreal was his best. That year, he topped the league with three shutouts and a 2.64 GAA.

In September 1982, he was traded back to Pittsburgh, where he suited up for parts of four more seasons before hanging up his pads.

In his post-NHL life, Herron worked at a Honda dealership in Granby, Que. for eight months before entering the hotel business.

He continues to live with his wife, Debbie, in West Palm Beach, Fla. His two daughters, Elissa and Amanda, are both married and also live in the Sunshine State.

Aside from participating in the odd charity function, Herron has little to do with hockey anymore. But fans still recognize him, particularly when he travels to Canada for business.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “I still receive probably 10 to 15 letters a month asking me to autograph bubble gum cards.”

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