By Kevin Glew
Throughout his hockey career, Joe Contini was repeatedly told he wasn’t fast enough, but the pesky center continually proved his detractors wrong.
He was speedy enough to pot the fastest three goals in Memorial Cup history and to earn a spot on the silver medal-winning Canadian squad at the 1977 World Junior Hockey Championship.
“I wasn’t the quickest guy and they always said I’d never play junior and I’d never play pro because I wasn’t fast enough, but I scored every place I went,” said Contini.
Now operating Royal Cleaners, a dry cleaning and postal outlet in Guelph, Ont., Contini continues to prove his quickness every day. His new profession demands speedy service.
Looking back, the self-deprecating, 51-year-old feels blessed to have played 68 NHL games and to have briefly shared the ice with Bobby Orr, his boyhood hero.
Born in Galt, Ont., Contini first laced up the blades at age seven. He would blossom under the tutelage of Guelph coaching legend, Alex Campanaro and would later join the Ontario Hockey League’s Hamilton Fincups. Suiting up alongside Ric Seiling and Dale McCourt and registering 90 points as a rookie in 1974-75.
His 80-point sophomore season helped the Fincups win the Memorial Cup in 1976. During the tournament he would notch three goals in 72 seconds in the first period of a game against New Westminster, a record that still stands.
“One goal was a one-timer, one was a tip-in and the next one was a rebound,” recalled Contini.
The following season, the high-scoring forward was part of a strong Canadian squad at the World Junior Hockey Championship that also included Al Jensen, Al Secord, Dale McCourt, Ron Duguay, Brad Marsh, John Anderson and Rob Ramage. Contini scored 10 points in the seven-game tournament, but his team would fall to the Russians in the gold medal game.
“The older you get, the more you appreciate playing for your country,” Contini said. “It was a big honor to play for that team.”
Contini’s offensive prowess convinced the Colorado Rockies to select him in the eighth round of the 1977 NHL draft.
After spending the early part of the 1977-78 season with the International League’s Flint Generals and Central League’s Phoenix Roadrunners, Contini was recalled by the Rockies. His impact was immediate; he scored two goals against Buffalo in his second NHL game.
“I hit the post in the last period and just missed getting a hat trick,” he said.
Contini would register 12 goals and 21 points in 37 games with the Rockies in his rookie season, adding 17 points in 30 games the following campaign. During his tenure with the Rockies, he earned the nickname the Italian Stallion.
“In Colorado, they used to have a little fan club. I don’t think the fan club was very big, it might have been one or two people, but they used to have a sign up at the arena. There must have been somebody from Italy who got lost and ended up in Colorado,” Contini joked.
After two seasons in Colorado, Contini would sign with the Minnesota North Stars and spend most of the next season with their minor league affiliate in Oklahoma City. He would play just one NHL game for Minnesota.
After another season in the minors in 1981-82, Contini decided to retire and return to Ontario where, at the tender age of 26, he was named head coach of the OHL’s Guelph Platers. He held that post for close to two seasons, helping to hone the skills of Kirk Muller and Steve Chiasson.
The only coaching Contini does these days is for his three daughters’ teams.
“I’m on the ice four or five times a week,” he said.
Few minor hockey teams boast an ex-pro as their coach, but Contini is modest about his NHL career.
“The NHL is the best league in the world,” he said. “I always look at it like I was a good player, but I wasn’t that good in the best league in the world.”
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