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Backchecking: John Druce fights new battle after NHL career

John Druce had 113 goals and 239 points in 531 career NHL games. (Ian Tomlinson /Allsport)

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John Druce had 113 goals and 239 points in 531 career NHL games. (Ian Tomlinson /Allsport)

BY KEVIN GLEW

The affable ex-Capital, John Druce, whose unlikely 14-goal outburst in the 1990 post-season cemented him a place in hockey history, last attended a Caps game 11 years ago. His modest and unassuming character eschewed a red-carpet treatment and Druce sat anonymously amongst the fans.

His name is synonymous with playoff success, but, unfortunately, hockey is not on the top of Druce’s mind these days. A devoted father, Druce is enduring through difficult times as his 20-year-old daughter, Courtney, is battling leukemia.

“She was diagnosed in 2004,” Druce said. “She relapsed two years later. She had a bone marrow transplant and then she relapsed again last year. And she had another bone marrow transplant in October. She’s doing great right now.”

Druce’s love for his daughter has inspired him to raise money for pediatric cancer research.

“I’m on a cycling team with 12 police officers in Peterborough called the Pedal for Hope cycling team,” he explained. “We just started (April 20). We ride 1,000 kilometres on our bikes and we go to about 50 schools over a three-week period and we raise money for pediatric cancer research.”

This is the fifth year Druce has participated for the cause.

“We’ve raised over a half-million dollars over the last four years,” he said.

Prioritizing family and fundraising, Druce has had little time to reflect on his hockey career, but he still holds fond memories of his 1990 playoff run. A gritty, physical forward, the Peterborough native started the 1989-90 season in the American League, before being called up by the Capitals. In 45 NHL games that season, he notched eight goals.

But when Dino Ciccarelli was sidelined with a knee injury in the second round of the playoffs, Druce was promoted to the Caps’ first line. Working alongside Geoff Courtnall and Dale Hunter, Druce tallied an amazing nine goals in the five-game win over the New York Rangers.

“Terry Murray had a lot of confidence in me at that time,” Druce recalled. “When he put me up with Geoff Courtnall and Dale Hunter, I got a lot of power play time. I also got the opportunity to kill penalties regularly. The confidence blossomed from there. I’d just go to the net and every time I went to the net, it seemed like I was winning the battles in front and picking up the loose pucks and taking advantage of it.”

En route to scoring 14 goals in 15 playoff games, Druce became the story of the 1990 playoffs and was featured on several sports news outlets.

“When the reporters were coming around, it was pretty new,” he explained. “I was pretty excited. I was young, maybe a little naïve of how big it was. I just tried to stay calm and tried to be focussed.”

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His hockey career was, of course, much more than one storied post-season. Druce started playing hockey in a church league when he was seven and was drafted by his hometown Peterborough Petes.

“Growing up in a junior town like this and watching the Petes, the players were your heroes as a kid,” he said.

It was with the Petes that Druce would evolve into a solid, two-way forward. His play convinced the Capitals to select him in the second round (40th overall) of the 1985 draft. He spent more than two seasons in the minors before making his NHL debut.

While he’s best known for that famed playoff, he did manage a career high 22 goals and 58 points with the Caps in 1990-91 and added another 19-goal campaign in 1991-92.

Druce was dealt to the Winnipeg Jets prior to the 1992-93 season, where he would witness Teemu Selanne’s remarkable 76-goal rookie year. As memorable as that year was, when Druce signed on with the Los Angeles Kings for the 1993-94 season a truly awe-inspiring opportunity was presented to him.

“I think it was my first game with the Kings and we were playing against St. Louis and I was sitting beside Gretzky on the bench,” Druce said. “I just remember sitting there thinking to myself, ‘I’m on the same team as Wayne Gretzky.’ ”

Druce suited up with Philadelphia for his final two NHL seasons, before heading overseas to play in Germany from 1998-2000.

When he decided to hang up the blades, Druce became a junior hockey analyst on Rogers Sportsnet, however, when his daughter got sick, he wanted to be around home more. He now works as a financial advisor for Freedom 55 Financial in Peterborough.

For years, Druce begrudgingly accepted the fact that, despite a productive 10-year NHL career, people always associated him with that single post-season scoring run, but as time has passed, he has embraced his fame as a playoff hero.

“When I started broadcasting, Mike Toth was a partner of mine and we were talking about it,” Druce said. “And I’d tell him how I did a lot more than just that playoff, but he said, ‘That’s your calling card. That’s what people remember you for.’ So now, I’m pretty proud. It’s my calling card and when you think about it, it’s been nearly 20 years since that happened and every year in the playoffs, my name comes up.”

For information or to donate to Pedal for Hope, please visit: pedalforhope.com

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