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Backchecking: Memories abound for well-travelled Chris Kontos

Chris Kontos scored 54 goals and 123 points in 230 career NHL games. (THN Archives)

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Chris Kontos scored 54 goals and 123 points in 230 career NHL games. (THN Archives)

By Kevin Glew

With the baseball season at its midpoint, it seems fitting to catch up with one of hockey’s Cy Young Award winners.

Named after the legendary pitcher, this unofficial honor is bestowed upon a skater whose goal total far exceeds his number of assists. And thanks to his nine-goal, zero-assist playoff performance 20 years ago, Kings forward Chris Kontos was that post-season’s runaway recipient.

“I would’ve had an assist,” Kontos noted with a chuckle. “In one game, I passed the puck from the corner to John Tonelli in the slot. John had a great snapshot. He snapped it hard under the crossbar and the puck went in and out. But they didn’t have video replay back then. People say I had the Cy Young Award, but in my mind, I had at least one assist.”

But even without that helper, Kontos’ legacy as an unlikely playoff hero had been forged. The modest, but candid Toronto native potted eight goals – including six power play tallies – in the storied, seven-game series that pitted Wayne Gretzky against his former Oilers teammates for the first time in the post-season.

“Everyone was watching because Gretz was in Los Angeles,” Kontos reflected. “People talk about this year maybe being the breakthrough year for the NHL with Ovechkin and Crosby facing each other in a playoff series for the first time, but everyone was watching that series at that time.”

The Kings would oust the Oilers, only to be swept by the Calgary Flames in the second round.

Playing on the power play alongside The Great One had to be a dream come true for a small town Canadian boy. Though born in Toronto, Kontos was raised in a tiny cottage country town called Waubaushene and played his minor hockey in Coldwater, Ont.

In junior, he starred with the Sudbury Wolves, before being dealt to the Toronto Marlboros.

“I was a Leafs fan when I was growing up,” Kontos said. “So when I played for the Marlies I played in Maple Leaf Gardens and I got to see some Maple Leafs games. I loved watching Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald.”

Selected in the first round of the 1982 draft (15th overall) by the New York Rangers, Kontos would make his NHL debut on Boxing Day in 1982.

“I got the call on Christmas Day,” he recalled. “Craig Patrick called me and said, ‘We’re calling you up and you have to be in Pittsburgh tomorrow.’ So I flew to Pittsburgh and I played my first game there.”

Though he never returned to junior, Kontos had to battle to stay in the big league. After being shuttled between the minors and the NHL for the next four seasons, he was dealt to Pittsburgh for Ron Duguay on Jan. 21, 1987.

“In my second year in Pittsburgh, I would go out and take faceoffs for Dan Quinn and Mario Lemieux and Pierre Creamer (Pens coach) wouldn’t even let me go past center ice,” he said. “Those guys would come back on and continue the plays. I killed penalties and eventually I got sent down to Muskegon for not scoring. I just looked up in the air and shook my head.”

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On Feb. 5, 1988, Kontos was dealt to Los Angeles, where he would score 12 points in just six games with Kings. But despite averaging two points a game with the team, Kontos was not offered a contract after the season. He then opted to sign with a Swiss team, before returning to Los Angeles for seven regular season games and his memorable playoff run.

Kontos still couldn’t stick in the NHL after the run and instead bounced around the minors again for the next few seasons. He joined the Canadian National Team and planned on playing in the 1992 Olympics, but sustained a hip flexor injury that kept him out of the lineup.

However, Kontos was presented with another NHL opportunity with the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992.

“Terry Crisp, who was the coach of the Lightning, really liked me,” Kontos said. “He contacted me and said, ‘If you come and you work hard, I’m sure you’ll do well.’ I believed in myself and my abilities and had a great training camp.”

That stellar camp carried over to the first regular season game – Tampa’s inaugural NHL contest – where Kontos would tally four goals in a 7-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Kontos returned to the Canadian National Team and competed for his country at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, losing to Sweden in a shootout in the gold medal game.

“It was a fun run in the Olympics because we were ranked seventh or eighth,” he said. “Our team was all heart. We had a good nucleus of guys. Everybody bought into what we were trying to accomplish and a little bounce here or there and we would’ve had gold.”

Kontos toiled for two more seasons in the International League and then spent a season in Germany before retiring in 1998. After his playing career, he served as a sports anchor for a TV station in Barrie, Ont., for three years.

While he was working in TV, Kontos started a business that specializes in CD/DVD replication called Pros Marketing, which he ultimately put all his efforts into.

“My business had grown to the point where I needed to devote a lot more time to it, so this is what I do full-time now,” said Kontos, who now resides in Penetanguishene, Ont.

Much like his father, Kontos’ son, Kristoff, will start his junior career with the Sudbury Wolves. The 15-year-old was the Wolves’ second round pick in this year’s Ontario League draft.

With his dad’s mentoring, Kristoff will also have a chance to become a playoff hero and Cy Young Award winner in the future.

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