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Backchecking: Dennis Maruk

Dennis Maruk played in the NHL from 1975-1989, scoring 356 goals and 878 points in 888 games. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Dennis Maruk played in the NHL from 1975-1989, scoring 356 goals and 878 points in 888 games. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Dave Salter

Al MacAdam called him the most selfish player he ever played with. Others say he was another Marcel Dionne. His nickname was ‘Pee-Wee’ and he is the most unheralded of the 19 players in NHL history to have scored 60 goals in a single season.

Measuring only 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Dennis Maruk broke into the league in 1975, during the heyday of goon hockey. The highly skilled center compensated for his size with gritty play, a cocky attitude and a mean-looking Fu Manchu mustache.

Maruk’s first teams, the California Golden Seals and Cleveland Barons, were laughingstocks, so he focused on his own performance, hoping other teams would notice his scoring exploits in hockey’s wastelands. However, Maruk disagrees that he was more interested in personal than team success.

“I don’t think I was a selfish player,” said Maruk, now a minor hockey instructor in Toronto. “I think as an athlete you have to have your own personal pride. That’s what I did and I think people took it a little differently. I don’t think (my personal success) worked against the team. I knew if things weren’t going to turn around with the team, if I continued playing well and played hard, someone would want me and I could go somewhere else.”

After three seasons with the Seals-Barons franchise, the Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978 and it looked like Maruk would finally play with a contending team.

However, he was quickly informed by North Stars GM Lou Nanne that with centers Bobby Smith and Tim Young already in the fold, Maruk would be dealt. After failing to pull the trigger on a deal during the off-season, Minnesota dressed Maruk for two games in October 1978 before peddling him to the hapless Washington Capitals for a first round draft choice.

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Maruk blossomed into one of the league’s elite scorers with the Capitals. In 1980-81 he scored 50 goals and 97 points on a Washington team that managed only 70 points and finished out of the playoffs. The following season - centering a line with gritty left winger Ryan Walter and one-year-wonder Chris Valentine - Maruk compiled a remarkable 60 goals and 136 points, good enough for fourth place in the NHL scoring race.

“Ryan Walter was a real strong, up-and-down winger, good with the puck, very physical,” said Maruk when describing his linemates. “Chris had good hands, was not a fast skater, but real good with the puck. We just worked together well.”

Despite breaking Capitals individual scoring records, Maruk was switched to left wing in 1982-83 to make room for sophomore hotshot Bobby Carpenter. Maruk was left to toil on a line with grinders Doug Jarvis and Ken Houston, but managed a respectable 81 points. In the summer of 1983, he was dealt back to the North Stars for just a second round draft pick. Despite the snub, Maruk holds no hard feelings.

“I didn’t hate Washington for (trading me),” said Maruk, who returned to Canada two years ago from Aspen, Colo. “I just looked at it as part of the job of playing in the National Hockey League. Lou Nanne joked that he just lent me to the Capitals for five years.”

Maruk made just his second playoff appearance with the North Stars in 1984. Four years later he shattered his kneecap blocking a slap shot by Buffalo Sabres defenseman Grant Ledyard, which put an end to his NHL career.

Maruk played in two NHL All-Star Games and holds the Capitals single-season point-scoring record, but said his career highlight is a simple one: “Just making it to the National Hockey League.”

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