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Backchecking: Darren Jensen

Darren Jensen played four years for the University of North Dakota in the early 1980s - and 30 games with the Philadelphia Flyers. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

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Darren Jensen played four years for the University of North Dakota in the early 1980s - and 30 games with the Philadelphia Flyers. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

BY GREG OLIVER

Darren Jensen was called up to the NHL under the worst of circumstances. The Flyers Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, Pelle Lindbergh, had died in a car crash Nov. 11, 1985, and Jensen was next on the depth chart.

Jensen was playing for the American League’s Hershey Bears and was in Sherbrooke for a game against the Canadiens. Bears coach John Paddock gave him the news and drove Jensen to the airport, where a private jet whisked him away for a game against the Oilers. Flyers GM Bobby Clarke and coach Mike Keenan were waiting. “I wanted to go on the ice in the morning, just to practise with the guys, get a feel of the NHL caliber before I went into the hornet’s nest,” Jensen says. “They said no, there was too much press, ‘You have to go back to the hotel.’ ”

Jensen and Bob Froese, Lindberg’s backup, made the best of a bad situation and actually came out as the William M. Jennings Trophy winners that season with a league-low 241 goals allowed. Jensen’s sense of humor helped him fit in immediately with the tight Flyers squad, which had lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup final the season before.

But Jensen didn’t find levity in everything. He was very self-conscious about his hair, which had betrayed him when he was 19. Froese remembers walking in on his teammate in a hotel room. “I open the door and here’s this guy who’s probably three inches shorter than what I’m used to seeing and looks really old,” Froese laughs. “He’s got his hairpiece in his hand and he’s brushing it.”

Standing up for his colleague, Froese protected Jensen from the traditional hazing ritual of shaving the rookie. For the rest of the year, the Flyers instead rubbed Jensen’s head for luck.

When the Philadelphia brought in Chico Resch late in the year, Jensen’s NHL run came to end. His career numbers: 15-9-1 with a 3.68 goals-against average, .884 save percentage and a pair of shutouts. The Creston, B.C., native concluded his career in the AHL and International League, but the love of the game was gone. “I just started to collect a paycheck,” Jensen says. “I’d lost my passion, and that’s when I knew it was the end.”

Jensen, who was drafted 92nd overall in 1980 by the Hartford Whalers, had plenty of success before reaching the NHL. He backstopped North Dakota to two NCAA championships (1980 and 1982) and excelled with the IHL’s Fort Wayne Komets in 1983-84. That season he led the league in GAA and was named a first-team all-star, rookie of the year and the league’s MVP.

There was one final NHL tease with Vancouver in 1987-88. “It was a really terrible situation because it was myself, Frank Caprice, Troy Gamble, Kirk McLean,” Jensen says. “Everybody had NHL experience. Politics played a part. They gave me a chance, I just didn’t jump on it…My confidence was just, for some reason, shattered.”

Still, Jensen helped the Canucks as a practice goalie for a little while and later taught young goaltenders at hockey schools.

Jensen’s connections in Philly with hair replacement led to the now-defunct nhlhair.com, where he helped the follicly challenged. “I didn’t have a lot of business experience, so I went up and then I went down,” chuckles Jensen, who has a marketing degree. “It was kind of sad. I just had to learn the hard way about life. I made a lot of money and I lost a lot of money.”

Today, the 52-year-old is living in British Columbia and lending his business experience to the website newcarselloff.com, which specializes in finding vehicles in Western Canada. “It’s quite unique,” he says. “I enjoy it.”

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