Backchecking: Ron Tugnutt
Ron Tugnutt finished his career with a 186-239-62 record, a 3.05 GAA and .895 SP. (Brian Babineau /Allsport)
Backchecking: Ron Tugnutt
By Michael Amato
Ron Tugnutt may be best remembered for a single game, but the tenacious goaltender parlayed an NHL career that spanned 16 season into broadcasting and a flourishing coaching career.
Tugnutt began playing hockey at five, in his hometown of Scarborough, Ont. By the time he was seven, he had become a goalie full time.
“They told me the only way I could stay on the ice for the whole game is if I was the goalie,” Tugnutt said. “I said, well, then I’ll be the goalie.”
He worked his way through the youth hockey ranks in Toronto, eventually joining the Ontario League’s Peterborough Petes in 1984. After two seasons with the Petes, Tugnutt was selected by the Quebec Nordiques in the fourth round of the 1986 draft.
For the next five seasons, Tugnutt split time with the Nordiques and their American League affiliates. On March 21, 1991, in a game against the Boston Bruins, he set an NHL record for saves in a non-losing effort. Tugnutt made 70 saves in a 3-3 tie, earning the Nordiques a point when they were outshot 73-26.
“I remember looking up at the scoreboard at one point and it said 65 shots,” Tugnutt said. “Wow, I wonder if that’s some sort of record. Funny thing was, Reggie Lemelin made four great saves (for Boston) in overtime to keep it going, which kept my shot total going up. We had some really good chances and we could have won.”
After two seasons in Edmonton and a short stint with Anaheim, Tugnutt was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens where he became Patrick Roy’s backup.
During the first round of the 1994 playoffs against Boston, Roy had an appendectomy and Tugnutt was thrust into the starting role for Game 3. It was then where he got his first taste of the Montreal spotlight.
“I found out what the media was all about,” Tugnutt said. “I couldn’t open my house door without two or three cameras waiting for me to walk out.”
Roy returned for Game 4, after the team fell in Game 3, and the Canadiens ultimately lost the series in seven games. After another season in Montreal, Tugnutt headed to Washington for 1995-96, but spent the entire year with the Portland Pirates, the Capitals AHL affiliate.
His strong play in Portland landed him a contract with Ottawa the following season, where he enjoyed the most successful period of his career. Over the next four seasons with the Senators, Tugnutt averaged 41 starts and in 1998-99 posted a career-best .925 save percentage and 1.79 goals-against average.
In somewhat of a surprising move, Tugnutt was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2000 trade deadline. In the playoffs that year, Tugnutt again made 70 saves in an epic quintuple overtime battle with the Flyers where Keith Primeau scored the winner for Philadelphia.
“It was a tough game in general,” Tugnutt said. “I lost like 12 pounds and that really wore on me throughout the series.”
After stops in Columbus and Dallas, he called it a career in 2004 having spent time with eight NHL organizations.
Following his playing days, Tugnutt went directly into the broadcast booth as a color commentator for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.
“I have a renewed respect for play-by-play and color analysts,” Tugnutt said. “It was a really difficult job.”
Looking to spend more time with his family, as well as wanting to watch his son play hockey, Tugnutt gave up broadcasting after one season.
Tugnutt now lives in Peterborough where he is an assistant coach for his former Ontario League team.
“Being an ex-Peterborough Pete it was an honor to have the opportunity to do this,” Tugnutt said.
He has also served as the goalie coach for Canada’s national junior team the past two seasons.