If there is one save that defines Curtis Joseph more than any other, it came in overtime of Game 7 of the first-round playoff series between the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars in 1997. Everything about that save epitomizes not only Joseph, but his unlikely odyssey to becoming an NHL goaltender.
Dallas was a Stanley Cup contender, finishing second overall with 104 points. The Oilers, meanwhile, squeaked into the playoffs with a sub-.500 record. In what should have been a smackdown, the teams found themselves in the pivotal game almost exclusively because of Joseph’s goaltending.
Midway through overtime, Stars defenseman Darryl Sydor wheeled around the Oilers net on a wraparound attempt. It hit Joseph’s blocker and landed in the crease. The puck ended up on the stick of Joe Nieuwendyk – who would win the Conn Smythe Trophy and lead the Stars to the Cup two years later – with nothing but net in front of him. But Joseph dove and snared Nieuwendyk’s one-timer in his glove for a save that is one of the greatest of all-time. On the next faceoff, the Oilers went up ice and Todd Marchant scored to end the series.
That save personified Joseph in a number of ways. First, it highlighted his career hallmark of never giving up on a puck, the same way he stared down the longest of odds and never gave up his NHL dream. Secondly, he came out of nowhere, which was exactly what he did as a young man, making it to the NHL despite never being drafted into the OHL or the NHL. “I’m ecstatic about my career,” Joseph said. “It was an awesome ride. I thought it was great. I felt important.”
Joseph’s road to the NHL has been well-documented. Born with the last name Monro, he was adopted by Jeanne Joseph, who was his birth mother’s nurse in the hospital where he was born, and her husband. The Josephs named him Curtis after his birth father. Early in life, he struggled to find his identity and only changed his last name to Joseph when he was a young adult. “I’ve actually embraced my childhood,” Joseph said. “I used to be embarrassed about it, but I’ve embraced the craziness.”
After playing Jr. A in Ontario and having few options, Joseph made the move to the Notre Dame Hounds as an overager, where he got encouraging letters from David McNab, the assistant GM of the Anaheim Ducks who was then a scout. From there, Joseph secured an NCAA scholarship at Wisconsin and hit his stride, attracting attention from NHL teams as a free agent before settling on St. Louis in 1989 at age 22.
Joseph had some success with the Blues, helping them to six playoff berths in six seasons, before moving on to Edmonton where he was the backbone of some mediocre teams that made it further in the playoffs than they should have. It wasn’t until Joseph signed as a free agent with Toronto in 1999 that he truly achieved elite status, leading a middling and risky offensive team to the conference final in his first year. After four years in Toronto, there was a disappointing run in Detroit, then stops in Phoenix and Calgary before, fittingly, ending his career with the Leafs in 2009. Along the way, Joseph established himself as one of the league’s all-time great acrobatic goaltenders, one who, like Dominik Hasek, found a way to stop pucks that seemed destined for the back of the net.
Joseph is fifth all-time in NHL wins and third all-time in losses. Of the top seven in wins, Joseph is the only one eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in. He’s not anticipating a call from the Hall, but took a lot of pleasure in seeing Rogie Vachon get inducted 34 years after his career ended. “He got in when he was 70,” Joseph said. “I was like, ‘I hope he was living every day like he was a Hall of Famer.’ ”
Born: April 29, 1967, Keswick, Ont.
NHL Career: 1990-2009
Teams: StL, Edm, Tor, Det, Phx, Cgy
Stats: 454-352-96, 2.79 GAA, .906 SP, 51 SO
DID YOU KNOW?
As good as Joseph was during his career, he was never chosen as a first- or second-team all-star and never won a major NHL award. He was second to Dominik Hasek in Vezina Trophy voting in 1998-99 and twice finished a distant third, in 1992-93 with St. Louis and 1999-2000 with Toronto. He was fourth in all-star voting twice and fourth in Hart Trophy balloting in ’98-99. He won the King Clancy Award in 1999-2000.