Thursday

Dennis Kearns

A classic late bloomer, Dennis Kearns never played junior A hockey let alone be drafted by any NHL team. Yet somehow against these great odds, he established himself as a good puck moving defenseman in nearly 700 NHL games and in two world championships.

After playing in the old professional Western Hockey League with the Portland Buckaroos, his old coach Hal Laycoe, now with the Vancouver Canucks, offered him a tryout. At the age of 26 he stuck with the team for 677 games.

The fans were slow to warm to him however.

"(Kearns) was brought in by Hal Laycoe, not a particularly popular coach, during the franchise's second season. Making things worse, Laycoe made room for Kearns by sitting out - and ultimately trading away - Pat Quinn, one of the team's most beloved players," wrote Jeff Rud in his incredible book Canucks Legends: Vancouver's Hockey Heroes.

"Kearns was Laycoe's man. Quinn was a big, prominent, tough, popular guy, a great guy in the community," added long time Canucks play by play man Jim Robson. "It didn't go over well.

A playmaker at heart, he was criticized for his soft play defensively and his lack of goal scoring. But slowly but surely he emerged as a solid NHLer, especially manning the point on a power play.

"Kearns was never fully appreciated as a player in Vancouver. He played 10 years with the Canucks, was one of the best passers they ever had and was great at moving the puck. He was a smart defenseman," continued Robson.

During his career he scored just 31 goals but 290 assists for 321 points. His best campaign came in 1976-77 when he scored 5 goals and 55 assists to set a team record for defensemen with 60 points (since bettered). At the end of the season he was asked to represent Canada at the World Hockey Championships for the first of two straight years.

The Canucks had little success before he retired in 1981 after clashing with new coach Harry Neale. The following year the Canucks advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.

Kearns continues to live in Vancouver, running his own insurance company and participating in many Canucks Alumni ventures.

2 comments:

Keke Mortson Jr.,  5:47 PM  

Whenever I think of the legendary Dennis Kearns, I can't help but recall the playoff game in 1975 at the Montreal Forum.

Kearns tapped a centering pass from the right corner INTO HIS OWN NET (in overtime, no less!) past goalie Gary Smith to win the series 4 games to 1 for the Canadiens.

The gloom of that day has never fully evaporated.

Glenn Hankins,  2:19 AM  

IN 1977 I WAS 13 YEARS OLD AND I RECEIVED A CANUCK JERSEY FOR CHRISTMAS. I IMMEDIATELY ASKED MY MOM TO STITCH THE NAME KEARNS ON THE BACK. DENNIS HAD 55 ASSISTS THAT YEAR, AND REPRESENTED HIS COUNTRY AT THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS. NO DEFENCEMAN IN CANUCK HISTORY HAS MORE POINTS THAN DENNIS KEARNS. IN HIS OWN END I RECALL HE WOULD THROW HIS BODY IN FRONT OF OPPOSING SLAPSHOTS EVERY NIGHT. HE QUARTERBACKED THE POWERPLAY AND PERFECTED WHAT I CALL THE SLAP-PASS, WHERE HE WOULD WIND UP TO DRILL A POINT SHOT AND DIRECT THE PUCK ON TO A TEAMMATE'S STICK AT THE EDGE OF THE CREASE FOR A GOAL. HIS INTELLIGENCE AND PASSING SKILLS WERE SECOND TO NONE, AND IF IT WASN'T FOR HARRY NEALE, KEARNSY WOULD HAVE PLAYED LONGER WITH THE CANUCKS AND ADDED TO HIS CARREER POINT TOTAL, WHICH WILL NEVER BE BEATEN BY ANY CANUCK DEFENCEMAN.

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