Decked in blue plaid shorts and a blue golf shirt over a white long sleeved shirt, Chris Osgood spent his first Friday of retirement golfing in Ken Holland’s 12th annual Derby at Predator Ridge Golf Resort.
Ozzie looked relaxed as he whacked his opening drive about 280 yards playing in a foursome which included ex-NHLer and current Red Wing scout Jeff Finley. He wasn’t quite as stoked about his second tee shot and laughingly blamed his poor swing on his new-born son, Max.
Osgood, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with Detroit in 1997, 1998 and 2008, announced his retirement this week after 17 seasons. He played in 744 career games with the Red Wings, New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues.
The pride of Medicine Hat finished his career fourth all-time among NHL goalies with 15 postseason shutouts, eighth with 74 playoff wins and 10th all-time with 401 regular-season wins.
“It was in the plans for quite a while,” said Osgood, waiting between holes. “Two weeks after the season I was mulling over it, wrestling back and forth a little bit. But, in the end I talked to Kenny four or five times, and I think it was the right decision. I’m at peace with it and I feel good about the decision I made.”
A father of three, at 38, Osgood will stay with the Wings and work alongside goalie coach Jimmy Bedard while also scouting young net detectives.
Osgood, who played alongside Bryan McCabe and Rob Niedermayer with the WHL Medicine Hat Tigers, never had a goalie coach in junior, or for much of his NHL years.
“Kenny was my goalie coach, really, not on the ice, but mentoring me and telling me what I need to do and how to get there. He just gave me the tools I needed to try and make it. I never really had a goalie coach until ‘96, ‘97. I was self-taught, good or bad.”
He laughs thinking back to his minor hockey days in the Hat.
“I played defence and forward when I was eight, and started goalie when I was 12. My skating was horrible, just like my (golf) driving. They just put me in there, I was the best on the team at it so they kept me in there.”
He went in the 1991 Entry Draft and played his first game two years later.
“My first-ever game was in Toronto and that’s when Toronto won about 12 in a row and Doug Gilmour did that triple spin-o-rama behind the net and beat me to make it 4-0 and there was maybe six minutes left in the second and that was it for me. I came off and Scotty Bowman came over and said, ‘You know, there will be a lot more of those.’ Moments like that you remember.
“My first-ever win was in L.A. against Gretzky (Wayne) and that was another memorable game.”
He had popular veteran Kris Draper as his roomie for several years, but lists his favourite hotel mate as “Mike Vernon. He was a beauty, non-stop fun.”
Osgood said moving away and coming back to Detroit, and finally ending his career with the Wings, all worked out wonderfully.
And while now a scouting partner with former St. Louis teammate Finley, Osgood said he will pick Finley’s brain on how retirement works. He will also smile as he ponders the possibility of reaching the Hall of Fame.
“You think about it,” he told me. “Obviously, I’m not going to say I don’t wanna be there because I do. It would be a great honour and hopefully one day that will happen. People always ask me, ‘Do I think I deserve it?’ Yah, I think I do. I know how hard it was to get there, to the numbers I have and how hard it is to play. It’s never easy to play on a good or a bad team in the National Hockey League, as a goalie. So, hopefully, one day the voters will agree with that and vote with me.”
Fellow Vernon summer resident Chuck Kobasew, a free-agent signing of the Colorado Avalanche, believes Ozzie has the stats to suit the shrine. Osgood becomes eligible to enter in 2014.
“He’s had a great career,” said Kobasew, playing in a foursome with Vernon accountant Paul Westwell and car dealer Brian Johnston. “Who knows, maybe a Hall of Famer. Hopefully he is. He’s a winner. He’s played great years, always winning records so he’s put together a pretty impressive career. I have (scored on Osgood), but I got lucky.”
Holland, the Detroit GM who was a Red Wing scout when they plucked Osgood in the ‘91 amateur lottery, has always believed in Osgood.
“Obviously, he’s a tremendous story. Drafted in the third round, he was a little guy. I think his best qualities as a goalie were his short-term memory and his competitiveness. And he was a real competitor and if he had a bad game or a bad goal, he forgot about it in a hurry.”
Holland, who also played junior in Medicine Hat, saw signs of Osgood’s stronger attributes in the WHL.
“The concern was his size. That’s why he went in the third round. He’s 5-five-10 and he wasn’t big, but he’s mentally tough. He competes, and to win 400 games and two Stanley Cups in the net. He’s second to Terry Sawchuk in Red Wing history for regular-season wins, playoff wins, shutouts, a pretty impressive career for a little guy from Medicine Hat.”
As for the raging Hall of Fame debate, Holland is naturally in Ozzie’s corner.
“I think he’s a Hall of Famer. I think the league’s been around 90 years and anybody that’s in the top-10 in anything after 90 years, it’s pretty special. People can say he played on a good team, but there are other good teams besides the Red Wings. Why aren’t other guys winning 400 games? I think with Ozzie, it’s longevity. It’s battling adversity, competing. So, I think he’s a Hall of Famer, but certainly it’s difficult to get into the Hall.”
Holland figures Osgood will be a superb goalie coach.
“He learned a lot in ‘05 when he came back. He changed his style. He had to adjust. He had to learn to butterfly and get out of his net a little bit more to make some adjustments and play more like the goalies of today. He knows some of the technical things and I think he’ll pass on the ability to compete, and his short-term memory.”
Last season, Osgood became the 10th goaltender in NHL history to record 400 wins with an acrobatic 46-save performance in a 4-3 OT win over the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. He would play in what proved to be his final NHL game on Jan. 4, 2011, making 22 saves in a 5-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place.