You could say that Dino Ciccarelli’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame is better late than never. To Dino Ciccarelli, the word “late” has a very critical meaning. His induction is well overdue, and had it been on time, both his parents would have likely been around to share this special moment with him. His father Vic passed away in 2006, and his mother Celeste this past February.
Dino never won a Stanley Cup and he never got to live his dream of drinking from it with his father. Now that he’s been awarded with hockey’s highest honor, he’s sure to have both his parents at the very front of his mind.
Born in Sarnia Ontario on February 8, 1960, Ciccarelli didn’t begin playing hockey until the age of eight. Though small in stature, he began his junior career with the London Knights at the age of 16. He had a tremendous rookie season, scoring 39 goals and 82 points in 66 games. The following year saw him reach to new heights as he would fire 72 goals and add 70 assists for 142 points in 68 games. His third season in junior would be the turning point in his career.
He crashed into the goalpost and broke his femur. He needed a two foot steel rod surgically inserted, along with 100-plus stitches. He was told that he would never play hockey again and even walking may be difficult. Boy did he prove them wrong.
Ciccarelli would go from a projected first rounder to not even being drafted at all. He was always “too small” to play the game, and now with his devastating leg injury, nobody was willing to take a chance on him. Until Minnesota North Stars GM Lou Nanne came calling.
In 1978, Nanne went to watch then Ottawa 67 star and future North Star Bobby Smith, aswell as Ciccarelli’s London teammate Brad Marsh, the two top rated prospects in Canada. Ciccarelli was under-aged and not eligible for the draft, but he managed to leave an impression on Nanne. Two years would go by, and two NHL Drafts. Nanne was sitting up in his office at the Met Center and he noticed that nobody had taken Ciccarelli. A North Star scout had informed him it was due to his injury. So Nanne would take action. He contacted a former Canadian Olympic team Doctor he knew and called Ciccarelli to arrange for the two to meet for an examination. The Doctor told Nanne the steel rod can be removed in a year or two and he should be okay.
Nanne would meet with the Ciccarelli family and he learned that Scotty Bowman had also shown interest. Vic Ciccarelli told Nanne that they would like to wait to hear back from Bowman before they decided anything. But after Nanne brought up the fact that they were both Italian and from Ontario, the Ciccarellis agreed and Dino signed a 2-way contract.
He would make the most of his oppurtunity in Oklahoma City and the North Stars decided he belonged in the NHL. He played 32 games in his first season, scoring 18 goals and 30 points. But it was in the playoffs that spring of 1981 that he would leave his biggest mark. In an amazing run to the Stanley Cup Final where they would lose in five to the New York Islanders, he set a rookie record for goals in a playoff year with 14 in just 19 games.
His first full season with in Minnesota, he scored 55 goals and racked up 106 points in 76 games. His scoring abilities and his tenacious, scrappy play made him an instant fan favourite and he became a huge draw for the North Stars. More often than not, you would see his name on the scoresheet in both the goal and penalty columns. He could score from anywhere, though his office was right out infront of the net where he would endure punishment by defensemen who would tower over him and outweigh him by 30 or 40 pounds. But that wouldn’t stop Dino from doing his job, and he did it well. He would go on to play 602 games with the North Stars over 9 seasons, scoring 332 goals and 651 points.
It was his tenacious, scrappy style of play that would land him in hot water in 1988. During a game in Toronto, he would retaliate to a shot he received from Luke Richardson just after the whistle. He took one swing at Richardson’s head with his stick, then proceeded to take a couple more before a scrum ensued and Ciccarelli would end up throwing several punches at the Leafs defenseman in the midst of the mayhem. He would be ejected from the game and on top of that he received a $1000 fine, a ten game suspension, and an assault charge. He was ordered to spend one day in a Toronto jail.
Late in the 1988-89 season, he was traded to the Washington Capitals along with defenseman Bob Rouse for Mike Gartner and Larry Murphy. He would be an instant hit in Washington just as he was in Minnesota, scoring 12 goals in the remaining 11 games that season. After 209 games and 112 goals with the Capitals, he would be dealt to Detroit.
His first season as a Red Wing saw him pop 41 goals. He was still scoring at a rapid pace, but eventually he and Scotty Bowman would have a disagreement over the ice-time he was receiving. Dino’s competitive nature would not allow him to see eye to eye with Bowman, and it’s probably that competitive nature that ironically prevented him from hoisting the Cup as the two would part ways due to the discrepancy in 1996. Dino would be dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the off season, while Detroit would go on to capture their first Championship in 42 years.
Dino would go on to have success even at the age of 37 though, scoring 35 goals in his first year with the Lightning. He would play one more year in Tampa before playing parts of two seasons with the Panthers and then retiring in 1999. He finished with 608 goals over his 1232 games, just two behind Bobby Hull and good enough for 9th on the all-time list at the time of his retirement. Yet for some reason, not good enough for the Hall of Fame.
Dino proved that heart and determination can triumph over any obstacle and he’s the model for seizing oppurtunity to the fullest. He played his career with a chip on his shoulder and more than paid the price for success. He’s definitely one of a kind. And now, the guy who was “too small” to play, and who was told he would never play again due to his injury in junior, is now being enshrined in the halls of the hockey greats where he belongs.
Without a doubt he wishes his parents were both there in person to witness his moment. That goes without saying and it’s unfortunate that a player so deserving had to wait so long, especially given the circumstances. But better late than never ? You bet.
Atta boy Dino !
About the Author
Written by Travis Currie
Im your typical sports fan. Just a little more crazy about it. I live and die for my teams and I drive my girlfriend nuts. I consider myself the world's biggest Stars fan. Ive been a fan since I was a young kid going back to the mid 80's. Favourite Stars player of all-time is of course Mike Modano. Favourite non-Stars player of all-time is Peter Stastny. I love talking sports so please leave a reply to anything you agree or disagree with. If youd like to contact me my email is firstname.lastname@example.org