Marcel Dionne has heard the question before. It’s on the minds of a lot of old time hockey fans, who think back fondly on the heroes of their youth: How do today’s players compare to the stars of bygone eras?
As a Hall of Fame forward who scored 1,771 points in an illustrious 18-year career and who played on Canada’s 1976 Canada Cup team, arguably the best collection of players put together by this country, Dionne is in a position to know.
And since he was at a golf club, speaking not long before he hit the links at a charity event, he referred to golf to make his point.
It’s an unfair question, he said. How would today’s golfers, who can drive the ball 350 yards, make out with an old hickory club and the other outdated equipment of an earlier era?
Great players are great players and it’s unfair to compare eras, he said.
Dionne, 65, is of course one of the greats of his, or any other, era. He’s still recognized as such, particularly among those of a certain vintage. On June 12, he was one of the celebrity participants in the 2nd Annual B’nai Brith Charity Golf Classic at Lebovic Golf Club in Aurora, Ont. He was joined by other celebrity NHLers, including longtime Chicago Blackhawk Dennis Hull, who served as emcee at the evening’s festivities, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman, former Leafs captain Rick Vaive and former Leafs gunner Gary Leeman.
Approximately 120 golfers participated in the event, said Marty York, chief media officer at B’nai Brith Canada. Funds raised were slated to support various B’nai Brith endeavours, including programs for seniors and affordable housing.
Dionne says he still plays in a few golf tournaments each year, but he hasn’t laced up his skates in a long time. And he has no plans to do so any time soon.
“One fall, one stupid thing and then you say, ‘what was I doing?’ ”
What’s more, he doesn’t really miss playing the game, though he did have some fun a few years back, when he played in a legends of hockey event with former NHL star Guy Lafleur.
Dionne’s association with Lafleur goes back to when they were youngsters playing for their home teams – Lafleur in Thurso, Que., and Dionne in Drummondville, Que. Gilbert Perreault, from Victoriaville, Que., was another great player of that era.
At the time, there was a controversy over who should have been selected first overall, Dionne or Lafleur. (Perreault was the first pick by Buffalo, the year before.) Lafleur went first and he won cups with the Habs; Dionne earned more points during a longer career, mostly in what was, before Wayne Gretzky’s arrival, something of a hockey backwater in Los Angeles.
Dionne said he never considered Lafleur a rival. Both always got along. “I knew how great he was,” he said. Even as a 12-year-old peewee, Lafleur had a great shot, he recalled.
Dionne, Lafleur and Perreault played together for Team Canada in 1976, when they won, and in 1981, when they lost. Dionne and Perreault were also among the young stars selected to attend the Team Canada training camp, in advance of the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviets, though Dionne didn’t see action in any of the tournament’s eight games.
In 1976, he was an important part of Canada’s winning team, playing on a line with Phil Esposito and Bobby Hull. He was also on a line with Lanny McDonald and Darryl Sittler, when Sittler scored the tournament-winning goal.
Originally drafted by the Detroit Red Wings, he was traded to the Kings in 1975, after registering a 121-point season.
It was a trade that’s still something of a head-scratcher. Dionne was traded along with Bart Crashley for Terry Harper, a former Montreal Canadiens defenceman who was near the end of his career, Dan Maloney, who would go on to a respectable NHL career, and a second round pick. None would come close to the Hall of Fame career enjoyed by Dionne.
In L.A., Dionne enjoyed remarkable success centring the Triple Crown Line with Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer.
In 1987, he was the centrepiece of a trade to the New York Rangers for Bobby Carpenter and Tom Laidlaw. The trade reunited he and Lafleur one more time.
He retired at the end of the 1988-89 season, with one year still to go on his contract and second in total points to Gordie Howe.
“I got tired. I knew I was done – signed, sealed and delivered. I’m going home,” he said.
The statistics prove he was among the best who ever played. In 1979-80, he scored 137 points, leaving him tied for the league lead with Gretzky.
His 1,771 points makes him the sixth-highest scorer in NHL history. He was named one of the league’s top 100 players.
Dionne retired to the Niagara Region of southern Ontario, near where he’d played junior hockey with the St. Catharines Black Hawks. He runs Marcel Dionne Inc., a sports memorabilia business and, every season, he attends a game or two in L.A., where he’s recognized as one of the greatest Kings – and NHLers – ever.