Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rookie of the Year Larry Pleau was a Veteran

With Veterans Day upcoming this week, I am reminded of American hockey pioneer Larry Pleau who won EHL Rookie of the Year honors in 1968-69 with the Jersey Devils while serving as an Army Private at Fort Dix. The original NHL.com article by John McGourty which I had bookmarked seems to have disappeared. Fortunately it was saved by Spider-man (really) at this link.

Image: Army Pvt. Larry Pleau (4) of Fort Dix and the Jersey Devils scores against Syracuse. From l to r: Syracuse goalie Anton Gale; Syr d - Bob Graham; Jersey F - Dennis Plant; Syr d - Doug Hillman; Jersey F - Larry Pleau.

..."After my third season, I got drafted into the U.S. Army and took basic training at Fort Campbell, Ky. I got my orders for advanced basic training and then on Labor Day weekend, I got a call from Murray Williamson, who was coaching the U.S. Olympic team. In those days, the military was big on its association with amateur athletics. I had a tryout in Minnesota, made the team and was assigned there by the Army. I was lucky I was able to continue my career. I'm not sure it's fair but it happens.

"After the Olympics, I was assigned to Fort Dix (in New Jersey). My commanding officer said, "What am I going to do with you, you've only got 10 months left?" I told him I had worked at a golf course and I got assigned to the base golf course. While I was there, I played for the Jersey Devils in the old Eastern League, out of Cherry Hill, N.J. My sergeant loved hockey and let me go. I never practiced, just played, and won rookie of the year. We had Forbes Kennedy's brother Jamie, a good little player from Windsor, Bobby Brown, and goalie Bobby Taylor, who played for the Flyers. Longtime Flyers scout Marcel Pelletier was our coach. We had one goalie in those days and Taylor got tossed one game. Pelletier filled in for him. Only problem, Bobby was a left-hand glove and Marcel was right-handed so Marcel wore hockey gloves the whole game."
"The funniest part was Marcel asked the players who would play goal and they all ran for the bathroom," said Taylor, now a color analyst for the Tampa Bay Lightning. "The trainer was supposed to be the backup but he didn't even come into the room and we never saw him again until we were on the bus. They never scored on Marcel and we won, 2-1.

Larry was by far the best player in the League. He'd have never been there but for his military commitment."
"We had a southern division and I remember a road trip where we left Cherry Hill on a Monday morning and drove to Jacksonville, Fla., and played the next night," Pleau said. "We got on the bus after the game and drove to Charlotte and played the next night and got on a bus and drove to Knoxville, Tenn. Got in at 7 a.m., woke up at 2 p.m., played in Nashville that night and drove back to New Jersey. Got in at 6 a.m. and played that night, then drove to Syracuse and played the following night. All that for $40 a game and $6 a day meal money?"

Pleau spent the 1969-70 season between the Canadiens and their AHL affiliate in Montreal, then made the big club the next season, only to be hurt and limited to 19 regular-season games. That was enough to get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, though...

As a side note, the goaltender on that 1968 US Olympic Team with Pleau was Pat Rupp who had been the Devils original netminder starting the 1964-65 season.

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