Daren Puppa

When Tom Barrasso shocked the hockey world with his incredible rookie season in 1984-85, the Sabres must have envisioned no goaltending problems for the next decade or more. Right out of high school Barrasso stepped in, pushed aside veterans Bob Sauve and Jacques Cloutier and was the best goalie in the game.

A very few seasons later, the same thing happened in Buffalo. Only this time, Barrasso was the goalie being pushed aside by another hotshot newcomer. That newcomer was Daren Puppa.

Puppa certainly didn't have the credentials Barrasso had when he finally burst onto the scene. A native of the hockey hotbed of Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Puppa earned a scholarship with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York State where he attended classes and backstopped the school's hockey team from 1983 to 1985. He left school early at the Sabres encouragement, but continued classes in the off-season and eventually earned an engineering degree from RPI.

The Sabres drafted Puppa 74th overall in 1983. He was a virtual unknown since he did not play junior hockey and had yet to attend RPI. Sabres GM Scotty Bowman had a conversation with former Montreal Canadiens star Ralph Backstrom, then the head coach of the University of Denver and also a cousin of Puppa's father. Bowman sent his scouting staff to go see Puppa play in Kirkland Lake, and selected him in 1983 as a virtual secret.

Though he would make an instant splash in his 1986 NHL debut, shutting out Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers 1-0, Puppa apprenticed in the minor leagues for 3 seasons, winning the AHL championship in 1987, as Barrasso continued to star. Puppa finally got the starting job in 1989-90. As a strong, stand-up goalie who reminded many of the great Ken Dryden, Puppa won 31 games and was runner-up to Patrick Roy in balloting for the Vezina Trophy. The Sabres traded Barrasso away to Pittsburgh, feeling that Puppa was the real deal.

But over the three seasons that followed, Puppa struggled to regain his form, thanks in part to chronic back problems. In 1993, he was shipped to the Leafs where he played eight games before being claimed by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Expansion Draft of 1993.

Puppa was able to re-establish his status as an elite goalie in Tampa, and game the young franchise instant credibility. By 1995-96 Puppa racked up 29 wins, 19 losses, and 9 ties, topped off by the Lightning's first trip to the playoffs in 1996.

The nagging back injury returned shortly thereafter. Puppa managed to hang in with the club over the four seasons that followed but was able to appear in a total of only 50 games. He then hung up his pads for good in 1999-2000.


  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP