Tuesday, November 25, 2008
In small Quebec town, Potvin more than content in his post-NHL life
By Pierre LeBrun
MAGOG, Quebec -- Felix Potvin jumped on the ice for a mid-morning practice, but noticeably absent were the goalie skates.
"They're long gone," he said.
Four and a half years after Potvin made his last NHL start and slipped away without any fanfare, we found him on the ice at the Arena de Magog, a classic, throwback rink that, with its wooden seats, could have easily been a stand-in for a "Slap Shot" remake.
You see, The Cat is now The Coach, an assistant for the Midget AAA team, les Cantonniers de Magog.
"It's been a lot of fun," he said.
After some part-time work as a goalie coach last season, Potvin is in his first full-time season with the team, which is challenging for first place in the league. When the assistant coach's job became open over the summer, he threw his name in and got the nod from head coach Martin Bernard.
|Felix Potvin now lives with his family in Magog, Quebec, and is an assistant for the Midget AAA team, les Cantonniers de Magog.|
"I like it a lot because Martin gives me a lot of responsibility," Potvin said. "I didn't want to be one of those assistant coaches where you're just playing with the puck on the ice in practice and have nothing to do. I'm responsible for goalies and defense and the penalty kill. And, at that age [usually 15 to 17], it's quite rewarding when you see them developing during the season."
There were many smiles from Potvin during the one-hour practice, and that happiness also translated during the interview. Some NHL players (and we would argue the majority) deeply struggle with life after hockey. When the dream is over, some can't handle it for the first few years.
Not so for the 37-year-old Potvin. He settled with his family in this picturesque town -- think Lake Placid -- about 90 minutes east of his native Montreal.
|Felix Potvin won 266 regular-season games and played in two NHL All-Star Games over his 13-year career.|
"Don't get me wrong, I miss the game, I miss competing. But honestly, I didn't have a hard time adjusting," Potvin said. "Maybe part of that is that I've always been a guy that had a lot of hobbies. So I knew when I was finished I had other things I loved to do. Maybe compared to a guy that hockey is the only thing he knows, maybe it's tougher for them to find what they like after their career.
"It may also have helped that it happened with the lockout," he added. "For a full year, I was playing with the guys here, but I kind of knew it could happen and it gave me a chance to prepare for that."
After the lockout, there were a few offers, but mostly two-way contracts or backup jobs. No thanks, said Potvin; he would go out on his own terms. He ended his career as a backup in Boston in 2003-04 and didn't enjoy it.
"If I wasn't going to get a real shot at playing, I always told myself I wouldn't hang around too long in the game," he said.
Typical Potvin, he left the game without a trace. A quiet character during his 13 NHL seasons, he won 266 regular-season games, played in two NHL All-Star Games and was an integral part of the Toronto Maple Leafs teams that went to back-to-back conference finals in 1993 and '94. But there was no news conference to say goodbye, not even a news release from the NHL Players' Association, which is customary for the majority of retiring players.
"I didn't want to put a big spotlight on it," said Potvin, shrugging his shoulders. "I know some guys have big news conferences, and that's fine, but I didn't see the need for that. And part of it is the way it happened. We had a year off with the lockout and I kind of left the door open a little to see if maybe there was a chance. I didn't want to quit and then a year later come back.
"One year went by, two years went by, and then I thought, why bother making an announcement? Everyone should have figured out by now that I'm not playing anymore. So I didn't see the need to make a big fuss about it."
So, Potvin moved out to Magog and enjoyed being dad and husband.
"I took a couple of years of just relaxing and enjoying things you couldn't do much when you were playing hockey. I did a lot of hunting," he said.
Potvin loves the outdoors. He bought 300 acres of land and built a home and camp. Hunting, fishing, chopping wood -- he's at home in nature.
"This is a great place to live," Potvin said. "I'm enjoying seeing my three kids grow up."
There's Noémie, 14, Xavier, 11, Félicia, 9, and wife Sabrina. Noémie plays hockey on the girls' team at a private school, Stanstead College. Sabrina hasn't caught the hockey bug. Xavier? The son wears goalie pads just like his father, and Potvin is on pins and needles every time Xavier is in net.
"When you've played the position, you see all the pressure that comes with it," Potvin said. "I'm not a nervous guy in life or anything, I'm always pretty calm; but I find it hard to go to his games and watch him play.
"But he's enjoying it and having a lot of fun. I just wanted to make sure he didn't do it because daddy did it; but he really, really loves the position and enjoys playing."
It's hard to watch Xavier play goal because daddy knows the pitfalls of wearing the mask -- it's the last line of defense, it comes with the most pressure, and blame. Potvin dealt with the highs and lows of an NHL career in which he seemed on top of his game in his early years in Toronto, followed by low points on Long Island and in Vancouver, and a rejuvenation in Los Angeles.
Four-plus years removed, Potvin can sit back and take it for what it was.
"First of all, just to play in the league, I was fortunate," he said. "And when I look back at it, I played close to 700 games. I had great times in Toronto. My first two years was a special group; we had a lot of fun. Those were definitely some highs. When the first trade happened, going to the Islanders and then Vancouver, that was a low. Being able to bounce back in L.A. was very rewarding. Having a low makes you appreciate when you get back and have good times to work hard. It also tells you a lot about yourself."
|Felix Potvin says he enjoys coaching, but has no immediate aspirations of making the leap to the NHL benches.|
Potvin delivered a career-best 1.91 goals-against average with the Kings in 2000-01 and backstopped his team to a huge playoff series upset of the Detroit Red Wings. Then came a seven-game loss to eventual Cup-champion Colorado.
Potvin chuckles when we bring up a favorite Leafs moment -- when he pounded Flyers goalie Ron Hextall into submission in a famous goalie fight.
"It's funny because people are still surprised by it," he said. "It's something that will follow me for a long time. It was a good memory."
People were surprised at the time, as well. No one knew about his dexterity with the fists.
"My three junior seasons in Chicoutimi, we had a pretty tough team," he said. "By the end of practice, guys were joking around and fighting. I guess it helped."
Yes, there is a rugged side to Mr. Potvin. Since we last saw him, he's added a few more tattoos on his arms. Another hobby.
"I was a punk rocker growing up," he said. "I keep adding [tattoos]. I still love that music."
Will we see his tattoos back in the NHL one day behind a bench? Is he going to make coaching a serious career?
"Not for now; it's not the reason I did it," Potvin said. "I did it because I live here and it keeps me busy. But the more I'm doing it, the more I enjoy it. The goal is to make the kids better and it's been a lot of fun."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
|Felix Potvin: "I was a punk rocker growing up. I keep adding [tattoos]. I still love that music."|