Are Madden's days numbered?: IN THE GAME

Gene Pereira - Special to the Examiner
Al Bello Getty Images - Former Junior 'B' Barrie Colts star John Madden, right, finished up this season with the Florida Panthers. During his 13-year career, Madden won three Stanley Cups, including two with the New Jersey Devils and most recently with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Al Bello Getty Images - Former Junior 'B' Barrie Colts star John Madden, right, finished up this season with the Florida Panthers. During his 13-year career, Madden won three Stanley Cups, including two with the New Jersey Devils and most recently with the Chicago Blackhawks.

It was 1991 when a young scribe sat on a cold bench seat in the old Vic Johnston Community Centre in Streetsville.

It was the Barrie Colts' first exhibition game of the season and while the game was meaningless, it provided me with my first opportunity to see this young phenom centre the Junior 'B' hockey club had raved so much about.

As far as first impressions go, John Madden made a pretty outstanding one that night.

The game itself was a blowout, with the Colts romping the host Derbys, 16-1. Leading the way was Madden. The speedy No. 16 dominated every shift and lit up the scoreboard with eight goals.

Fast forward to about a week ago. The Florida Panthers find themselves in a do-or-die Game 7 against the New Jersey Devils in the NHL playoffs when Madden ends up in a bloody head-on collision at centre ice with Florida teammate Tomas Kopecky early in the first period.

Madden, bleeding profusely, would return to the Panthers bench before the end of the opening period. Florida would go on to lose 3-2 in double-overtime, bringing an end to its season and perhaps a close to what has been an outstanding 13-year NHL career by Madden.

Madden has yet to officially announce his retirement and, according to some reports, has even stated he'd love to play again next season, but the curtain will soon come down on the 39-year-old's hockey career.

After spending last season in Minnesota, Madden wasn't re-signed by the Wild and found himself without any suitors to start this season.

The Panthers came knocking in early January and inked the forward for the remainder of the season. Madden would go on to provide his usual solid defensive game and veteran leadership for a surprising Florida team that would finish first in the Southeast Division.

If indeed Madden's career has come to an end, there's little doubt he's left his mark on the NHL with an impressive 898 games under his belt and three Stanley Cup titles - twice with the New Jersey Devils and once with the Chicago Blackhawks

Barrie has produced several NHL players over the years, including Shayne Corson, Dan Maloney and brothers Darryl and Darrin Shannon, but Madden's name has to be near the top when it comes to all-time hockey greats from this city.

All this from a quiet, unassuming and speedy centre who wasn't even drafted by an NHL team.

Madden spent a chunk of his youth growing up between Barrie and Toronto, but returned to Barrie to lead a Jr. 'B' Colts team that was ready to set fire to the Central Ontario Junior 'B' Hockey League (now the Ontario Junior Hockey League).

Under the direction of general manager and head coach Alec Ovenden and the likes of Madden, Steve Walker, Jason Cameron, Mike Peron and Joey Rockbrune on the ice, the 1992-93 Colts posted one of the most impressive seasons in league history.

The Colts would finish the year 47-0-1, win the league championship and go on to capture the Sutherland Cup, a symbol of Junior 'B' supremacy in the province.

Madden would finish the year with an impressive 49 goals and 124 points in just 43 games, while linemate and Collingwood native Walker would set a league record with 75 goals and 151 points in 48 games.

Despite being selected in the 11th round (173rd overall) of the 1992 OHL Priority Selection by the former Niagara Falls Thunder, Madden instead chose to attend Michigan University on a NCAA scholarship.

Passed over in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Madden would go on to play for former NHL great Red Berenson at Michigan where he racked up 80 goals and 100 assists in 160 games with the Wolverines.

During his four-year university career, Madden would set the NCAA record for most career shorthanded goals (23) and helped lead the 1995-96 Wolverines to a championship title.

His teammates at Michigan included future NHLers Brendan Morrison, Marty Turco and Mike Knuble, but it was the presence of Morrison that would give him the break he needed to get to the NHL.

Morrison, a second-round pick of the New Jersey Devils, was often monitored by Lou Lamoriello. While keeping an eye on Morrison, the Devils general manager took notice of Madden and eventually signed the forward to a pro contract.

The five-foot-11, 190-pound forward spent two seasons developing his game with Albany in the American Hockey league, leading the Devils' farm team in scoring in 1998-99 with 38 goals and 60 assists.

The following year he would score 16 goals as a rookie with New Jersey. In the NHL, Madden's true calling card was his game without the puck. He would develop into one of the league's top defensive forwards, winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy (awarded to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game) in 2001 and also finishing second in voting for the award in 2003 and 2004.

Madden was one of the league's top penalty killers and with his speed and impressive hockey instincts, he proved dangerous to opposing power plays thanks to his knack for scoring shorthanded.

He would help the Devils win the Stanley Cup twice, first in 2000 and again in 2003. After 10 years in New Jersey, Madden signed a one-year deal in 2009-10 with the Chicago Blackhawks and help lead that franchise to its first Stanley Cup title since 1961.

With the Blackhawks in a salary-cap bind and no money to re-sign the veteran, Madden would ink a one-year deal in Minnesota, where his family

currently resides, before joining the Panthers this January.

In his 13 seasons and 898 games, Madden has scored 165 goals and added 183 assists for 348 points.

If this indeed is the end of his hockey career, Madden will leave the game recognized as a player who had an outstanding work ethic and among the best when it came to killing penalties and protecting a lead.

It's been a long time since that night in Streetsville when a virtually unknown, young player stepped on the ice and put on a display that I haven't forgotten to this day.

As we walked out of the arena that night, a friend of mine turned to me and told me he had the perfect headline for my story. That, he said, was 'A Madden-ing display.'

Funny how that still holds true today.

Gene Pereira has covered the Barrie Colts since 1991.

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