FullTilt Legends: Ron Duguay
Quick! When you think of Ron Duguay what do you think of? The long curly hair? Played without a helmet? Pretty boy? Loud shirts? Studio 54? Well you would be right for the most part. But when you hear the name Ron Duguay you should also think of one heck of a hockey player; 40 goal scorer; charitable person; hockey analyst and more. Let’s take a look at the remarkable career and story of Rangers legend Ron Duguay.
IN THE BEGINNING
Ron Duguay was born in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada on July 6, 1957. He was a 13th overall pick in the 1977 NHL Draft by the New York Rangers. The Winnipeg Jets of the rival WHA had also drafted him 3rd overall the previous year. The bright lights of Broadway beckoned and Duguay made the choice of signing with the Rangers. After being drafted and signed by the Rangers, Duguay made that rare jump (at that time) to the NHL. In his rookie season, Duguay notched 20 goals and was considered one of the bright spots on a rebuilding Rangers team.
Duguay joined the Rangers at a time where Sonny Werblin ran the team. Werblin viewed athletes as entertainers also. In New York, one only needed to see Joe Namath as an example of Werblin’s work. For Werblin, it was just as important to be seen as it was winning. Needless to say, many Rangers players took heed to Werblin and partook in the NY nightlife.
After posting up a 91 point season, the Rangers swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and dispatched the Philadelphia Flyers in 5 games in round two. This set up a matchup versus the New York Islanders, who were coming off a first round bye and 4 game sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks.
In six hard fought games, the Rangers prevailed; eliminating the Islanders and advancing to the Stanley Cup Final against the defending champion Montreal Canadiens. The Rangers upset the heavily favorited Habs in Game One. Legend has it that Phil Esposito begged and pleaded with Werblin and Head Coach Fred Shero to take the Rangers out of Montreal for a few days and not be subjected to the Montreal nightlife and limelight. They didn’t. Now whether that had any affect on the rest of the series, only the players know for sure, but the Canadiens found their game and won the next four to take The Cup.
For Duguay, 1979 was a breakout season though. He improved upon his goal and point totals and seemed to relish the spotlight on and off the ice. Duguay was scoring not only on the back pages but the gossip columns as well. While other teammates were winding up in trouble – most noticeably Don Murdoch – Duguay kept his nose clean.
THE SEASONS AFTER
With the Rangers success came endorsements. The biggest and probably the most well known one was for Sassoon Jeans. Who can ever forget the sight of seeing Anders Hedberg, Ron Greschner, Dave Maloney, Don Maloney, Esposito & Duguay skate around in their skin tight jeans singing “OH–LA-LA- SASSOON!!”. It was a blessing and a curse for all involved.
For a league dying for PR, it was a godsend. For the Rangers, it was a much needed lift helping their brand. But for the players, on any given night in any given town, they would be serenaded with “OH–LA-LA- SASSOON!!” no matter if they were good bad or indifferent. Whenever they got knocked out in the playoffs it would change to OH-LA-LA-SO-SOON”.
Duguay seemed to be the poster boy for all of this. While he took it in stride with a smile on his face for the most part, there were times that rumors overtook reality and made people – even his coaches – feel that off the ice activities were more important to him than his on ice job.
THE ODD COUPLE
As things would have it, the Rangers fortunes turned and Shero was let go as head coach. The 1980 US Men’s hockey team had just pulled off the upset of upsets and won the Gold Medal and Rangers brass decided to capitalize on that. They hired Craig Patrick as GM and Herb Brooks as head coach.
Immediately, some thought that the straight laced Brooks and the “wild child” Duguay would never work together. Lo and behold they did. Brooks paired Duguay with the introverted Mark Pavelich (The Fishin’ Magician) and it was instant chemistry.
As different as they seemed off-ice they were pure magic on ice. Duguay produced his first – and only – 40 goal season. Big things were expected come playoff time. In the first round the Rangers eliminated the Flyers in four hard fought games. This set up another matchup with their hated rivals the Islanders. This time though, the Islanders were the defending champs and they annihilated the Rangers in 6 games on their way to their third straight Cup.
For Duguay, the 1981-82 season would be his best season as a Blueshirt. The following year was an injury plagued up and down roller coaster of a season. Duguay slumped and Brooks hinted that maybe he was having too much fun away from the rink which was why he wasn’t playing well.
To his credit, Duguay never got into it with Brooks, publicly at least. Toward the end of the season, Duguay was booed at home and heard the catcalls when the Rangers were away. Coming off a 40 goal season, Duguay only produced 19 goals and 25 assists and the playoffs weren’t any better as the Rangers were eliminated in the second round again by the Islanders in 6 games. Little did he know that he had played his last game as a Ranger for quite some time.
On June 13, 1983, Duguay was traded to the Detroit Red Wings along with Eddie Johnstone and Eddie Mio for Willie Huber, Mark Osborne and Mike Blaisdell. Maybe it was the change of scenery; maybe it was just something to prove. Whatever it was, Duguay was revitalized. In 1983-84 , Duguay posted 80 points (33 goals and 47 assists). In 1984-85 he did even better posting 89 points (38 goals, 51 assists). In 1985-86, his production dipped slightly. Detroit was not the powerhouse we know today. They were rebuilding and at the trade deadline he was sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Doug Shedden.
Pittsburgh was just a blip on the radar for Duguay. The Penguins were also going through a major rebuild and Duguay was not going to be part of the plan there. In just 53 games for the Penguins, spanning parts of two seasons, Duguay posted pedestrian totals of 11goals and 20 assists. Not being part of their plans, Duguay was on the move again, albeit to a very familiar spot.
On January 21, 1987, Rangers GM Phil Esposito traded Chris Kontos to the Penguins to acquire his old linemate Duguay. Esposito was looking to add a veteran presence to the Rangers lineup and Duguay fit the bill. He wasn’t asked to be the Duguay that fans had seen in his previous stint on Broadway. Instead, he was the steadying influence, the guy who would take the key faceoff late in the game (This was an area of expertise for Duguay as he had always done well on faceoffs.)
Duguay was a free agent in the summer of 1987 and he elected to re-sign with the Blueshirts. Things didn’t go quite as well or as planned however and at one point Duguay was shipped to the minors. Remarkably it was the first time he had ever played a minor league game. He returned to the Rangers after his short stint with Colorado of the AHL and at the trade deadline was shipped to the Los Angeles Kings.
Duguay played 15 games for the Kings following his arrival in LA. He would play one more season for the Kings before finally retiring from the NHL His old pal Phil Esposito, as the new Tampa GM, offered him a spot with the Lightning in 1992 but Duguay aborted thoughts of a comeback early in training camp.
HARD TO LET GO, LIFE IN THE MINORS
Still having the passion for the game, Duguay bounced around the minors after a brief stint in Europe playing for the Manheim ERC. He played parts of several season for the San Diego Gulls in both the IHL and WCHL. He also played one game in 1998-99 for the Jacksonville Lizard Kings of the ECHL and 6 games for the Jacksonville Barracudas of the ACHL in 2002-03 before hanging up his skates.. Duguay last laced up his skates professionally in 200809 playing one game each for the Brooklyn Aces – where he registered an assist – and the Jersey Rockhoppers, both of the EPHL
After playing 6 games in the 2002-03 season for the Jacksonville Barracudas of the ACHL, Duguay took over as head coach. In 2003-04, Jacksonville moved to the WHA2 and Duguay coached them to the leagues best record and championship. He would go on to coach Jacksonville a few more seasons before giving up those duties citing he was just “tired of the game”.
For several years now, Duguay has been part of the MSG Networks broadcast crew for Rangers games as an in studio analyst. He has also served as one of the commentators for the MSG Networks weekly hockey show “Hockey Night Live.” Duguay is very active on the charitable front as he is extremely involved with “The Garden of Dreams Foundation”.
He also has appeared on the CBC show “Battle of the Blades” For those not familiar, think of it as “Dancing with the Stars” on ice but for charity.
IN CONCLUSION, BUT STILL GOING STRONG
Legends can be made in different ways when you’re an athlete. You can achieve legendary status for what you do on the field, the ice, the court or the arena. Some athlete’s legendary status transcends off the playing surface too. At times, it is something that can derail an athlete. Other times it enhances an athlete’s reputation.
There is a fine line when you leave the playing surface and go out into the “real world.” Some athletes succumb to what is out there, while others are able to maintain an equilibrium knowing what made them stars in their profession can be taken away in one misstep.
Rare is the athlete who can have a high public persona on the field yet maintain a somewhat low profile off it. Derek Jeter comes to mind in that regard. The Rangers have had their share of legends on and off the ice. Very few have been able to balance both. Ron Duguay is one of those athletes.
When you think back on the career of Ron Duguay, he has had a life that very many of us can only dream of. He has played as teammates with many of the games greatest players – Phil Esposito, Brian Leetch, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman & Mario Lemieux. He has played against many more.
So the next time you see Ron Duguay forget about the loud shirts and snazzy sports coats, the long curly hair and the laid back style. Think about what an impact he has had on the New York sport scene over the last 35 years. It’s quite a legacy.