Marc Denis came to Columbus via trade from the Colorado Avalanche, joining the inaugural Blue Jackets team in 2000 as part of its first goaltending tandem with Ron Tugnutt. In five seasons, Denis played in 266 games and was in net for the team's first win on home ice. During the 2002-03 season, he played in 77 games and set a National Hockey League record at the time for most minutes played by a goaltender at 4,511.
Today, he is a color analyst with RDS in Canada covering the Montreal Canadiens.
We caught up with him to talk about becoming a starting goaltender, his thoughts on the Jackets' record-setting season, and that 10-0 win over the Habs earlier in the year.
CATCHING UP WITH RUSTY KLESLA
When you heard you were coming to a brand new team in Columbus what was your reaction?
It was awesome from a personal standpoint because I knew where I sat in the Colorado organization. Patrick Roy was ahead of me and had a few years left in his career. Coming to Columbus was a great move for me. I knew if all went as planned, I'd have a chance to be a number one goalie. I was young and I had my whole career in front of me so I was ready to go through the process.
Did you enjoy Columbus as a city?
The community really embraced the team. Mr. McConnell was tremendous. He was instrumental in bringing in the team, but also in making sure that the team would fit in well within the market. Columbus is where we bought our first house. It was where we started our family. I'm still in touch with people in Columbus. Every time I come into town with the Canadiens, it's nice to connect with people I know in the organization, whether it is the equipment managers or staffers who I worked with.
GOAL CANNON SYMBOLIZES BLUE JACKETS HOCKEY
Playing 77 games and 4,511 minutes in one season as a goaltender is an impressive feat. What went into that accomplishment?
It was a matter of being in the groove for me, and other things have been explained to me afterwards. We had a good start to the season and we were playing .500 hockey. Then I'm playing well and the team wants me to be in net. By the time we sat back and realized we were not going to be in the playoffs, I was pacing to beat an all-time NHL record.
Doug MacLean wanted me to do it on home ice. He gave me a couple of nights off on our California trip and told me to just relax and be ready to beat the record at home.
I think that's how things happened from a management standpoint, and from my standpoint it was awesome. You knew you were in there night in and night out.
Looking back and knowing what I know now to be in the playoff picture and play that many games would have been ludicrous. I didn't have much left in the tank some nights, but I took a lot of pride in being durable and in being there for my teammates, which was first and foremost. I took a lot of pride in being there for the fans too.
A lot has changed in goaltending since you played including equipment and rules. What do you notice about the position today?
Never mind the gear and the rules, these guys are good. They have taken that level of excellence far above and beyond what we were able to do. To be below .920 (save percentage) today is below league average, which is unbelievable. Goalies were happy to be in the low .900s when I started. And that's just looking at the save percentage itself. When you look at the way goalies act and move around today they are patient, able to feel the ice, and be in the position on almost every shot. It's amazing.
EVOLUTION OF THE GOALIE MASK
Goalies are true athletes. They've really been able to pinpoint some of the technical details and that's really improved the position. The name of the game was always pitching in baseball, and it's goaltending in hockey.
Were you able to follow the Jackets' success this season?
There's only one other place I look at and have pride in to see them atop of the standings and it's Columbus. I'm glad to see that team and the people of Columbus be able to cheer on a winner. I wish them nothing but the best. It's awesome.
You were here for the 10-0 win the Jackets posted over Montreal early this year. Any comments?
That darn Cannon. That's my only comment.