After fan favorite and former presidential write-in candidate Ron Tugnutt
was between the pipes for the Blue Jackets for the first two seasons, Denis took over the starting gig when Tugnutt left Columbus after the 2001-02 season.
“I was brought in as a free agent with all the experience and Marc was an up-and-comer, a World Junior guy, and I knew that he was going to be a real good player in the league,” Tugnutt told BlueJackets.com
. “He was very competitive and he wanted to be in net all the time, but he understood the circumstances and he waited his time.
"As a young goaltender, he was mature for his age in the early years and he knew what he had to do to get there. He listened, he watched, he was more than willing to take advice, and after two years of being in Columbus, it was time for him to take over."
Denis played 74 games during the team's first two seasons in Columbus as he followed in Tugnutt's footsteps, and it didn't take long before Tugnutt became a mentor to the young French Canadian netminder. Thanks in large part to strong goaltender, the Blue Jackets racked up 71 points in their inaugural season and Tugnutt won 22 games - tying an expansion franchise record that had stood for 74 years.
“My relationship with Tugger was awesome, but he wasn’t there too long...he really helped us get to that 71-point mark (in 2000-01),” Denis told BlueJackets.com. “He was tremendous; he was a mentor to me, no doubt about that. He helped me become the goalie that I became, and he was amazing.”
After Denis got the starting job at the start of 2002-03, he played four more seasons in Columbus before being traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for Fredrik Modin
and Fredrik Norrena
. Denis played 49 games in his final season with the Blue Jackets and would not equal that number again in his NHL career, eventually retiring from the NHL in 2009.
During his first season as the Blue Jackets' No. 1 goalie, Denis appeared in 77 of 82 games and logged a total of 4,511 minutes - a mark that set an NHL record for the most minutes played in a season (since been broken by Martin Brodeur in 2006-07).
“Beating the all-time minutes played record at home is a memory that I’ll cherish forever,” Denis said. “It’s a personal accomplishment in a team sport, but at the same time, I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. To be able to do that at home, I remember the standing ovation to this day.
“It was amazing to come back two years ago and drop that puck at center ice — that was something special,” he recalled. “Players like me will never get their numbers up in the rafters in any building, but to get the recognition in a city where you spend six years in, there’s just so many good memories.”
Denis attempted to go the coaching route after retirement, where he coached in the QMJHL
as a goaltenders coach and assistant coach for one season, but then an opportunity arose in broadcasting and he jumped at it. He is now a color analyst for RDS
, the French-speaking affiliate of Canadian sports network TSN
and Denis is a top analyst for NHL coverage. At the moment, he is in New York broadcasting the Stanley Cup Final, an experience he finds to be both rewarding and entertaining.
“I’m loving it, it keeps me in the NHL buildings, it keeps me seeing former teammates, coaches, and general managers around the NHL,” Denis said. “It gives me the chance to communicate my passion for the sport that’s given so much to me and my family, and I’m just so glad that I’m still around hockey. I’m one of the very fortunate ones to have that phone ring as soon as I was done with my playing days.”
Tugnutt has seen his former sidekick on television for RDS a few times this past season, and he said that Denis is a perfect fit for broadcast, even though he thinks the former Jackets’ goalie could still lace up the skates.
“He’s very articulate in English and French. It’s a perfect job for him because he’s so outgoing, he’s a very outgoing person — he loves to talk to people and he loves to talk about hockey,” Tugnutt said. “I’ve seen him on RDS this year and I sit there and go, ‘Marc, you look like you can still play.’ He looks so young and he’s obviously got the looks for TV as well.”
Being a national hockey broadcaster who likes to get the full scope of the sport, Denis is excited to see the Blue Jackets gaining steam and returning to the playoffs but wishes he could have stuck around in Columbus for a certain moment in the team’s history.
“I was really happy to see Columbus make it to the playoffs. I have no regrets, but that’s the one thing I may like to do over, I was really hoping I could stick around and be there for the first time we make it to the playoffs,” he said. “I was just glad to see not only them making the playoffs, but them getting the respect that comes with it. That’s what seemed to mark this past season for Columbus — it is now a highly-respected city, a highly-respected franchise by the way they do things around the NHL. Obviously you didn’t need to convince me, but I’m just glad to see everyone is now seeing what they see in Columbus.
“I think they’re doing things right this time around and I have no doubt that it can be a more consistent. Everything seems to be in place with some good young players and a lot of stability between the pipes with Bobrovsky. I think they’re getting the world of hockey’s attention right now for all the right reasons.”