How Acquired: 1989 NHL Draft, 8th rd/161st overall
Buffalo Stats (1993-99): 395 games, 91-145-206; 126 PIM
Career NHL stats (1993-2001): 450 games; 96-152-248; 138 PIM
Buffalo Sabres fans remember the moment. On April 29, 1997, the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators reached the deciding Game 7. And it was headed to overtime.
As Rick Jeanneret described in his now-famous call, a pass at center ice was knocked down by Sabres center Derek Plante. He slid in over the line. Plante took his shot…and scored.
He beat Ron Tugnutt glove side with a slap shot 5:24 into the overtime period for his second goal of the night, sending Buffalo to the next round to face the Philadelphia Flyers and the Legion of Doom line.
The team mobbed Plante at the blueline, the building was rocking and Sabres coach Ted Nolan jumped up and down onto the ice, high-fiving alternate captain Donald Audette along the way.
“To score that goal was amazing for me. It was just so much fun to have a Game 7 overtime winner,” Plante told Sabres.com by phone last week.
“But other than that, it was just the fact that I felt – and we all felt – that our team was starting to come together and really start to gel because we were such a young team at that time. That was a stepping stone for our whole squad.”
A native of Colquet, Minnesota, Plante spent his first six years in Buffalo after a successful college career at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He was a finalist for the 1993 Hobey Baker Memorial Award during his senior season with the Bulldogs when he scored 36 goals and 92 points in just 37 games. Despite Plante’s gaudy stats that season, Maine’s Paul Kariya took home the hardware.
Plante was all set to play for Team USA at the 1994 Winter Olympics, but a knee injury sent him to Buffalo for further evaluation. When the Sabres’ team doctors gave him a clean bill of health, he ended up signing a contract to start his pro career.
That first year – 1993-94 – was a pretty successful one too. On a line with Audette and Brad May, he recorded 21 goals and 56 points. No Sabres rookie has scored that many points since.
During the 1998-99 season, Plante was traded to the Dallas Stars for a second-round pick. As fate would have it, the Sabres met the Stars in the Stanley Cup Final that year. While Plante didn’t dress in any games that series, going up against his former teammates was a surreal experience. Of course, Dallas went on to win the Cup in six games.
“I played with those guys for six years and to be in Buffalo itself, it was the first time I’d been back there. It was all my buddies that we were playing against so it was just a real weird deal,” he said.
“We were pretty close. It was really a different feeling, especially after we won. I was looking around and I was happy and yet sad because it had to be against Buffalo.”
Plante played two more professional seasons in North America before heading overseas to finish his career. He played six more seasons in Germany, Switzerland and Japan.
He wrapped up his career playing two seasons for the Nippon Paper Cranes of Asia League Ice Hockey in Japan from 2005-07.
Plante and his family were really able to relish that unique opportunity.
“It was great. We were in the northern part of Japan, which is very much like northern Minnesota or Canada where there’s a lot of snow and hockey’s kind of their main sport,” he said.
“There was a lot of support. People are very service-oriented so they’re always going out of their way to try to help and be nice. It was a really a great experience for my wife and I and our two little ones that we had when we were there.”
Teams are allowed one import player but the Paper Cranes also had a few Japanese players with Canadian heritage who had been in Japan for about a decade. They helped him adjust to the culture and learn the native language.
So how’s his Japanese?
“My Japanese is terrible,” he said, laughing. “German, I can understand a little bit just because I spent some time there. But Japanese, I wasn’t able to catch on. For me, it was a very hard language to learn.”
All of these experiences dealing with different kinds of people and cultures have helped him in his latest endeavor: coaching.
“It’s opened my mind to there’s not just way to do things. There are many different ways to do things and all can be successful if everybody buys into it,” he said.
Plante earned an undergraduate degree in community health from Minnesota-Duluth in 2009 and accepted a position at his alma mater as an assistant coach in June 2010. His dad had been a coach, so the idea of being behind the bench has always been in the back of his mind.
In his first season on Minnesota-Duluth’s coaching staff, they won the 2011 national championship, defeating Michigan 3-2 in overtime.
“Going into the season, we knew we had a really, really good team. To win any championship, you need to get a few breaks here and there, but our guys were awesome,” he said. “For me, for it to be my first year coaching, I just didn’t want to get in the way and cause any trouble. When you can do that at any level – and to do that at Duluth for the first time — was awesome for me to be a part of.”
Plante has had other coaching opportunities come along too. He considers it a huge honor that he was asked to serve as the bench boss for USA Hockey’s 2014 Under-18 Select Team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in the Czech Republic and Slovakia in August. The team finished in third place in the eight-team tournament.
He has aspirations to be a head coach one day, either in college or at a higher level, but Plante says he’s happy with where he is for now because both his and his wife Kristi’s families live right down the road.
Another reason is that he’s found great enjoyment in helping develop young players.
“I’ve been here five years and it’s easy for me to say that I’ve gotten a few guys that have graduated and gone on and they still want to call and say, ‘Hi,’ that they had a good experience and they got to be better players,” he said. “That’s probably the most gratifying part.”
When he’s not at a rink, Plante is spending time with his three sons: Zam (10), Max (8) and Victor (6). They’re active in several sports including hockey, baseball and golf, and Plante also likes to take them camping and hunting.
He’s also made his way back to Buffalo a few times to scout youth tournaments. He keeps in touch with former Sabres like Michael Peca, Curtis Brown and Randy Burridge, who are all involved in coaching youth hockey around the country.
Plante coached Youngstown, N.Y.-native Joseph Cecconi on that U.S. Under-18 Select Team, and has Alex Iafallo of Eden, N.Y. at Minnesota-Duluth. Seeing Iafallo up close every day, Plante thinks he has the potential to play in the NHL one day.
“It’s truly been fun to go back there and just hang out there in the area I used to live. The Buffalo area’s got some really good players,” Plante said. “I’ve gotten back there more in the last three of four years than I have in the previous 10. That whole area where we used to live in Williamsville and East Amherst is really growing up and it’s fun to see.”