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Why Carbonneau's stop in Dallas proved huge in path to Hall of Fame

The forward made a name for himself in Quebec but became a major piece of the Stars in his final years

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

2019 Hall of Fame: Guy Carbonneau

Guy Carbonneau's journey to Hockey Hall of Fame

From establishing himself in Montreal to his final years with the Stars, Guy Carbonneau was one of the best two-way forwards of all time

  • 02:12 •

Guy Carbonneau's heyday was in Quebec.

A talented kid from Sept-Iles, Carbonneau went on to win two Stanley Cups, three Selke Awards, and serve as captain of the Montreal Canadiens, and those are the memories that will be talked about most when Carbonneau is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday in Toronto.

But getting to spend the last five seasons of his career in Dallas? Well, yeah, that was Hall-of-Fame worthy, as well.

 

[RELATED: How Sergei Zubov's hockey sense molded him into a Hall of Famer and one of the all-time great defensemen]

 

Carbonneau joined the Stars in 1995 at the age of 35 and still found a way to spend 364 of his 1,318 NHL games with Dallas. In the twilight of his career, he played 63 playoff games with the Stars and got to two Stanley Cup Finals, winning his third Cup in 1999.

"He was a big part of all of that," said former Stars coach Ken Hitchcock. "You look at that group with him, (Mike) Keane, (Brian) Skrudland, (Craig) Ludwig, they brought a lot of veteran leadership and they brought a lot of heart and intelligence to the team. It was special to have them all there."

Video: Guy Carbonneau inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame

The thread that ran through so much of the 1999 Stars went back to the Canadiens, so having Carbonneau go into the Hall of Fame is appropriate. While that team also has inductees in Mike Modano, Ed Belfour, Joe Nieuwendyk, Brett Hull and Sergei Zubov, Carbonneau stands as a unique symbol of how the Stars were built.

Then-general manager Bob Gainey helped win five Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, so he relied on his experience to bring a few of his old friends. Assistant coaches Doug Jarvis and Rick Wilson came with Gainey from Minnesota along with Ludwig. Skrudland and Keane came in a trade with the Rangers for Todd Harvey. And Carbonneau was added in training camp in 1995 after Bob Bassen suffered a knee injury.

It was just one of those perfect moments in time. Carbonneau had been moved out of Montreal the previous summer, and really didn't find a fit with the St. Louis Blues.

But when he came to Dallas, he not only had the support of old friends, he was taking a checking line role that was expected to be filled by Bassen. The Stars needed Carbonneau, and that was exactly how he liked it.

"When I got traded to St. Louis, I pretty much knew nobody. So when I came here and there was Bob and Craig Ludwig and Doug Jarvis, that made things a lot easier," Carbonneau said.

Video: Carbonneau, Zubov receive Hockey Hall of Fame rings

Gainey was the coach at the time, and there were some challenges in the 1995-96 season that made him step aside and promote Hitchcock from the minors. The first-time head coach mixed some of the things he learned in Edmonton and Philadelphia with Gainey's Montreal philosophy, and things took off.

Carbonneau and Keane formed the heart of a checking line that Hitchcock used on a regular basis, and Dallas went on to win divisional championships in the next four seasons (they added one more after Carbonneau retired).

"Carbo needed a role, and we gave it to him," Hitchcock said. "He was at his best when he had an assignment, an identity, so when he and Mike Keane came together, that not only became the identity for that line, it was the identity for our team."

Modano was one of the players most affected by Carbonneau's presence. Picked first overall in 1988, Modano was a supremely skilled player. However, Hitchcock and Gainey wanted him to become a two-way player so he could be used head-to-head against other team's skilled players. It wasn't an easy task, but talking to Carbonneau helped.

"I was looking at his numbers in juniors and he was such a big scorer," Modano said. "A lot of centers had to go through that, learn to play defense, and he helped me a lot with that."

Video: Carbonneau elected for Hall of Fame's 2019 class

Carbonneau had 182 points in 72 games in his final season of junior hockey and then put together back-to-back AHL seasons of 88 and 94 points, so he knew what it was like to play a skilled game. However, he became a checker, because that's what you had to do to play for the Montreal Canadiens.

"Honestly, I just wanted to play," Carbonneau said of his battle to get into the lineup. "I wasn't a first-round pick, I was drafted in the third round, so I knew that whatever they told me to do, I would do it. I just wanted more than anything to play in the NHL. I think that helped me as I got older. The better I played defensively, the more ice time I got, and then you just start becoming a part of the team."

Carbonneau won Selke Trophies in 1988, 1989 and 1992 as the best defensive forward in the league. He was named captain of the Canadiens in 1990 and then played a big role in helping them win the Stanley Cup in 1993 when he went head-to-head against Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings.

That was the kind of experience that made everyone in the Stars' dressing room listen whenever Carbonneau talked.

"Those were the guys who knew what it looked like, felt like, smelled like to be a part of a team," Hitchcock said of players like Carbonneau, Keane and Ludwig. "We became a team and a family. It was the old school way, and that really helped us."


When the Stars faced the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals in 1999 and 2000, Carbonneau asked to cover Peter Forsberg. That allowed Modano to match up with Joe Sakic, and the Stars ended up winning both series in seven games.

"I loved going against the best players, that was my thing, so I knew that I could help there," Carbonneau said. "They had a great team and if I could take Forsberg, that allowed Mike to go head-to-head with Sakic, and that worked for us. It was a great challenge, and it was fun to do. I think at that age, I had a lot of confidence in myself, so I definitely felt I could get the job done. Kudos to the coach who could hear me and trust me."

 

[PHOTOS: Carbonneau, Zubov at 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame weekend]

 

Hitchcock said it was never a problem trusting Carbonneau.

"Honestly, guys like Carbo taught us stuff," Hitchcock said of the coaching staff. "They were so important to what we became as a team."

Former Stars forward Blake Sloan told the story of his first shift in the NHL. Called up from the AHL, Sloan said he was extremely nervous. He said after he skated that first shift, he got to the bench, felt he played well, and thought to himself that he could handle the NHL.

Video: Carbonneau receives HOF jacket in special ceremony

Then, he said, Carbonneau was in his ear for the next minute telling him everything he did wrong. He said he always appreciated that moment and understanding just how hard you have to work to play at the top level.

"It was the details, they were relentless on the details," Hitchcock said. "They always stressed that you need to leave the other guy in a good spot, and they did that. That was the Canadiens' way, and they brought it to us."

In the end, Carbonneau spent more than a quarter of his career in Dallas. His daughter, Anne-Marie, married Brenden Morrow and their family lives in Dallas. It is a place that Carbonneau holds pretty dear.

Sort of like Quebec South.

"At the time, it wasn't easy," Carbonneau said of his departure from the Canadiens so many years ago. "But you look back now, and it turned out really good. I was lucky to have it happen the way it did."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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