I’ve decided that I want to write about Jean-Claude Tremblay, known as J.C. Tremblay to fans, a defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL, and later the Quebec Nordiques of the WHA. If you follow hockey, you probably recognize the name. If you were born 1970 or later, maybe yes, maybe no. He’s not in the Hockey Hall of Fame (he is in the WHA Hall of Fame).
His offensive statistics are what they are. I mean, for his era, they’re really good, but I don’t really care. He was a key player on 7 Stanley Cup Champions, but I don’t really care about that, either. He died at the age of 55…he donated a kidney to his daughter, then later developed cancer in the remaining kidney. But that’s not what I want to talk about either.
Defense? I really have no opinion, but it couldn’t have been too bad, considering his long career and the success of his teams.
No, what made J.C. Tremblay so special was his subtle, efficient, yet plain and obvious offensive skills. I should add that I am talking here not about the greatness of his skills (though they were great, to be sure) but about the nature of his skills.
He’d have the puck coming out of his own end, not hardly skating (seemed like), looked like a sitting duck for aggressive fore checking, but a slight adjustment to the left or right, a slight increase in speed (or decrease), a sudden look up the ice (or across the ice), or a feint to pass, and the fore checkers would peel away from him, leaving him alone to skate up the ice or pass unhindered.
The opposition, it seemed to me, were aware of him in an almost subconscious way. Tremblay was like some kind of hockey playing Svengali, spraying his hypnotic, deceitful messages to every opponent that approached him, warning them, “…do not even try to check this guy, ‘cause you will a fool be made of, mark my words.”
I imagine there are players like this in all sports whose greatness is qualitative rather than quantitative. Their skills are subtle, but once noticed never escape your eyes; indeed you look for it every time you watch.
I’d be pleased to hear others on this subject, who would like to nominate players of this kind and explain just what it is about them that made them so memorable.
He walks without purpose to an uncertain fate