Artifacts from the Archives: Shawn Chambers, The Great 1, and rising from the operating table

If you drove through Michigan – and specifically Sterling Heights – at some point in the 1970s, you may have gone right by a block that had future NHL players on it.  For Kevin Hatcher and Shawn Chambers, who grew up as best friends, their paths to end up there would be slightly different.

Kevin Hatcher was decorated with highest hosannahs, went to the OHL’s North Bay Centennials for the 1983-84 season, and was drafted in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft that year (17th overall by Washington).

Shawn Chambers, born just five weeks later, was past the cutoff point for the 1984 draft.  It made little difference anyway, because the NHL wasn’t exactly hot on the trail of a defenseman who admittedly carried a bit too much weight and was a bit too lackadaisical when it came to physical conditioning.

While Hatcher was playing his rookie season with the Washington Capitals in 1985-86, Chambers was toiling in slightly less-glamorous surroundings.  Fairbanks is a beautiful city in the middle of Alaska, but playing college hockey for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks meant being about as far away from the NHL as possible.  UAF was one of just four schools in something called the Great West Hockey Conference, playing games against U.S. International University , Northern Arizona, and rival Alaska-Anchorage.

The 19-year-old Hatcher was praised for his maturity at such an early age, earning heavy penalty kill minutes while playing on a defensive corps that included future Hall of Famers Rod Langway, Scott Stevens, and Larry Murphy.  Chambers was earning accolades as well, finishing in a tie for first-team All-GWHC left defenseman with Jim Plankers of USIU.

(I should note that although the quality of player was not the greatest in the GWHC, the schools that composed the conference produced some players.  Greg Adams – the one who played 1,056 NHL games for New Jersey, Vancouver, Dallas, Phoenix, and Florida – played two years at Northern Arizona.  Mike Peluso – the one who had 408 penalty minutes in a season – played against Chambers while anchoring the blueline of Alaska-Anchorage.  Chris Chelios – the one who played in the NHL – was actually cut from the team at USIU in 1979, although being just 5’8″ and 150 pounds at the time may have had something to do with that.)

As the 1986-87 began and Chambers continued to dominate, the inevitable question of how he ended up in Fairbanks was asked and answered.

Without a recruiting budget that would allow him or his assistants to make regular scouting trips to the Lower 48 and Canada, University of Alaska-Fairbanks hockey coach Ric Schafer sometimes has to trust others to be his eyes.

“It’s less than ideal,” said Schafer. “We have to put a lot of faith in people.”

Sometimes faith has its rewards, as the story of Nanook sophomore defenseman Shawn Chambers, the team’s leading scorer, has proven.

He was signed sight unseen and now he’s a sight to see. In Saturday’s 5-4 loss to the University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves, Chambers scored two goals and added an assist to increase his team-leading point total to 28 points.

Schafer recruited Chambers on the word of Frank Michalek, a Detroit area scout and father of a player Schafer had recruited when he was an assistant coach at Notre Dame before coming here in 1980.

“I told him I was looking for a defenseman,” said Schafer, “and he told me about Shawn. I kept seeing his name on all the scoring (for the Compuware junior team) and wondering why nobody picked him up.”

UAA Assistant Coach Don Lucia, who was an assistant at UAF before coming to UAA last season, said the rap on the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder was that he was a little overweight and not intense.

Woody, Doyle. “UAF HAS “SECRET’ TO SUCCESS ON ICE.” Anchorage Daily News, 9 Nov. 1986, p. 12

He also earned a bit of attention at the RPI Invitational Tournament, as the upstart Nanooks finished as tournament runner-up and Chambers was named tournament MVP.  USIU coach Brad Buetow, a former WHA player as well as a former coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, also referred specifically to Chambers as “a great player”.

But it wouldn’t last.

UAF’s outstanding sophomore defenseman and its dominant player, Shawn Chambers, was ruled academically ineligible at the semester break. He now plays for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League.

“I miss his presence on the ice,” said UAF Coach Ric Schafer, who last weekend earned his 100th career victory when the Nanooks completed a home sweep of USIU.

Chambers was an integral part of the UAF power play and shorthanded units and was usually on the ice at least half the game.

“It seemed like he never came off,” said McLeod.

Woody, Doyle. “MOTIVATION NO PROBLEM THERE’S NO SHORTAGE OF INCENTIVE BETWEEN UAA, UAF.” Anchorage Daily News, 30 Jan. 1987, Sports, p. C1

Chambers finished that season with the Thunderbirds, then jumped to the IHL’s Fort Wayne Komets.  Then came the big call, as the Minnesota North Stars took him in the 1987 Supplemental Draft.

Early in the 1987-88 season, he dislocated a shoulder that forced him out of the lineup for several games.  Then, with a slew of injuries to the North Stars’ top defensemen, he got the call into the lineup.  Given a chance, he stood out early.  And along the way, he became the first player from an Alaska university to play in the NHL.

Shawn Chambers has battled anonymity, and his weight. His future in the NHL depends on his desire and ability to lose pounds. Emanuel Viveiros also has battled his weight, but his future depends on his ability to convince management that less is enough.

Both have been forced front and center on the North Stars’ defense because of injuries to Craig Hartsburg and Bob Rouse, the release of Ron Wilson and the appointment of Pat Price as assistant coach.

Rouse’s hip injury, the Stars’ latest, leaves coach Herb Brooks with rookies comprising half of his defense entering tonight’s game at division-leading Detroit.

Curt Giles, Frantisek Musil and Gordie Roberts are the only experienced players left on a defense that is thin even when it is healthy. Viveiros and Chambers are the rookies next on the list and they are followed by Mike Berger, who was recalled from Kalamazoo Thursday, and Al Tuer, who could be recalled today if Chambers is unable to play tonight because of a jammed shoulder.

When asked what the Stars would do with such a makeshift defense, Brooks said: “What do we do? We play. We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. We don’t reach out for the golden parachute. We play and we bust our tails. We play the game with personal honor.”

Chambers and Viveiros are playing for personal honor and for the right to stay in the NHL, where both think they belong despite their weights.

Chambers landed in the NHL Monday night after a strange course that last season alone took him from his home town of Detroit to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks to Seattle in the Western (Junior) Hockey League to the Fort Wayne, Ind., minor league team. Chambers, 21, was claimed in the first round of the supplemental draft of college free agents last June and Brooks calls him a diamond in the rough who could become a fine player if he curbs his appetite.

“This kid has got some real potential,” Brooks said. “I liked him from Day One. He has a feel for the game, the instincts, the style and the strength that it takes. He’s carrying a little extra weight and his off-ice conditioning program needs to be better, but we can supply those things. He has the things that we can’t supply.”

Brooks has assigned Price to watch Chambers’ eating habits and to help Chambers lose weight. Earlier this season, the 6-foot-2 Chambers said he weighed as little as 207 pounds, but a couple of shoulder injuries plus a lengthy stay at home for Christmas has put him near 220. He is trying to keep his weight in line by eating salads and soups and his new North Stars teammates are doing their part by calling him Baby Huey and saying things like, “Does your shoulder hurt? Well, it’s nothing that a couple of hamburgers and a milk shake can’t cure.”

Said Chambers: “I’ve wanted to play in the NHL too much to let my weight ruin it. I know I have to watch it and I am.”

Chambers impressed Brooks with his play in Wednesday’s 3-3 overtime tie against Toronto. He carried the puck with dash, he took some chances, he had two assists, including one on Dennis Maruk’s tying goal in the third period. Chambers, who along with Viveiros has spent most of this season in Kalamazoo, has three assists in two NHL games.

Zgoda, Jerry. “New North Stars carry heavy burden.” Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities, 15 Jan. 1988, Sports, p. 04C

Chambers’ rookie season would end early, though, as he dislocated his shoulder shortly afterward – for a  fourth time that season – which required reconstructive surgery to repair.

In 1988-89, he played in 72 of the North Stars’ 80 games, but suffered an ACL tear in his knee that required offseason surgery to fix.  Soreness flared up throughout the 1989-90 season, but he still played 78 of the team’s 80 games.

At the 1990 Entry Draft, the North Stars added to their defensive corps with a familiar name.

Derian Hatcher first got word from a childhood friend that the North Stars wanted to choose him in Saturday’s NHL entry draft.

After the Stars made Hatcher their first selection overall, the crowd of 19,127 at Vancouver’s B.C. Place cheered, his parents hugged each other and Hatcher beamed at the thought of joining his old friend, Stars defenseman Shawn Chambers, in the NHL. Hatcher grew up in Sterling Heights, Mich., five houses away from Chambers, who told the 18-year-old defenseman he had a feeling the Stars would make Hatcher the eighth overall pick.

Hatcher has known Chambers since they both were kids, and when Chambers got word that the Stars were interested in his friend, he tipped off Hatcher.

“I’ve known Shawn all my life, and I skate with him in the summer,” Hatcher said. “He told me he had a feeling they were going to pick me. I’m really excited. Shawn said it’s a nice place.

“I’d like to step in next year, but that’s not realistic. I’ll probably go back to my junior team for another year.”

Blount, Rachel. “Stars pick a big one – Hatcher joins boyhood pal.” Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities, 17 Jun. 1990, Sports, p. 01C

But as it turned out, disaster was right around the corner.

The North Stars and the Montreal Canadiens played a slate of preseason games in 1990 overseas, and specifically in the Soviet Union.  Minnesota played two games in Moscow, one in Voskresenk, and one in Kiev.  In  preseason game in September 1990, Chambers got tangled up with an opposing forward during an exhibition game against the Soviet Wings and injured his left knee.  Surgery was required to remove bone chips, and the healing process was slower than expected.  What was expected to take two weeks took four.

After playing 16 games, Chambers got tangled up with Michel Petit during a game against Toronto, slid into the boards, and dislocated his left kneecap.  Subsequent surgery revealed that there was also a fracture to the bone and ligament damage, which shelved him until early March.

The 1990-91 playoffs, and a run for glory

The North Stars finished the 1990-91 regular season with a 27-39-14 record, good for fourth in the Norris Division.  Their reward, such as it was, would be a first-round matchup against the Presidents Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks.  Minnesota had 68 points, Chicago 106.  Minnesota had scored 256 goals, Chicago 284.  Minnesota had allowed 266 goals, Chicago 211 (best in the NHL by an enormous margin).

Minnesota struck first, with a 4-3 win in Game 1 on Brian Propp’s goal in overtime.  Chicago came right back, winning a bloodbath of a Game 2 that saw 146 penalty minutes handed out as well as goals by Warren Rychel, Basil McRae, and Steve Konroyd.

Game 3 saw the North Stars take a 5-2 lead after just one period, before Chicago stormed back to win 6-5.  Game 4 saw another 139 penalty minutes handed out in a 3-1 Minnesota win that tied the series.

Game 5 featured Minnesota playing a disciplined game against a rambunctious group of Blackhawks, and the North Stars buried Chicago with five power play goals en route to a 6-0 win and a 3-2 series lead.  In Game 6, Jon Casey stood on his head, allowing just a single goal in a 3-1 North Stars win and a stunning first-round upset.

The second round matchup would be equally difficult, as the St. Louis Blues were waiting – with their 105 points, their 86 goals from Brett Hull and 90 assists from Adam Oates, and their defense anchored by Scott Stevens.

Game 1 saw a late first-period goal by Shane Churla stand up as the winner in a 2-1 game, but in Game 2 a 2-1 North Stars lead vanished under an avalanche of Blues goals.  The 5-2 game evened the series.

In Game 3, Minnesota stormed out to a 5-0 lead before yielding a lone goal.  Game 4 saw the North Stars take control, with an 8-4 win that made a 3-1 series lead.  St. Louis took Game 5 to narrow it to a 3-2 series, but Bobby Smith’s empty-netter in Game 6 sealed another stunning North Stars upset.

Despite finishing 12 games under .500, Minnesota had knocked off the #1 and #2 overall teams in the NHL.  And they’d done it in every way possible: getting a lead and hanging on, facing a deficit and storming back, going toe-to-toe physically, and connecting on their previously-dormant power play.  In 12 games, they had scored 20 even-strength goals and 25 on the power play.

The road would not get easier, as their opponent in the Campbell Conference Finals were the defending Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers.  Edmonton had knocked off the #4 overall Calgary Flames in the first round, then the #3 overall Los Angeles Kings in the second round, to get through.  And they were still loaded with top-level players: Messier, Anderson, and Lowe had been there throughout the dynasty years, youngsters Petr Klima, Joe Murphy, Craig Simpson, and Esa Tikkanen were in their prime, and goaltending could feature either future HOFer Grant Fuhr or defending Conn Smythe winner Bill Ranford.

Minnesota found a way to exploit every crack that the Oilers had, bringing the dynasty to an end in a five-game series.

Playing For The Cup

For Chambers, though, the road was about to get significantly more difficult.  In the series-clinching Game 5 win against Edmonton, he knocked cartilage loose in his surgically-repaired knee.  Rather than risk it seizing up and rendering him unable to play, he took advantage of the brief break between the conference finals and the beginning of the Stanley Cup Final to have it surgically cleaned up and get back on the ice.

Game 1 was a back-and-forth affair that ended up with the North Stars winning 5-4.

But it was in Game 2 that Chambers ended up in an international spotlight.  In the second period, with Pittsburgh leading 2-1, Penguins forward Phil Bourque flipped a pass toward Mario Lemieux.  Lemieux corralled it, sped into the North Stars zone, eluded defenseman Neil Wilkinson, and basically turned Chambers inside-out before putting a backhand shot past Jon Casey.  The Penguins took a 3-1 lead, and ended up knotting the series with a 4-1 victory.

A healthy Shawn Chambers most likely makes the play.  This Shawn Chambers had undergone knee surgery – his third in eight months – less than one week prior.  This Shawn Chambers was dealing with swelling so bad in his knee that it required fluid draining before both Game 1 and Game 2, and would require further draining for the remainder of the series.  (If you want to know what’s involved in this procedure, look up “knee arthrocentesis”.  If you have a weak stomach, I do not advise watching it actually be done.)

In Game 3, Minnesota scored two quick goals in the second period to take a 2-0 lead.  Phil Bourque struck back for Pittsburgh early in the third period, but Gaeten Duchesne made it a two-goal game again just 46 seconds later for a lead that the North Stars would not relinquish.  In Game 4, Pittsburgh took a 3-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game, but Dave Gagner cut it to 3-1 just before the end of the period.  Bryan Trottier made it 4-1 in the second, but Brian Propp and Mike Modano hit back with power play goals to cut it to 4-3 before the end of the period.  With 6:53 left in the game, Pittsburgh’s Troy Loney was assessed a major and game misconduct for high sticking.  But Minnesota’s power play, lethal during the playoffs to this point, could not tie it up and Bourque scored an empty-netter to seal a 5-3 Penguins win that tied the series 2-2.

In Pittsburgh for Game 5, the hometown Penguins gave their fans a show by storming out to a 4-0 lead before Neal Broten’s shorthanded goal cut it to 4-1.  Dave Gagner scored twice in the second period to make it a one-goal game, but Ron Francis made it 5-3 Pittsburgh en route to a 6-4 win and a 3-2 Penguins series lead.

Game 6 was a massacre, as Pittsburgh took a 3-0 lead after one period, stretched it to 6-0 after two, and then added two more in the third to cap off an 8-0 win, a 4-2 series win, and the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.  For the North Stars, their incredible run came up two games short.

In the years since, there has been a lot of distortion and misinformation about Lemieux’s goal.  To set the record straight, it was in Game 2 of a series that Minnesota had taken a 1-0 lead in.  Pittsburgh was already leading Game 2 when Lemieux scored, and Minnesota did not score again in that game.  Minnesota won Game 3 and led the series 2-1 before Pittsburgh won three straight.  Lemieux’s goal was certainly damaging to the North Stars, but it wasn’t a backbreaker. It didn’t change the entire series.  It didn’t directly lead to Pittsburgh winning the Cup.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s below Scott Niedermayer’s Game 2 goal in the 1995 Stanley Cup Final.

For Shawn Chambers, despite the loss, there was both relief and happiness to come.  Relief was in the form of being able to rest his agonizingly painful knee, and happiness in the form of his wedding just one week later.

A New Chance, and a Reunion

Just three weeks after getting married, Chambers was traded to Washington for Trent Klatt and Steve Maltais.  This also served as a reunion, as the boyhood friends Chambers and Hatcher were now teammates in the NHL.

In training camp in September, the oft-repaired left knee swelled badly, taking Chambers out of the lineup.  It was December before he was able to start practicing again, and he then joined the AHL’s Baltimore Skipjacks on a conditioning stint.  He made his Capitals debut on January 24, 1992.  After playing that night, and a game two nights later, the knee swelled up again.  An arthroscope revealed scar tissue accumulation, which required yet another operation to clean up.  If you’re keeping track, that’s four knee operations in eighteen months, and this one was a season-ender after suiting up for just two games as a Capital.

Another New Chance

With expansion coming, Washington had a tough decision to make.  Although Chambers had previously shown that he could play at a high level, and although at age 25 he was certainly young enough to come back and produce, there was always the chance that his oft-injured knee would prevent him from ever becoming a regular player again.

The Capitals left him unprotected in the expansion draft, and the Tampa Bay Lightning took him with the 7th pick.  GM Phil Esposito was pleased to be able to do so.

According to the latest medical reports, Shawn Chambers has a better chance of becoming another Scott Stevens than another Gord Kluzak. And that’s good news for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning selected Chambers seventh overall during last month’s expansion draft, but by doing so they clearly gambled.

Although talented enough to become one of the NHL’s most dominant defensemen, Chambers has been bothered by knee problems the last two years. Some have begun to wonder if he’s not the second coming of Kluzak, a former Boston defenseman who was considered the next Bobby Orr until six knee operations forced him to retire midway through last season.

Chambers, 25, said he, too, has wondered if his destiny isn’t to accumulate more scar tissue than penalty minutes. But after an examination this week, the former Washington Capitals blue-liner said he believes the Lightning’s gamble will pay big dividends.

“Everything went very well; it was very encouraging,” said Chambers, who missed all but seven games last season.

The doctor [David Leffers] said I had a lot more cartilage in there than we originally thought and that it looks pretty good right now. That was really good to hear, because the knee’s been feeling really good lately.”

The Lightning are feeling good about the news as well, and for good reason. They believe Chambers, like Stevens of the New Jersey Devils, can be one of the league’s best defensemen if he stays healthy.

“He was the most talented defenseman in the draft, no doubt about it,” Lightning President/General Manager Phil Esposito said of Chambers, who was Minnesota’s first selection (fourth overall) in the 1987 supplemental draft. “We knew there was a risk involved in taking him, but had there been no risk, I guarantee you he wouldn’t have been left unprotected.”

Chambers said he doesn’t think the Lightning made a mistake in drafting him. Although he has not played regularly since the 1991 Stanley Cup finals, he said he is confident he still can play as effectively as he did before the injury.

“I can’t wait to get going again,” he said. “After last year, I’m just so anxious to start playing. But I can’t rush into it again. I did that once, and I think it may have been what cost me last season.”

Chambers’ premature return to the lineup came during the 1990-91 Stanley Cup playoffs. His ailing left knee, which he first dislocated during training camp the previous season, had begun to swell from the lack of cartilage and fluid, and he used a three-day break between the semifinals and finals to have arthroscopic surgery performed.

Chambers came back three days later and played the six-game finals against Pittsburgh, but he had to have the knee drained four times during the series, and it has continued to be an annoyance.

“There is no pain,” he said. “It’s just that it takes so long for the swelling to go down.”

Cummings, Roy. “Chambers’ health pleases Lightning.” The Tampa Tribune, 17 Jul. 1992, Sports, p. 5

Esposito, who had injured his own knee some twenty years earlier during his playing career, also recommended that Chambers go for long walks on the beach to help strengthen it.  “I walked in the sand, which is really tough, and I stood in the shallow water and let the water rush in around it. There’s something that’s healing about salt water and I told Shawn to get down here and spend some time at the beach because we need him.”

Nothing could be that easy though, as the same knee swelled badly during training camp.  Then in October:

As they departed for Minneapolis, the first stop on a five-city, eight-day road swing, word came out of that city that defenseman Shawn Chambers will be lost to the club for at least another five weeks.

Chambers, who was Tampa Bay’s fourth choice in last June’s expansion draft, flew to Minneapolis ahead of the club on Thursday to have his ailing left knee operated on at the Mayo Clinic. The surgery, which was performed by Dr. Jim Larson and included the use of a unique laser device, revealed a pair of floating bone chips.

The chips were removed, the knee was flushed clean of fluid and Chambers was given another extensive rehabilitation assignment, the third since his knee was first operated on more than two years ago, when he was with Minnesota.

“This isn’t good news by any means, but we’ve been operating under the assumption that we would probably be without Shawn for at least the short term,” Lightning coach Terry Crisp said. “We knew we were taking a gamble when we drafted him, but he’s a good hockey player and we still think the gamble will pay off for us in the long run.”

Chambers, who first injured his knee during training camp two years ago, skated for more than a week without incident prior to the opening of the Lightning camp. He began to experience a fluid buildup about a week into workouts, though, and he has seen only limited ice time – none of it in games – since.

Lightning trainer Skip Thayer said, however, that Chambers should be back skating within two weeks thanks to the unique operation, which is similar to arthroscopic surgery.

“It was a very simple procedure and he’s walking again already,” Thayer said of Chambers. “It’s now just a matter of how Shawn’s body reacts to the procedure. But assuming there are no problems, he should be biking again in four or five days.”

Cummings, Roy. “Lightning hit road without Chambers.” The Tampa Tribune, 10 Oct. 1992, Sports, p. 1.

Chambers was able to play six games in the IHL with the Atlanta Knights before being recalled to Tampa Bay.  After playing three games, more swelling took him out of the lineup for ten days.  Lightning trainer Skip Thayer said that it was minor and that the team was simply being conservative.

Shawn Chambers is thankful there’s no video of the first time he severely injured his left knee.

“I saw a tape of the second time I dislocated it,” the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman said. “Once was enough.”

Tonight the native of Royal Oak, Mich., will suit up for his fourth game this season when the Lightning faces the Detroit Red Wings at 7:40 at Expo Hall.

It’s only the sixth NHL game Chambers has played since June 1991, when he helped lead the Minnesota North Stars to the Stanley Cup finals.

His two-year ordeal with his left knee began in September 1990, when the North Stars and Montreal Canadiens held training camp in Russia.

“Me and a guy were standing behind the net and we both pulled each other over,” Chambers recalled. “My knee never came with me. It just dislocated. It popped out.

“I thought I lost half of my leg.”

If the knee didn’t pop back in, the North Stars would have taken Chambers to Sweden for treatment.

“I heard the horror stories of Russian hospitals,” he said. “No way was I going to one.”

Chambers hobbled on crutches for the rest of training camp before returning to Minnesota, where he underwent the first of five surgeries on that knee. During the Stanley Cup playoffs in 1991, he had arthroscopic surgery and returned just three days later.

“If I knew it would be such a setback, I wouldn’t have come back so quickly,” Chambers said. “But nobody told me not to, and it was the Stanley Cup finals.”

Since then, Chambers probably has spent more time wearing ice packs than ice skates.

“But it’s always been my dream to play in the NHL,” Chambers said. “I never thought about quitting. I was pretty hard on my wife (Lisa) last year. We had just gotten married, and then she got pregnant. And I was preoccupied with my knee. But things are going good now.

“And the knee is feeling pretty good.”

Clark, Cammy. “Gambling on healthy return.” St. Petersburg Times, 5 Dec. 1992, Sports, p. 4C

Shawn “The Great 1” Chambers

NHLPA 93, the first hockey video game to feature actual player names, was released in time for Christmas 1992.  It featured the first-year rosters of the Lightning and the Ottawa Senators, and needless to say, the player rankings on the motley group of castoffs for both teams were not kind.

Ottawa’s best forward was Sylvain Turgeon at a 62 overall, on a 0-99 point scale.  Top defenseman Brad Shaw was 44 overall, and goalie Peter Sidorkiewicz was a 40.  These were the highest-scored Senators; the lowest were defensemen Kent Paynter, Darren Rumble, and Dominic Lavoie, all of whom were rated at a 2 overall.

Tampa Bay fared a bit better, with top forward Anatoli Semenov a 77 overall, top defenseman Joe Reekie at a 60, and goalie Wendell Young a 58.  At the bottom were forward Shayne Stevenson (7 overall) and defenseman Jeff Bloemberg (4 overall).

And then there was poor Shawn Chambers.  In the previous two years, he’d suffered a serious knee injury, had three operations done, played in the Stanley Cup Final two days after the last of those three, gotten married, been traded, had another operation done, became a father for the first time, been left unprotected in the expansion draft, been taken by Tampa Bay, and had another operation done.

For this, he was given a 0 in speed, a 0 in agility, a 0 in offensive awareness, a 0 in defensive awareness, a 0 in shot power, a 0 in shot accuracy, a 0 in stickhandling, a 0 in passing accuracy, a 13 in endurance, a 13 in checking, a 66 in aggressiveness, and a 0 in fighting.  All told, this gave him an overall rating of 1, to this day the lowest-rated player in video game history.

If this were true to life, a game played with Shawn Chambers on the ice would consist of him being unable to move his feet unless acted upon by an outside force, doing nothing except gliding until he could cross-check an opponent and then proceeding to get pummeled into oblivion in the ensuing fight.

In real life, he recovered from this particular ignominy and finished the 1992-93 season with a career-high 10 goals and 39 points in just 55 games.

1993-94

After playing just three games in 1993-94, Chambers suffered again from knee swelling – this time in his right knee – that prompted another operation.  When it looked like he was going to return to the lineup, he was involved in a car accident in which he was forced off the road and into a tree by a swerving motorist.  He suffered bruised ribs and a bruised shoulder, plus a cut over his eye.

It turned out that those would be the only games that he’d miss all year, save for being scratched one time.  His year-end stat line was 11 goals and 34 points in 66 games.

He also played for Team USA in the IIHF World Championships.

1994-95

In the days of the pre-salary cap NHL, small-market teams were forced to keep an extremely close eye on their budget and in particular on player salaries.  If that meant trading a productive player for less of a return than he should get, all in the name of saving money, that’s what it meant.

For Shawn Chambers, the defenseman with a bad knee that had derailed his career, it was a serious knee injury to someone else on a different that created a new opportunity.

The New Jersey Devils were playing their 14th season in the Garden State, and still had three players on the roster who had been there for all that time: forward John MacLean, and defensemen Bruce Driver and Ken Daneyko.  The Devils were cellar-dwellers for most of their existence, but had a stunning breakthrough in 1987-88: a furious charge to erase a deficit in the standings in the last two weeks of the regular season, a thrilling overtime win in the last game to make the playoffs, two shocking series wins, and a conference finals that went seven games.  They’d slumped after that, but in 1993-94 with new head coach Jacques Lemaire, the Devils emerged as legitimate contenders.  Just like that first playoff team, the Devils scrapped through the first two rounds, but bowed out in the conference finals in a legendary Game 7 that went into double overtime.

In 1994-95, New Jersey slid back toward the middle of the Eastern Conference.  They could still keep the puck out of the net, but the offense – 2nd-best a year prior – was barely there.  In the 22nd game of the lockout-shortened 48-game season, against the hated Rangers, Daneyko dropped the gloves with the Rangers’ Joey Kocur.  As the two grappled in a manner more often seen in Greco-Roman wrestling, Daneyko’s leg gave out in a way that can only be described as “grotesque”.  The diagnosis was an ACL tear, and the 8-10-4 Devils were suddenly in the market for a defenseman.

Although no one knew it at the time, this fight may have been the moment that forever changed the course of New Jersey Devils history.

Six days later, Chambers and center Danton Cole were traded to New Jersey in exchange for Alexander Semak and Ben Hankinson.

Another New Chance

In his first game with New Jersey, Chambers scored a goal that gave the Devils a 2-1 lead against Hartford; the game ended in a 2-2 tie.  In his third game, with the Devils trailing Boston late in the second period, Chambers got the assist on Bill Guerin’s tying goal at 19:59.  Stephane Richer would score in overtime to give New Jersey a crucial two points.  All told, New Jersey went 9-5-4 after acquiring Chambers and before Daneyko made his return to the lineup.

Another playoff run

The Devils finished the regular season 22-18-8, which put them into the playoffs as the #5 seed in the Eastern Conference.  This earned them a date with the Boston Bruins, who were also playing the final season in the venerable Boston Garden.

It wasn’t close, as New Jersey dispatched the Bruins in five games.  In the deciding Game 5, Chambers broke a 1-1 tie with a power play goal that gave the Devils a lead they would not relinquish.

Against Pittsburgh’s dominant offense in the second round, the Devils’ defense came through in a big way.  Chambers registered an assist on the tying goal in Game 1, but Luc Robitaille scored with barely a minute left to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 series lead.  New Jersey took Games 2 and 3 to go up 2-1, and then Game 4 went into overtime.  John MacLean’s wraparound pass to Neal Broten ended up in the back of the Penguins’ net, and New Jersey had a 3-1 series lead.  In Game 5, with New Jersey clinging to a 2-1 lead in the third period, Chambers scored on the power play to seal the game and the series.

In Game 1 of the conference finals against Philadelphia, Chambers assisted on what proved to be the game-winning goal.  New Jersey took Game 2, but Philadelphia stormed back to tie the series with two straight wins.  New Jersey took Game 5 late, as Claude Lemieux scored on a long shot with less than one minute in the game.  The Devils were one win away from playing for the Cup.

In Game 6, with New Jersey clinging to a 2-1 lead and Philadelphia pressuring, Chambers blocked a Craig MacTavish shot that led to an immediate 3-on-1 going the other way.  Randy McKay converted to make it 3-1 Devils, which proved to be the goal that won the game and clinched the series.

Not a bad play for a guy who had previously been “given” a 0 in defensive awareness

New Jersey was going to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.  Waiting for them were the heavily-favored Detroit Red Wings.

A Shot at Redemption

Anything New Jersey could do, Detroit could do better.  New Jersey finished the season with 52 points, while Detroit had won the Presidents’ Trophy with 70.  New Jersey was tied for 13th in goals scored; Detroit was 3rd.  New Jersey allowed the 5th-fewest goals in the NHL, Detroit the 2nd-fewest.  New Jersey’s power play was 23rd, Detroit’s tied for 2nd.  New Jersey’s penalty kill was 16th; Detroit’s was 2nd.

And New Jersey was the new kids on the block, while Detroit had been contenders for five years but had flamed out in the playoffs each time.  They were also looking to exorcise 40 years of history, as 1955 was the last time that the Stanley Cup had resided in Detroit.

But for the kid from Mount Sterling, who grew up a Wings fan, he was eager to not miss out on his chance for ultimate glory.

In Game 1, Claude Lemieux gave the Devils a 2-1 lead early in the third period, and the suffocating defense held Detroit without a shot on goal in the last seven minutes.

The morning of Game 2, two stories ran.

From The Tampa Tribune:

Connor Chambers has been in this world for 11 weeks now, and during that span, he has been with his father Shawn for a grand total of eight days. And that includes the Father’s Day the two spent together Sunday at the home of Shawn’s parents in nearby Sterling Heights.

Is it any wonder then that Devils defenseman Shawn Chambers looks at the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals in much the same way Dickens looked at the times he was writing about in “A Tale of Two Cities”?

“It’s good and bad,” said Chambers, the former Lightning defenseman who has become an integral part of the Devils’ stunning success since his trade from Tampa Bay on March 14. “I mean, it’s great being in the Stanley Cup Finals. This is what everybody plays for. And believe me, now that we’re here, I want to win it.

“But at the same time, I haven’t seen my son at all since he was born, it seems. I mean, seven days, and only for a few hours each time. It wasn’t like I spent all day with him. And those days weren’t all bunched together either. The thing is, I’ll never get that time back.”

The gulf between Chambers and his son stretches from a Secaucus, N.J., hotel room that Chambers has made his home to a cabin on Crosslake, Minn., where his wife Lisa and older son Cody live and pray each day for a four-game sweep by the Devils.

“I guess our approach to the playoffs has been a little different,” Chambers said of himself and his wife, who moved out of Tampa shortly after giving birth to Connor on March 31. “At the beginning, we both kind of said, “Well, let’s either get out early, like in the first round, or let’s go all the way.’ So now that we’re here, we’re both thinking, “Might as well win it.’ I mean, we’ve toughed it for this long. May as well get something memorable out of it.”

No matter what happens the rest of the way, Chambers won’t soon forget the 1995 season. It started with Chambers preparing for a full 84-game schedule by getting into what he said was the best physical condition of his life.

“I was ready for the start of the season,” Chambers said. “I was in shape, great shape. Then the lockout came.”

After sitting around for 105 days, playing more golf than hockey, Chambers lost his conditioning. Thus, the start of the 1995 season was a bit of a struggle.

By the time he got back into shape, the Lightning had decided to move him. Despite their need for a power-play quarterback, they shipped him and Danton Cole to New Jersey for Alexander Semak and Ben Hankinson.

In the next two weeks, Chambers struggled to adapt to the Devils’ way of defending their zone. He also struggled with his role as father and husband.

“I knew the trade was coming but the timing couldn’t have been worse,” he said. “I mean, my wife was due any day.”

Chambers wasn’t alone in that predicament. Cole’s wife, Debbie, was due any day, too. But she delivered her baby less than 48 hours after the trade. Chambers had to sweat out his situation for two weeks.

During that span, Chambers struggled on the ice. Whether it was the concerns he had for what was happening at home or the adjustment to Jacques Lemaire’s system, he wasn’t playing the way he was capable or the way Lemaire wanted him to.

“He was trying to stand the offense up at the blue line all the time and that’s not how I wanted him to do it,” Lemaire said. “I wanted him to fall back more. That’s our system here. It took him a few games to figure it out and get used to it, but once he did, he became fine and right now I think he’s playing great. He’s an important part of our team.”

Whether Chambers will remain an important part of the Devils’ defense is uncertain. He has an arbitration hearing scheduled this month and beyond that could become a free agent. The Devils have told him they would like to sign him, but he said he’s not sure if he fits into the team’s plans.

“They’ve got a lot of defensemen here already and they’ve got a bunch of kids down on the farm,” he said. “I mean, I know why I was brought here. It was because Ken Daneyko was hurt and they needed somebody to help run the power play.

“Now that Kenny’s back, I’m still playing, but how long is that going to last? I’d love to stay here. But I just don’t know. All I know is, I want to win this thing in a hurry and get home to my wife and son.”

Cummings, Roy. “Wish you were here – Chambers is spending quality time at the Stanley Cup Finals but not with his family..” The Tampa Tribune, 20 Jun. 1995, Sports, p. 1.

And in the New York Daily News:

When he was growing up, Shawn Chambers and his father, John, would drive from Sterling Heights to downtown Detroit so they could watch Red Wings games at Olympia.

Chambers rooted for Gordie Howe, because if you were from Michigan, it was a given you rooted for “Mr. Hockey.” Chambers’ deep, dark secret was that while he liked Howe, Guy Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer, three of the great right wings in the sport’s history, the player he adored was a legendary Boston defenseman, Bobby Orr.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in the game who’s anything near him,” the Devils’ defenseman said yesterday. “Wayne Gretzky’s great, but Bobby Orr everything he did, especially being a defenseman, leading the team in scoring every year . . . he was just phenomenal.”

It is fine to have Orr for an idol, and it is noble if you aspire to accomplish even a fraction of what he did. It is a problem, however, if absolutely none of your skills come close to his.

Before practice yesterday, Chambers stood in the hallway of an arena named not for Howe but for a boxer, Joe Louis. Chambers leaned his right shoulder against the white-painted cinderblock and went down a checklist of Orr hockey attributes that he can’t possibly match.

So you can’t skate like Orr.

“Me and Ken Daneyko might have a good race out there,” Chambers said, “but that’s about it.”

What about your shot? Orr used to get the puck at the right point and fire those ice-hugging zingers toward the short-side corner, behind the goalie’s left foot.

“My shot isn’t anything special,” Chambers said. “I don’t try to hit it as hard as a Scotty Stevens does, because I’m looking to hit the net with more of a placement shot. Before I get the puck, I look to see where guys are; then I shoot for their stick. If they’re going to the net, I shoot in front of them, so they can tip the puck.

“You’re not going to score from the blue line in this league any more, anyway,” Chambers added.

One-on-one moves?

“Not much there,” Chambers said. “I’m not going to try to beat too many guys one-on-one. I have a better chance going one-on-two and trying to split them.”

So what is the one thing that makes you closest to Orr?

“Probably nothing,” Chambers said. “Absolutely nothing.”

Chambers long ago accepted the fact he would be a fairly unremarkable player. He is 28, in his eighth NHL season and the Devils who obtained him and Danton Cole from Tampa Bay for Alexander Semak and Ben Hankinson on March 14 are his fourth NHL team. Tampa Bay had claimed him from Washington in the 1992 expansion draft; the Capitals had obtained him from Minnesota, where his career began.

Nonetheless, this is Chambers’ second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Tonight he will help the Devils attempt to grab a 2-0 headlock on the series a mere four years after playing on the North Stars team that was flattened in six games by Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“This team is a much stronger team than the one we had in Minnesota,” Chambers said. “We were on such a roll in Minny; everything was going right for us and it was overwhelming. Especially when we got up, 2-1, we got a little too excited at the time.

“I was just glad I could be playing, because I had just had surgery, like, three days before the finals started. There was a piece of loose cartilage floating around in my knee, so I had it done (arthroscoped). I played too soon afterward. That’s why I’ve had all the knee problems.”

Wait a minute.

Do you realize what you just said?

Knee trouble forced Orr out of hockey. There was no cartilage left, only bone scraping on bone. Orr was always getting arthroscoped.

“There you go,” Chambers said. “I finally found out what I’ve got in common with Bobby Orr: all the procedures on the knee.

“I’ve got the knees of Bobby Orr!”

Chambers has had five arthroscopic procedures on the left knee and one “big cut,” something called a lateral release that tightened the ligaments around the kneecap to keep it from shifting around. He gets the left one ‘scoped every other summer, just to clean out knee debris.

“Whatever cartilage is in there keeps chunking off,” Chambers explained.

The defenseman also has had two arthroscopes on the right knee, which limits any hope that he might sail through the air, crossbar high, the way Orr did after scoring the Cup-winning overtime goal in 1970.

“I’ve been diving quite a bit lately to try and stop the puck. But that’s about as close as I could get to Orr,” said Chambers, a 6-2, 200-pounder. “He was way up high. I’m usually about a foot off the ice.”

Chambers was about that high when he dived to block a Craig MacTavish shot in Game 6 of the semifinal against the Flyers. The play sparked a two-on-one return rush by the Devils, with Randy McKay driving to the net to convert Bob Holik’s pass. A 2-1 Devils lead became a 3-1 Devils lead; it proved the decisive tally in the 4-2 triumph that sent New Jersey to its first final.

The final brings Chambers back to Detroit, where Gordie Howe played on four Stanley Cup champions including the last one the Red Wings managed. With all due respect to his heritage as a Michigan sports fan, Chambers will do whatever he can to extend Detroit’s torture.

Brown, Frank. “DEVIL IS ORR-INSPIRED – BUT ONLY BUM KNEE LINKS CHAMBERS, HERO.” New York Daily News, 20 Jun. 1995, Sports, p. 51

But the increased attention wouldn’t mean anything if the Devils didn’t win, and if Chambers didn’t come through.

In Game 2 that night, Slava Kozlov gave Detroit a 1-0 lead in the second period, but John MacLean tied it less than two minutes later.  It was 1-1 after two periods, and Sergei Fedorov scored 1:36 into the third to give Detroit a 2-1 lead.  The crowd reaction in Detroit was a combination of joy and relief: joy at taking the lead, and relief at knowing that the Devils could be beaten.  One more goal would open the floodgates, Detroit would tie the series, and then it was just a matter of time before the superior Red Wings broke their 40-year curse.

It was not to be.  Halfway through the third, Devils’ defenseman Scott Niedermayer corralled a puck near his own net, split through two forechecking Red Wings, turned Paul Coffey inside out and rocketed a shot wide of the net.  Niedermayer never gave up, blowing by Coffey and tapping the rebound off the boards into the net.  2-2.

How to silence a raucous arena in seven seconds

As the minutes ticked down, it became apparent that the next goal would be the winner.  And with less than two minutes, Bill Guerin had a shot to give New Jersey the lead.  Out of nowhere, Coffey slid and blocked Guerin’s shot with his calf.  Unable to get back into the play, Coffey could only watch as the puck went back to Tommy Albelin at the point, who passed across to Chambers.  With a clear lane, Chambers ripped a low shot that Mike Vernon stopped, but in so doing launched the rebound right to Jim Dowd, who shoveled a backhander into the net.  The Devils led 3-2 with 1:24 left, and a Stephane Richer empty-netter sealed it.  New Jersey now went back home with a 2-0 series lead and a chance to win the Stanley Cup at home.

And Chambers wasn’t forgotten back where he’d first risen to prominence.

When they showed up on their respective campuses 10 years ago, they arrived with question marks as big as their considerable frames.

At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Mike Peluso stood out for the University of Alaska Anchorage. So did his skating. At 19, he was not elegance on blades. Awkward and lumbering were words that came to mind.

At 6-2, 220 pounds, Shawn Chambers was the biggest player at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. At 19, he was blessed with all manner of wonderful attributes. A strong work ethic, however, was not one of them. Overweight and lazy were descriptions not far off the mark.

Now, here it is a decade later, and the two former Alaska college hockey players, the only Seawolf and the only Nanook ever to play regularly in the National Hockey League, are two games away from every player’s dream — hoisting the Stanley Cup overhead. As teammates with the New Jersey Devils, they carry a 2-0 lead over the Detroit Red Wings into today’s Game 3.

The question marks Peluso and Chambers carried into college hockey have long been answered. Peluso conquered his poor skating and Chambers discovered enough labor intensity to complement his skilled game.

That Chambers has turned into a solid NHL defenseman is really not that much of a surprise. Even in just the three semesters he spent in Fairbanks, his talent was indisputable.

The Nanooks recruited him out of Sterling Heights, Mich., sight unseen, on the recommendation of a part-time scout for the Detroit Red Wings. The book on Chambers was that he was a fine offensive defenseman — a good skater, slick stickhandler and a sniper of a shooter. There was word, too, that he was by no means a fitness fanatic.

Former Nanooks assistant coach Don Lucia, who recruited Chambers, remembers the scout’s recommendation.

”He’s a good skill player, but he’s a little lazy and fat,” was the report Lucia heard.

That fall of 1985, Lucia moved on to become an assistant at UAA and his former college teammate, Dave Laurion, took over the assistant’s job in Fairbanks. Laurion, the current UAF head coach, said the scouting report on Chambers was accurate.

”He was just a kid who had good skills and could do without worrying about what kind of physical condition he was in,” Laurion said. ”He was the kind of guy who was nonchalant in practice, nonchalant in games, nonchalant socially, nonchalant in school, nonchalant about everything.”

But Chambers could play the game. The first time he ever played against UAA he scored two goals and an assist. His first season, he put up huge numbers for a defenseman — 15 goals and 36 points in 25 games. He opened his second season with a hat trick at Lake Superior State and scored 11 goals and 30 points in 19 games.

”You didn’t notice him in the weight room, but you certainly noticed him on the ice,” Laurion said.

Chambers flunked out of school at the semester break his sophomore season and went on to play in the Western Hockey League before joining the Minnesota North Stars, the first of four NHL teams of which he has been a member. In a career plagued occasionally by knee problems, he has been a steady defenseman who has provided offense. In these Stanley Cup playoffs, Chambers has two goals and seven points in 18 games. Tuesday, he assisted on the game-winning goal in New Jersey’s 4-2 victory over Detroit.

Woody, Doyle. “PUTTING DOUBTS TO REST – PELUSO, CHAMBERS CLOSE TO NHL CROWN.” Anchorage Daily News, 22 Jun. 1995, Sports, p. B1

The demoralized Red Wings barely put up a fight in Game 3, only managing two late goals to make their 5-2 loss look even remotely respectable.

The morning of Game 4, another story featuring Chambers hit the wire.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Shawn Chambers has had to endure a lot since a midseason trade from Tampa Bay to the New Jersey Devils.

The trade meant separation from his wife and infant son, and a three-month stay in a hotel. The defenseman’s car was stolen from the hotel during the playoffs

But the hockey’s been great.

Chambers has became one of those silent keys to the Devils’ success and their surprising run toward a first Stanley Cup.

Hockey was never like this with the expansion Lightning, who traded Chambers and Danton Cole to the Devils on March 14 for Alexander Semak and Ben Hankinson.

“It’s nice to help out a team that is doing something this well and playing well,” said Chambers, who went to Tampa Bay in the 1992 expansion draft. “It’s nice to be a part of that again.

“You know as well as I do, in Tampa, we were fighting for every inch we had. Here it’s nice to show something for it.”

And the ultimate hockey prize would be the topping on the cake.

Chambers knows what it’s like to be close to a Cup. He was originally drafted by Minnesota in 1987 and played on the North Stars’ Cup final team in 1991 against Pittsburgh. Minnesota led that series 2-1 before losing.

The highlight of that series might have been a move Mario Lemieux put on Chambers in skating around him and scoring a goal.

Chambers laughs when it’s mentioned.

“I think that will be forever remembered,” he said. “I dove down and (Jon) Casey dove down. It was pretty ugly. I don’t think I’ll ever be forgotten in Pittsburgh.”

Chambers doesn’t seem worried about losing the lead in this series.

“I think we have a little stronger team here,” he said. “We have no superstar. Everyone is just a good hockey player on this team. I have a much more confident feeling now than in Minnesota.”

It took Chambers a little while to settle in with the Devils, who acquired him four days after defenseman Ken Daneyko sustained what was originally thought to be a season-ending knee injury.

Being a restricted free agent at the end of the season, Chambers left his pregnant wife in Florida and moved to New Jersey alone because he wasn’t sure he’d be playing next season. He’s lived a hotel ever since and seen his wife only when his son was born in late March and on a couple of other occasions.

“It’s been tough, but this kind of makes up for it,” said Chambers, who has come up with a couple of really big plays in the playoffs.

It was the rebound of his shot from the right point that Jim Dowd put into the net late in the third period Tuesday night that give the Devils the lead in a 4-2 win in Game 2.

Not only did the assist help give New Jersey a 2-0 lead in the series, Chambers got it with his parents from nearby Sterling Heights, Mich. in the stands. His parents have tried to be supportive in the face of local opposition.

“My dad painted a New Jersey logo on the front lawn of our house and then the next day someone wrote `Go Wings’ on it,” Chambers said, laughing.

That’s his nature — he smiles a lot and tries not to let the compliments overwhelm him. When he’s on the ice, he’s just out there doing a job, although he is one of the few Devils to admit he does think about winning the Stanley Cup.

“I don’t think a day ever goes by when you’re a hockey payer that you don’t think about winning the Stanley Cup,” Chambers said. “But we still have work to do.”

Canavan, Tom (Associated Press).  “TRADE HAS CHAMBERS NEAR CUP.” St. Paul Pioneer Press, 23 Jun. 1995, Sports, p. 1D

Game 4 got out to a furious start, with Neal Broten giving the Devils a 1-0 lead barely one minute into the game.  Fedorov tied it less than one minute later, and then Coffey scored a shorthanded goal to give Detroit a 2-1 lead.

With less than two minutes to go, a scrum along the boards in the Detroit zone saw John MacLean end up with the puck.  He whipped a pass to Bruce Driver, who faked a shot and then passed to Chambers.  Drifting in through the left circle, Chambers spotted a small gap and rocketed a shot over Mike Vernon’s glove.  2-2.

Broten scored again, this time in the second period, to make it 3-2, which it remained well into the third period.  Pressing for the tying goal, Detroit was instead pinned down and out of position defensively, which allowed rookie Sergei Brylin to spring loose and slide the puck past Vernon for a 4-2 lead.  But there was still more than twelve minute left, and Detroit had the ability to strike quickly.  New Jersey would need one more goal to seal it.

A Stu Grimson penalty provided the chance.  As the clock ticked down past 9:00 to go, and then past 8:00, the Devils kept up the attack.  Finally, Brylin spotted Chambers and wired a perfect pass through four players to the top of the left circle.  From almost exactly the same spot as in the first period, the kid from Mount Sterling wound up and blasted a shot past Vernon that made it 5-2.

One of the more famous moments from Game 4 is that of Mike Peluso on the Devils’ bench, unable to take the ice because tears were streaming down his face.  It’s a picture that is pure hockey: the oft-overlooked kid who changed his entire game to get a chance at the NHL, who gained and then kept a roster spot by virtue of his fighting skills, completely at a loss at the realization that he’ll be a Stanley Cup champion.

And for the three lifelong Devils – MacLean, Daneyko, and Driver – it was the ultimate redemption.

One thing that I never noticed until piecing together the media for this write-up comes after Chambers scored the Cup-clinching goal, the one that made it 5-2.  After the puck goes in, he’s mobbed by three of his teammates on the ice: Scott Stevens, Brylin, and Guerin.  But then, joining the fray late, is John MacLean.  And if you look closely, you’ll see that he has his face buried in the back of Guerin’s shoulder and then Brylin’s.  He simply can’t show his face, such was the emotion of the moment.

The Devils were champions, thanks in no small part to their midseason acquisition.

The rest of the way

Chambers played two more seasons with New Jersey, then signed with Dallas as a free agent.  In 1997-98 the Stars made it to the conference finals before bowing out against Detroit.  The next year, he was on the ice when Brett Hull scored an overtime goal that brought the Stanley Cup to Dallas.

Early in the 1999-00 season, Chambers went down with yet another knee injury that required yet another operation.  This time, it was a microfracture surgery that was performed, one of the first ever done on an athlete.  This shelved him for the remainder of the season, which was also the last year of his contract.

During the playoffs:

Shawn Chambers looked like a pea outside a pod. The former North Stars defenseman stood alone quietly against a wall Monday while media swarmed around his Dallas teammates. Another knee injury forced Chambers from the playoffs, and this injury could end his career. He plans to see two knee specialists over the summer, including one in Minnesota, and both likely will suggest he undergo another operation – his 14th in the past nine years.

Chambers will be an unrestricted free agent July 1, but teams aren’t usually in the market for a 33-year-old whose knee X-rays resemble a plate of spaghetti. Should he come back, though, he wouldn’t mind wearing a Wild uniform.

“If I couldn’t stay in Dallas, that would probably be the only place I would go,” Chambers said.

Jones, Tom. “NOTES – Rumor mill favors Lemaire // Finals talk has ex-Devils coach joining Risebrough with Wild.” Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities, 30 May 2000, SPORTS, p. 04C

End of the Line

That was the end of Shawn Chambers’ NHL career.  He had played 200 regular season and 33 playoff games by the end of the 1991-92 season, when it looked like two years of nonstop knee problems were going to force his retirement at age 25.

Instead, expansion gave him another chance; Tampa Bay could afford to be patient while he recovered back to 100%, and he responded by excelling in a new role.  From the time that he was essentially done as a player after Washington was done with him, he played another 425 regular season and 61 playoff games, which included being a key player on two separate Stanley Cup champions.

This Tampa Bay Lightning jersey was worn by Shawn Chambers during the 1992-93 season, where he finally proved that he could play in the NHL at a high level.  It’s a testament to both the perseverance of someone who refused to quit even as his knee refused to heal, and to what can happen if someone is given an opportunity to perform.

 

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