Goalie named to Manitoba Hall of Fame

Joey Payeur

Murray Bannerman was known to have a quick glove hand in his NHL heyday.
But he’s even quicker when it comes to the art of self-deprecation over recently being named to the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame.
“When they called me, I asked them if they were having a slow year,” laughed the 59-year-old former Chicago Blackhawks’ goalie, who was born in Fort Frances before his family moved west prior to his first birthday.
“Obviously, it is an honour,” he said.
“When you play, you never play for the accolades down the road but for the moment,” Bannerman added.
“After all is said and done, though, to be recognized in this way is very rewarding.”
Bannerman first honed his craft at a higher level as a three-year junior with the St. James Canadians in the MJHL, starting in 1971-72 when he was just 15 years old and winding up being named the league’s top goalie in 1973-74.
“Junior hockey was a lot different than it is now,” he noted. “On the ice at 10 a.m. in the morning, being gone on the bus for a two-week road trip, and still trying to fulfill your commitment to graduating from high school.”
Bannerman eventually was drafted the fourth round (58th overall) by Vancouver in 1977 and played one period for the Canucks in the 1977-78 season.
He then was dealt to Chicago for Pit Martin before the 1978-79 season and arrived to find he would have his work cut out for him if he was ever going to break into the lineup ahead of the incumbent starter: Hall-of-Fame netminder Tony Esposito.
“It was a great experience to be there at that time, and there was a definite upside to being able to associate and learn from someone who played the game at the level that Tony played,” Bannerman recalled.
“The downside was that with Tony being as good as he was, initially it was tough for me to find time to get into the net,” he chuckled.
Bannerman caddied for Esposito for two-straight seasons as the back-up, getting into just 44 games over that span.
But he stepped in for “Tony-O” in a 1982 Norris Division playoff matchup and ended up beating the Minnesota North Stars.
That led to a changing of the guard the following season, with Bannerman becoming the starter and Esposito filling the No. 2 role.
“It is surreal,” admitted Bannerman about making it into the NHL and then progressing to the point of out-performing one of the all-time greats to ever don a mask.
“You have a strong sense of accomplishment.
“But looking back, you realize you didn’t do it on your own,” he stressed.
“The countless number of people, including parents, coaches, and teachers, who contributed to me getting to that level is significant.”
Bannerman backstopped the Blackhawks to two Campbell Conference finals in 1983 and 1985, with the burgeoning dynasty that was the Edmonton Oilers of the mid-1980s halting their run both times.
One would think Bannerman still would be having nightmares about trying to stop Wayne Gretzky when “The Great One” was in his record-breaking prime.
But it actually was another member of that Oilers’ powerhouse who gave him no end of fits.
“Gretzky was obviously the best player I played against, but he had a pretty decent supporting cast,” noted Bannerman.
“From that whole group, the one that gave me the most trouble was Glenn Anderson,” he recalled.
“He scored a lot of goals on me.
“It was his speed and his shot,” Bannerman said. “He was really fast and had a quick release.”
That release caused Bannerman to become a prime example of why concussion protocols are such an integral part of today’s NHL.
“We were playing in Edmonton in the conference finals and he [Anderson] shot the puck so quick, it went by our defenceman and I got it right in the forehead,” the netminder recounted.
“In those days, the trainer would just come on and give you smelling salts, and you would go on and play the game,” noted Bannerman.
“I could remember the game and I could remember getting hit by the puck,” he added.
“But I drove myself home that night. [And] when I woke up, I found out I had fallen asleep in my car in our driveway.”
Bannerman played seven seasons in all with the ‘Hawks before being demoted to the AHL’s Baltimore Skipjacks in the fall of 1987.
Having had a sharp enough eye to track pucks whistling in his direction at 100 m.p.h., the veteran could read the writing on the wall–and it wasn’t a tale he could swallow easily.
“If you start accepting your career is winding down, you limit how successful you can be,” he reasoned.
Bannerman eventually retired from hockey at the end of that season after spending the whole year in the AHL with Baltimore and then the Saginaw Hawks.
“Once you have the realization it’s over, you have to throw yourself into something else,” said Bannerman, who finished his NHL tenure with a record of 116-125-33, a 3.83 GAA, and an .881 save percentage.
“Definitely, there’s a void when all you ever wanted to do was play hockey and you get into your mid-30s and that’s gone,” he conceded.
“But I had a wife and kids and responsibilities,” he added. “It is what it is and you have to learn to move on with your life.”
These days, Bannerman serves as vice-president of sales in the U.S. for Traffic Tech, Inc., a transportation and logistics provider based out of Montreal with offices in, among other places, Chicago.
“It’s a $700 million-a-year company and I’ve been with them for four years now,” noted Bannerman.
“Being vice-president of sales is basically like being head baby-sitter,” he quipped. “It’s very interesting, to say the least.
“I look back to my playing days and think about the highs and lows that went along with it,” Bannerman added.
“Transportation is very much like that but at a different level.
“You’re going out there to win business and you want to continue to perform at the highest level so you can continue to win,” he remarked.
“It’s the same highs and lows as you get in hockey.”
Bannerman still follows the ‘Hawks closely and enjoys the game in its current form.
“First and foremost, the speed of the game and the skill level in the game is higher than when I played,” he noted.
“The individual greats of my era would be great in any era because of their drive and competitiveness,” he added.
“But now, the training is better and the medical technology is better.
“When I played, you had your first and second lines, and then your third and fourth lines were pretty much role players,” Bannerman said.
“Today, the skill level of the guys on the third line is pretty close to the guys on the top line.
“I think it’s a great game.”
Interviewed just before Chicago was swept out of the first round of the playoffs, Bannerman didn’t hesitate in pinpointing the reasons the ‘Hawks were having so much difficulty against the upstart Nashville Predators.
“Chicago looks like it’s playing a team that’s hungry, that really wants it badly and is doing everything right,” he noted.
“But you have to consider the ‘Hawks winning the Cup three times in recent years extended those seasons by 25 games or so,” added Bannerman in forwarding his theory about fatigue being a factor.
“Everyone’s talking about how they have to blow the team up and start again,” he said. “But the pieces are still there to win.”