PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 31: Brian Leetch #2 and John Vanbiesbrouck #34 of the New York Rangers in action against the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game on December 31, 2011 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
On Thursday, we left off with two-time former all-star goaltender Tomas Vokoun (101-108-30, 2.57 GAA, .923 save percentage). Today, we get on with another former all-star goaltender and Detroit native, John Vanbiesbrouck.
To read more on Beezer, follow the jump.
Beezer, a 5'8" goaltender from Detroit, Michigan, first gained notice in the OMJHL with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, posting a 31-16-1 record in 1980-81, his first season in juniors. The New York Rangers selected him in the fourth round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, 72nd overall. The following season would see him continue to feature as the Greyhounds starting netminder (12-12-2). He also managed to earn a victory in his NHL debut, a 29-save performance in a 4-1 Ranger victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on March 31,1982.
In 1982-83, Beezer spent the entire season back with Sault Ste. Marie, posting a 39-21-1 win loss record. The following season was spent mostly in the Central Hockey League, playing 36 games with the Tulsa Oilers. In his second callup to the NHL, he went 2-1-0, allowing 10 goals on 85 shots.
IN 1984-85, Vanbiesbrouck finally showed the Rangers that they needed to keep him at the top organizational level with a 12-24-3 record with a 4.22 GAA backstopping a mostly lousy team (counterpart Glen Hanlon's numbers were comparable). He also earned his first career shutout on January 2nd, in a 6-0 whitewashing of the Vancouver Canucks.
Vanbiesbrouck's 31-21-5 record in 1985-86 was good enough to lead the NHL in wins. He took home the Veniza Trophy, given annually to the top Goaltender in the NHL, while helping the team to the Patrick Division title (winning the first two rounds of the playoffs) before dropping the Conference Finals to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.
Ultimately, Vanbiesbrouck played in parts of 11 seasons with the Rangers, totalling a 200-177-47 record (fifth all-time on the Rangers win list). After the 1992-93 season, he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for "future considerations," (future considerations happened five days later, and was named Doug Lidster). Before Lidster's transition, Beezer was left unprotected by the Canucks in the 1993 NHL Expansion Draft. Florida made him the first ever Panther with the first pick of the night.
The 1993-94 season would open for Florida with the Beez between the pipes. He stopped 29-of-33 shots in the Panther's first ever regular season game, a 4-4 tie with the Chicago Blackhawks. In his next start, on October 9th, he posted Florida's first ever win, a 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. He ranked second in the NHL with a .924 save percentage, keeping Florida competitive even at times when conventional wisdom dictated they shouldn't be. Even though he only had one shutout on the season, he only allowed more than four goals on one occasion out of 57 games played. He totalled a 21-25-4 record for the Panthers, with a league fourth best 2.53 GAA and a staggering total of 38 penalty minutes. Florida finished the season with an expansion-team record 33 victories (33-34-17) while Vanbiesbrouck earned his first all-star appearance.
After the 1994-95 season got a late start due to a labor dispute, Beezer again was Florida's anchor in the net. With "His Girl Friday" Mark Fitzpatrick starting about every third game, John's save percentage of 91.4 ranked him fifth in the NHL, and his four shutouts were good enough for third. From February 28th (a 0-0 goaltending clinic between Beezer (44 saves) and New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter (23 saves)) through March 11th, the Beez allowed only four goals in five contests, saving 136-of-140 shots (.972) with two shutouts. He was 14-15-4 overall, with a new career best 2.47 GAA.
In 1995-96, Vanbiesbrouck ranked ninth in the NHL with a 2.68 GAA and made his second career all-star roster. He led the surprising Panthers to an Eastern Conference Championship with a 26-20-7 record and a .904 save percentage. He started out the season 12-4-1, with two winning streaks, one four games and one six. From November 2nd through December 11th, Beezer stopped 357-of-380 shots (.939). In leading the Panthers through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he went 12-10 with a .932 save percentage and a 2.25 GAA. His season culminated in a heroic goaltending duel for the ages, as he and Colorado Avalanche netminder Patrick Roy went scoreless through five periods, and taking game four of the Stanley Cup Finals into a third overtime. Roy and Vanbiesbrouck stopped a combined 118 shots. Not normally known for his scoring prowess, humongous defenseman Uwe Krupp put a stop to it after 104 minutes by putting one past the Beez to close a truly epic season.
1996-97 would see Vanbiesbrouck post a new personal and NHL fifth best 2.29 GAA. He went 27-19-10, getting the Panthers back to the playoffs with a .919 save percentage. After shutting out the Rangers on 34 shots in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals April 17th, Beezer allowed 13-of-137 shots to score over the next four contests as the Panthers were out in five. His shutout was Florida's last playoff victory for two days short of 15 calendar years. He also played in his third all-star game.
In 1997-98, the Panthers seemed a shell of the Eastern Conference Champions of just two seasons prior, posting a 24-43-15 record. By going 18-29-11, with a 2.87 GAA and an .899 save percentage, Vanbiesbrouck had his worst statistical season since joining the Panthers. From January 24th through the 31st, he stopped 109-of-112 shots with two shutouts over a four game period (3-0-1, .973) in what may have been the high point of Florida's season. Florida did not sign him after the season.
Vanbiesbrouck joined the Philadelphia Flyers for the 1998-99 season, playing two seasons for the club (52-33-24, 2.19, .904). He later played with the New York Islanders (10-25-5, 3.01, .898) and the New Jersey Devils (6-3-0, 1.78, .924), retiring after the 2002 NHL season.
To many, Vanbiesbrouck was the first guy you could really call the "heart and soul" of the team. That the Panthers made the Stanley Cup Finals in only their third season was due in no small part to the man they referred to as "the Beezer." Until the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he was the only Panther goaltender who could say that he won a playoff game while with the club. he was inducted into the Hockey Hall-of-Fame with the Class of 2007.
All-Time Statline: Five seasons, 268 games played (second all-time), 15,503 minutes, 106-108-43 record, 13 shutouts, 7,605 shots faced, 6,939 saves made, 666 goals allowed, .912 save percentage, 2.58 GAA, 40.5 APS.
Thanks for reading today's feature. Make sure to check back tomorrow as we get into it with the number three Panther on the list, a center from Finland with an affinity for waffles.