28 on 28: My Interview With Blackhawks Great Steve Larmer
If you’ve read my Blackhawks coverage over the past 16 years, you’ll know that I have been a long believer that the organization should have retired Steve Larmer‘s number 28 decades ago. Even in the final days of Patrick Kane’s time with the Blackhawks, as he reaches new benchmarks and climbs the franchise’s all-time leaderboards in different statistical categories, you still see Larmer’s name near the top of almost every one.
Larmer was in Chicago a couple of weeks ago for a memorabilia show, and the fine people at AM Sports Marketing Group arranged time for me to sit down and chat with Larmer about his incredible career. We talked about playing in Chicago and winning a Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers, the toughest players to play against, and the Blackhawks’ recent dynasty teams.
I hope you enjoy our conversation! I know I did.
TB: I like asking guys who played there what it was like playing at the Chicago Stadium. The answers are always unique.
28: It was great, in the sense the people were right on top of you, it was a small confined area. The United Center now is, what? Three times larger than the Stadium? So it was cozy, comfortable, unique that way, and it was a fabulous place to play.
TB: You were drafted the same year as Denis Savard, but you joined him a couple years later. What was it like skating with him and did you guys have much of a relationship before you joined him in the NHL? Or was that something that grew when you were both in Chicago together?
28: Well, it grew when we were both in Chicago together for sure. No, it was fabulous to play with such a wonderful player. For a first-year player coming in and being able to play on a line with Denis Savard and Al Secord was a great opportunity and it was a lot of fun and very grateful for the time that I got to spend with Denis and play with him. And he was always a pass-first, shoot-second type player, very unselfish and even more unselfish off the ice. He was a great teammate.
TB: How do you feel you guys complimented each other?
28: Well, we all brought different things to the table. Al was big and tough and could create space for us. And Denis was a great passer. He’s like a little water bug out there. He was hard to contain. And I always tell people this, what I really learned a lot playing with him was that you always had to expect the unexpected, because when you thought there was nothing, he could make something out of it. So you always had to be ready.
TB: When you made the decision to end your consecutive game streak and move on, was that hard to reconcile before the trade was made or after? Was it harder to ask or to actually be traded?
28: I don’t know that it was hard either. I think the time was right after spending 12 full seasons here and having gone through a whole bunch of changes with a group that I came in with and played with for a long time. We had a great core group with Dougie Wilson and Bobby Murray and Darryl Sutter and Rich Preston and Keith Brown and Troy Murray and Denis and some other guys, that you get sitting there and you’re looking around and you’re like, “Where’d everybody go?” And Dirk Graham, I played with him for a long time too, and he was a great captain.
And then you get to that point where it’s like you’re stuck in neutral. You’re not going forward as a group and you’re not going backwards. You’re just kind of stuck in the middle, which is uncomfortable, I guess. It’s not really where you want to be as a player. You want to be moving forward, either with a group that’s got a chance to win or a young group that is learning and going through that process.
TB: You wound up going to the New York Rangers, who also have a storied arena. How did Madison Square Garden as a home rink compare to the Chicago Stadium?
28: Well, there’s a lot of similarities. I was fortunate enough to play for two Original Six teams, both teams with lots of history and both old buildings. It was a cool place to play, right in the middle of Manhattan. So it was neat.
TB: Your Blackhawks teams played against the Oilers so often in the ’80s, and then you became a teammate of Mark Messier’s with the Rangers.
28: I think half that [Oilers] team was there with Mark and Kevin Lowe and Jeff Beukeboom and Adam Graves and Glenn Anderson came in at the end and Craig MacTavish, so there were a lot of Oilers there that had been down that path many times. Mark was a great player obviously, very welcoming. He made everybody on that team feel like they were the most important player.
TB: Did your perception of Messier change at all from playing against him to then playing with him?
28: No, not really. Other than the way he played the game was the same. Some nights he would just as soon go through you as around you. And he wasn’t a talkative person, but when he did speak it meant a lot and people listened.
TB: After all the years in Chicago and getting close, do you feel like the Stanley Cup that you won in New York personally was any level of validation for what you had put in over the years?
28: Well, I don’t know. I don’t if there’s a validation that has to go with it, but obviously it was nice to win it. And we had a great group of guys there, but there’s a lot of luck involved too. We were there in ’91 when we lost to Pittsburgh in the finals, and that was a bitter taste. And it was a couple of years getting over that because you’re always thinking about it, and even a year later, or whatever, your mind goes back to, “Holy mackerel, that might’ve been the only chance we had and we blew it.” And it’s hard to let go. But in New York it was nice to win. But again, you got to stay healthy, you got to be lucky, and you got to play well, you need great goaltending and all of that, which it all came together. It was like the stars were aligned. So it was a really unique experience.
TB: You played for Mike Keenan in both places. What was your impression of him as a coach?
28: Well, personally I liked him because he pushed me to become better and gave me opportunities that I might not have had otherwise. So that was my biggest fear when I went to New York, it was like, “Oh my God, I’m going from the frying pan to the fire. Do I want this again?” But I think he always had a lot of respect for me as a player and whatnot, and I had a lot of respect for him. So it was a match that worked out really well. So I enjoyed playing for him and he pushed me to become a better player and I’m actually thankful for that.
TB: Was there a coach that you played for that you would say was your favorite?
28: Well, I had Gary Green in junior when I played. He was probably the most honest coach I had, and I enjoyed playing for him a lot when I was a 16-year-old kid breaking into the OHL. I had Bert Templeton the next year in junior when he was a good guy to play for too. And Orval Tessier, my first coach I had in Chicago that I played with in New Brunswick when we won the Calder Cup there. So I’m grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to play and giving me a chance to play in the NHL.
TB: Maybe I’ll caveat this by maybe excluding Wayne Gretzky, but who would you say was the hardest player to play against in your career?
28: They’re all hard. There’s no such thing as easy. Bob Gainey, I think. When we went in, we played Montreal and we always played against Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau and Bob was a great skater (and he was from Peterborough, too, and I knew him a little bit). He was such a great skater, he could spot me half the length of the ice and still catch me. So it was tough playing against Montreal and the way they played. And they had a designated checking line, so it was hard playing against them. And Edmonton was tough to play against because they were so good and had the puck all the time. So spent a lot of time chasing them, trying to get the puck back.
TB: Skipping closer to the current day, as you’ve watched the Blackhawks win three Stanley Cups and put a team together a little more than a decade ago, as an alumni of the team, did you enjoy it? Was it something that you appreciated? How did you feel about the organization putting that dynasty room together?
28: Oh, it was great. I think when you have an Original 6 franchise like Chicago and the trials and tribulations that they’ve gone through and for them to put three Stanley Cups together in a six-year span is pretty incredible. And a lot of the credit goes to the guy that put that team together and the players. (Winked and pointed to a photo of Dale Tallon.)
TB: When Marian Hossa had his jersey retired, he brought up that the first NHL jersey that he got as a kid was yours. Do you see similarities between your game and Hossa’s? And how’d you feel hearing that a Hall of Famer’s first jersey was 28 in red?
28: Well, it was pretty cool. He’s a great player. He’s always been a great player. I was surprised that Ottawa got rid of him. It was like, “How can you get rid of a guy that’s that good?” But they ended up doing it and he went on and he had a great career playing in different places, but got rewarded playing here in Chicago. And I think he was a big part of that in the sense that they needed a guy that played the way he played to help them get over the top.
TB: It’s a tough time for the Blackhawks right now…
28: Yeah, I was at the game in Toronto on Wednesday (Jan. 15) night. It wasn’t good… Ugly. With my wife sitting there with an Auston Matthews jersey on beside me. So that went over well.
TB: Having been retired as a player for almost 30 years, what does it mean to you that the Chicago fans and the market here still love you so much and still appreciate what you did for the Blackhawks on the ice?
28: I’m grateful for that and the opportunity that I had to play here. And to be able to play here for as long as I did was very special. I grew up here basically, came in a boy and hopefully I left a man, or some sort of a man. But no, it was a wonderful experience. I got to meet a lot of great people and play with hundreds of great teammates. And hockey’s different in the sense that you surround yourself with good people, you’re going to do well. And I was fortunate enough to be able to play with a lot of great players and we had a lot of fun, because we had some really close teams. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. Because when you walk away from it, all you’ve got left is friendships.