Let me first say this to get it out of the way: I’m not a Habs fan and I have never been a Habs fan. Growing up, I loved the Bruins and I thought Denis Savard (who played for Montreal in the early 1990s) was awesome – but I never rooted for the Canadiens in 1993.
Having said that, the Canadiens’ 1993 Stanley Cup run is a part of hockey history, and that championship is magnified every spring when the last Canadian-based team alive is eliminated – as no Canadian team (not Montreal Canadiens, but Canadian, period) has won a Cup since then. Even if I am not – and was not – a fan, it’s a story that still must be discussed.
June 9th, 2018, marks the 25th anniversary of the Cup clincher. To “celebrate” that, here’s sportswriter and blogger Rajan Nanavati with a guest post, discussing the career of forgotten Cup champion Paul DiPietro – an unsung hero who was a key contributor during Montreal’s 1993 run.
The Interesting, Long-Lasting Hockey Life of Paul DiPietro
By Rajan Nanavati
In life, we tend to be so focused on where we’re going, that we often forget to take a step back and enjoy the journey.
If we could give advice to former NHL player and Stanley Cup champion Paul DiPietro, we would do so. While he was one of the stars of Montreal’s championship in 1993, it was a long and twisted road for DiPietro to get there.
In 1990, the Montreal Canadiens selected DiPietro with their fifth-round pick (102nd overall) in the NHL Draft. Despite scoring 119 points in 66 games as a member of the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), DiPietro lasted that long largely in part because of his size, or lack thereof — he was only 5-foot-9, which didn’t exactly give him the idea frame of someone destined for a long career in the league.
Like most rookies, DiPietro spent his entire rookie season playing with the Fredericton Canadiens — also known as the “Baby Habs” — of the American Hockey League (AHL). But, it didn’t take long for the “big league” Canadiens to realize that they might have a future contributor on their hands. In DiPietro’s rookie season, he had 70 points in 78 games, which included 39 goals.
Clearly encouraged by what they saw, DiPietro spent his next two seasons splitting time between Fredericton and Montreal, playing at last 29 games for the NHL club in both years. In fact, his 17 points in 29 contests during the 1992-93 season solidified a spot for DiPietro on Montreal’s postseason roster, as the Canadiens finished with the third-most points in the Prince of Wales Conference standings.
That decision would unquestionably pay dividends for Montreal. After the Canadiens found themselves in an 0-2 hole against the favored Quebec Nordiques, with the local media even saying that the Canadiens should consider trading away future Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy, Montreal turned the tide in the series, winning the next four straight games. DiPietro would help Montreal clinch the series in emphatic manner, as he tallied a hat trick plus an assist in Game 6 of the series, giving Montreal the 4-2 series win.
In Game 1 against the Buffalo Sabres in the ensuing series, DiPietro picked up where he left off, adding another goal and an assist in Montreal’s 4-3 win. His goal in the first 6:23 of the second period helped give Montreal a 3-1 lead in the game. You could say that helped Montreal start off on the right foot against Buffalo, as they swept the Sabres in a series that lasted only six games.
In the Prince of Wales Conference Finals, DiPietro added two more goals and an assist in Montreal’s 4-1 series win against the New York Islanders. His goal in Game 2 helped tie the score up late in the second period, and Montreal would add another in the third to secure the win. DiPietro scored again in Game 4, though Montreal ended up suffering their lone defeat in the series; he was the only score for the Canadiens in their 4-1 loss.
Montreal then advanced to the 1993 Stanley Cup, giving them their third appearance in the league’s final series in a decade. However, while Montreal did most recently make it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1989, they were on the losing end of the series, suffering a 4-2 loss to the Calgary Flames; it was only the second loss in the Stanley Cup in 33 years for the franchise that has been to and won the most Cups. Montreal had most recently won the Cup in 1986, but nothing after that.
The series had an added layer of intrigue, as Montreal would be facing off against Wayne Gretzky – “The Great One” himself – and the Los Angeles Kings. Gretzky had led the Edmonton Oilers to four Stanley Cup championships, but hadn’t been to the Finals after being traded to the Kings – until now.
Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, and the Kings got off to a fast start, with Robitaille tallying two goals and Gretzky dishing out three assists (and a goal of his own) in the Kings’ 4-1 win over the Canadiens. But LA’s celebration would be short-lived, as Montreal would end up winning the next four games straight.
Ironically, in a series featuring the game’s greatest player in history, DiPietro is the name whom the history books will likely remember, as he scored two goals in the deciding Game 5 of the series, giving Montreal a 4-1 win in the game and the series. DiPietro scored the first goal of the game, and when Los Angeles tried to make a comeback while trailing 3-1 in the game (and the series), DiPietro scored the last goal of the game, which was effectively the nail in the coffin of the Kings.
Members of that Canadiens team that won in 1993 have all lauded how DiPietro emerged as one of the stars for Montreal in that series. Others commented on how DiPietro contributed as a fourth line or reserve player, giving them the types of clutch goals and key plays that are needed from guys deep on the roster in the postseason.
The hero of the 1993 run would go on to play another two seasons with Montreal; in the year after DiPietro helped Montreal win the cup, he registered a career-high 13 goals with the Canadiens. But two seasons later, Montreal traded him to the squad that was “persona non-grata” to any hockey fan in Quebec: the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Unfortunately, DiPietro bounced between the NHL and the minors once again, eventually culminating in the Leafs trading DiPietro to the Los Angeles Kings (in something of an ironic twist). But his career alongside Gretzky was very short-lived, as he spent the vast majority of his time in the IHL, with teams like the Phoenix Roadrunners and Cincinnati Cyclones.
But if you think that was the end of DiPietro’s career, you couldn’t be more wrong. DiPietro went on to play another 16 years of professional hockey, the vast majority of which took place in Switzerland. It wasn’t until 2014 when we officially saw DiPietro retire.