I will never forget my introduction to Eric Desjardins.
It's September 1991. I was barely a 17 years old, and, in my own not-so-humble teenage estimation, a hockey expert.
I was anxiously awaiting news about Team Canada's roster for my favorite international tournament of all time, the Canada Cup. Boy was I ever excited about this Canada Cup. Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and company were going to go back to war against the Soviets, just like 4 years prior in 1987.
Most of the training camp the media was fixating on Eric Lindros, the junior superstar who would be making his debut against the best of the NHL. I know I eagerly awaited the phenom's debut.
But when the final Team Canada roster was announced and the whole hockey world was talking about Lindros, I was scurrying to find out about another Eric - Eric Desjardins.
Who the heck was he? How could I not know anything about him? What kind of a hockey expert was I, anyways?
I quickly found out as much as I could, back in those pre-internet days. Which is to say not a whole lot. He was a young Quebecker out of Rouyn-Noranda. He had played just 153 games in the previous three seasons with Montreal, scoring but 12 goals.
I quickly figured Desjardin's inclusion was some sort of cronyism. After all, Montreal's Serge Savard was a manager with this team, and Jean Perron was an assistant coach.
But it turned out Desjardins was very much there based on merit, although I recall hearing that Canada's lack of right-handed shooters on the blue line played a role in his inclusion as well. He impressed me thoroughly in that tournament.
After that I was able to keep an eye on him pretty closely. He would star in Montreal, helping the Canadiens capture the 1993 Stanley Cup, thanks in large part to his hat trick performance against Los Angeles in game 2 of the finals.
He was quietly the anchor of Montreal's defense, and later Philadelphia's. He was never really equated with the elite defensemen of the game, yet he was not far off, either, providing a lot of steady minutes. His brilliance was not necessarily obvious, rather subtle and understated, much like himself.
Desjardins had good size at 6'1" and 205lbs, but he never played an overly physical game, perhaps making him less noticeable to the casual observer and easy to under-appreciate. Instead he relied on near perfect positioning and an active stick to check effectively. He was not thunderously noticeable, but he was efficient. He was clean and controlled, never panicked and rarely took a bad penalty.
He was as cool as a cucumber while under pressure in his own zone. He was excellent at head-manning the puck out of the zone and capable of handling (not necessarily rushing) the puck out himself.
On offense he was a power play quarter back, a rare right-handed one at that. Like Raymond Bourque he had a low, heavy slap shot that somehow always found it's way from the point on to the net, creating countless opportunities for rebounds and deflections.
By the mid 1990s the Canadiens needed offense and sacrificed their stud defenseman and a young John Leclair in exchange for veteran winger Mark Recchi. Recchi did well in Montreal, but somehow the team was never quite the same and headed into a tailspin.Meanwhile in Philadelphia Leclair erupted into perhaps the game's best power forward, while Desjardins earned more recognition and became an all star defender, twice making the year end honorary team.
Desjardins played 11 seasons in Philadelphia. Perhaps he was relied on a bit too heavily by the Flyers. As he got older his body was starting to break down a bit and he was becoming noticeably tired in the post seasons. As good as he was, the Flyers failed to bring in a true number one defenseman to spell off their captain.