Reggie Jackson, meet Brian Savage
When you are known as Mr. October in baseball it is a very good thing. In hockey, not so much.
October is when baseball playoffs are on and World Series glory is up for grabs. Clutch players, the absolute best of the best, rise to the top, no one more famously than the Yankees' Reggie Jackson.
In hockey, October marks the beginning of the season. Hockey's Mr. October award goes to players who tend to start the season really strong, but then fade as the season progresses and all but have disappeared by the time the playoffs start.
In recent memory, no one has done that more famously than Brian Savage.
Savage was a notoriously quick starter, often flirting with the league goal scoring leaders by Halloween. Yet he would fade quickly, never once scoring more than 26 goals by season's end, and vanishing in the playoffs where he only scored 3 times in 39 career games.
Here's the statistical evidence:
As you can see, the bulk of his offensive contributions came early, in October and November. He would then fade noticeably.
And he did this seemingly annually. I'm not sure who it must have been more frustrating for - his coaches or hockey poolers. Either way, to see him flirt with early greatness yet never breakthrough was disappointing.
It is too bad that this is how Brian Savage will be remembered. Because he was actually a great guy and a good hockey player, despite what Jes Golbez thinks.Savage had tremendous outside speed and a very good shot and quick hands. He was good on faceoffs but he lacked vision and creativity to be a NHL center, so he was often shifted to left wing. He was a shooter rather than a play maker, and therefore needed a playmaking center to be effective.
There are two reasons why Savage never emerged as 40 goal scorer that he could have been.
One was injuries. Only twice did he come close to playing a complete NHL schedule. He was tall and lanky, without a lot of muscle build. That prompted teammate Mike Keane to quip “The guy has the worst body I’ve ever seen. He has that weird shape, no shoulders and long arms. Great body for a 60-year-old, but this guy is in his mid-20s.”
Savage never learned to use his body well, and combined with his tunnel vision he was an easy mark for heavy hitters. As a result he suffered several serious injuries, though none more so than in November 199 when he was crunched awkwardly against the Los Angeles Kings. Carried off on a stretcher, his neck vertebrae was cracked in several places. Not many people ever expected to see Brian Savage play hockey again, but to his credit he paid the price and returned triumphantly.
The other reason Savage never broke through as a star scorer was his lack of confidence. Savage was a very streaky scorer. When things were going his way he would score goals in bunches. But it also did not take much to lose his confidence and go through long dry spells. And because he was an inconsistent defensive player, coaches would rarely afford him the necessary ice time to get back on track.
The mental side of the game may have bothered Savage, but he was very much a natural athlete.
A nephew of former NHLer Larry Hillman, Savage grew up in Sudbury and played many sports. In fact, he even gave up hockey between the normally important development years of ages 15 through 17 in order concentrate on golf full time. He won three consecutive Northern Ontario junior golf championships and once capture the longest drive competition at the Canadian junior golf championship.
Savage, who along with his brother Dave are legendary high school track and field stars in Sudbury, actually attend Miami (Ohio) University on a golf scholarship. He just so happened to make the hockey team as well.
Savage had decided to return to hockey after attending a Sudbury Wolves junior game. He was inspired to play again because he saw childhood friends excelling at this level and he wanted to return to the ice.
It was a good decision for Savage. By 1994 he was playing with the Canadian Olympic Team, capturing a silver medal in Lillehammer. In his career he would also compete in two world championships for Team Canada.
Savage was a class act who embraced charities with open arms. Through his annual golf tournament he raised nearly $500,000 for organizations such as the Ten Rainbows Children's Foundation.