The thing that we will always will remember about Gaston Gingras was his skating. He wasn't necessarily the fastest guy out there, but he was truly something to behold! He could turn on a dime. He was very clever in his ways of using extremely sharp turns to avoid being checked. Even for a couple of decades after he retired he continued to awe crowds with his abilities at oldtimers games - even attaching sparklers as if they were rocket skates. He is probably still better than many current NHL defensemen in terms of skating ability.
Gaston Gingras was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens 27th overall in 1979 after a successful three year junior career with the OHA's Kitchener Rangers. Gaston however jumped to the WHA's Birmingham Bulls for the 1978-79 season before joining the Habs in 1979-80.
Gaston had a tough time in his early years in Montreal. Much was expected of the Quebec native. The Habs fans had just tasted 4 consecutive Stanley Cups and wanted more, and Gingras came in as a much hyped offensive defenseman who never really got untracked in three and 1/2 seasons in Montreal. Media and fan pressure resulted in poor Gaston completely losing his confidence. He would make many errors that rookie d-men make that received a round of boos from the fans. The fans eventually booed out of town.
"I went there as an underage player and much was expected of me, but I was young and my confidence was fragile. Fans had just won four Stanley Cups and every mistake they booed; every time I touched the puck. My only consolation was that they did the same to Lafleur, Robinson and Savard. It was a devastating time" Gingras remembers.
Gingras was moved to Toronto during the 1982-83 season, relieving the tremendous pressure on the youngster. Gingras' play improved as well too. he scored 10 goals and 28 points in 45 games with the Leafs in the remainder of that season. Gingras played often with the great Borje Salming, who Gingras compared to Larry Robinson.
"Salming might have been better, he could control the puck better and had a better shot but they were both great."
However the Leafs were the laughing-stock of the league in the 80s, and Gingras' soon found himself out of the loop in T.O. too. He wasn't very strong defensively and was considered by some to be too soft to play in the NHL. He also seemed to make a lot of high risk plays as opposed to making the safe but less spectacular play.
Gaston spent most of the 1984-85 season playing for Toronto's AHL farm team before he was traded back to Montreal part way through the season. Gingras joined the Habs' farm team in Sherbrooke and helped lead a young team to the Calder Cup (AHL) Championship. For Gaston, it was a huge highlite of his career.
"Winning the Calder Cup with the Habs farm team at Sherbrooke was a great moment. When we won the American League Title, I played with (Brian) Skrudland, Pat Roy, Mike Lalor and Claude Lemieux and we were all moved up to Montreal. If I hadn't been on that championship team, I might not have made it back to the N.H.L.," Gingras said in an interview with the Oldtimers Hockey Challenge.
Gaston split the next season between Montreal and Sherbrooke, but was part of Montreal's surprise run to the 1986 Stanley Cup championship. Gaston played with Larry Robinson during those playoffs, another highlight.
"Robinson had such great confidence, on a three on two breakout he would take the two and I would take the other one. Robinson controlled the puck a lot like Borje Salming who I played with in Toronto."
Gingras' play in the '86 playoffs probably lengthened his NHL career. He spent the next three seasons solely in the NHL, splitting the seasons between Montreal and St. Louis.
After the 1988-89 season Gingras moved to Europe where he served as a playing coach. He spent 5 years in Europe, 3 in Switzerland and 2 in Italy. Gingras returned to North America in 1994 when he played a similar role in with the Habs farm team as a player/assistant coach.
Gingras definitely enjoyed his time as a hockey player.
"I played in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup. I played in the American League and won a Calder Cup, I played and coached in Europe. All in all, I played 18 years of pro hockey and met a lot of wonderful people. I have no regrets."