Photo: Peterborough Examiner
For most Capitals fans, the end of April was a joyous time. The Caps had just beaten the Philadelphia Flyers in six games and looked poised to do the same to the Pittsburgh Penguins in round two.
Lost in the shuffle of the Caps playoff run however, was the news of a deeply difficult time for one of the organization’s most prolific playoff performers: John Druce. Druce’s daughter Courtney died on April 27 in hospice care, eight days shy of her 28th birthday, after her fifth bout with cancer. First diagnosed in 2004 at the age of 15, Courtney courageously fought the disease for 12 years.
Since Courtney’s diagnosis, the family has used John’s NHL fame to raise money for the fight against childhood cancer. John became an honorary chair of the Peterborough Petes’ annual Pink in the Rink cancer fundraiser in 2014. He also has been an active member of Pedal for Hope, a charity ride by local police which raises money and awareness for cancer research, since 2005. In 2010, Druce was even made an honorary constable of the Peterborough Lakefield Community Police Service, after helping the charity surpass $1 million worth of donations.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking to lose someone so young who was so full of life. [Courtney] had so much potential,” Lyndsey Fullman, fundraising specialist for the Peterborough branch of the Canadian Cancer Society, said to The Peterborough Examiner. “She was an incredible woman. The magnitude of her loss is absolutely massive. I know it was felt deeply on the Pedal for Hope team today. John Druce has been a personal friend of the Canadian Cancer Society and he joined the Pedal for Hope in honour of his daughter.”
Druce only scored 113 goals in 531 career NHL games, but it was his 1989-90 playoff performance that was the stuff of legend. It even inspired headlines like The Druce Is Loose.
During the 1989–90 NHL season, his regular season statistics would continue to be unspectacular (8 goals in 45 games), but during the playoffs he exploded for 14 goals and helped guide the Capitals to their first semifinals appearance.
In the division semifinals versus the New Jersey Devils, Druce scored three goals in the six game series won by Washington, including two game winners. In the division finals versus the New York Rangers, Druce provided a shocking amount of offensive output. In game two of the series, Druce scored a hat trick, his first since midget hockey. Game three saw Druce tally two more goals and two assists. The Capitals needed this offensive production since their top scorer Dino Ciccarelli was injured.
Druce scored two goals in game four to lead the Capitals to a three games to one lead. In overtime of game five, Druce fended off a check by Ron Greschner and deflected Geoff Courtnall’s shot over goalie John Vanbiesbrouck for a 2-1 series winning victory.
Capitals general manager David Poile said, “John Druce was not on the top of my list—anybody’s list—to come through the way he did. He came out of nowhere to be the hero.” Poile added, “He was not a top player in junior, not a top player in the minors. This is not only a good story today, but a good story for years to come.”
At the time, Druce’s total of nine goals in a playoff series put him in a five-way tie for third on the alltime list for goals scored in a playoff series, behind Jari Kurri (with 12, for the Edmonton Oilers in 1985) and Tim Kerr (with 10, for the Philadelphia Flyers in 1989).
On Wednesday, Druce will be making a rare appearance at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to participate in the Capitals Alumni Game being held during FanFest. In a sweet gesture, the alumni players will be auctioning off their signed, game-worn sweaters, with all the money from the auction benefitting the charity near and dear to Druce’s heart, Pedal For Hope, and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s National Capital Area chapter.
The auction will open at noon on Tuesday, June 28, on the app Handbid and will conclude 15 minutes after the Capitals Alumni Exhibition game ends on Wednesday, June 29.
You can get signed jerseys of…
Vezina Trophy winner Olie Kolzig
Hall of Famer Rod Langway
And, of course, Druce.
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