Because I lived in Edmonton, I remember CuJo when he was a goalie with the Edmonton Oilers. But he broke the city’s heart when, in 1998, he became an NHL free agent and left the Oilers’ fans he had there for two reasons – (a) more money and a (b) better chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Well, here’s wishing Curtis Joseph a Happy Birthday. He celebrated his 53rd birthday this week – on April 29. He was one of the coolest goalies because – in part – he had a cool nickname.
He got his nickname “CuJo” because of the Stephen King novel that was popular at the time and because it fit the two letters of his first and last names. He wore number 31 with all the six NHL teams he played with (the St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Phoenix Coyotes, and Calgary Flames), and – although he never won the Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs – he became a superstar with that team.
With the Maple Leafs, he won 30 games three seasons in a row; he was a two-time runner-up for the Vezina Trophy (1999 and 2000); and, he was a finalist for the 1999 Lester B. Pearson Award. In the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic games, he was the goalie for the Canadian men’s hockey team that won the gold medal.
CuJo’s Move to Toronto
When Curtis Joseph signed a contract with the Maple Leafs, he was taking over from the immensely popular Felix Potvin. Potvin had been a star, but he was a goalie who had fallen in stature with the team. Joseph immediately became the Maple Leafs number one goalie and a huge fan favorite.
CuJo was undrafted, but he had tons of personality, wore a really “different” goalie mask, and was simply a heck of a good hockey player. By the time he was finished with the team – leaving them once again for more money to go to the Detroit Red Wings, he had simply become one of the top goaltenders in the NHL.
Then, immediately after the 2002 season when the Maple Leafs almost made the Stanley Cup Finals, he left for the Stanley Cup winner that season – the Red Wings. Again, he signed a contract for more money and he was chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup and believed the Red Wings had the best chance to help him reach that prize. That he clearly said as much when he left Toronto deflated his status with the team’s fans. Most Maple Leafs fans were not unhappy when the Red Wings couldn’t repeat with Joseph as their goalie.
Sadly for Joseph, although he personally played well enough – especially in his first season, the Red Wings didn’t get past the conference semi-finals either season. At the end of season two, CuJo even retired but came back a couple of seasons later to play with the Phoenix Coyotes and the Calgary Flames.
His final season was 2008-09 when he and Maple Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher signed a one-year, $700,000 deal to bring CuJo back to Toronto. During that season, he won five games to push his career totals to 454 wins (actually 454 wins, 352 losses, and 96 ties in 943 career games.
CuJo: One of the Best NHL Goalies of His Time
CuJo was one of the best goalies of his time. Although I was sad to see him leave Edmonton for more money and the Maple Leafs, winning the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2000 – an award presented each year to the NHL player who best exemplifies leadership qualities both on and off the ice and who has made significant humanitarian contributions to his community – tells fans all they need to know about him as a person.
In short, Cujo was a great player and one of the good guys of hockey.
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