Danny Cormier brought a blend of skill, size and toughness to the Newfoundland senior hockey league during the 1980s that many people believe has never been matched.
Players who shared the ice with him during the glory days of the provincial senior hockey league, some of them hall of famers, believe the tough power forward was one of the best to play in rinks around this province.
Cormier’s stellar career with the Corner Brook Royals has earned him an induction into the Newfoundland and Labrador Hockey Hall of Fame and he will be honoured at the HNL annual general meeting and gala awards banquet in June.
During his four seasons with the Corner Brook Royals, the six-foot-three, 225-pound power forward collected three Herders and an Allan Cup.
He patrolled the left side, providing space for his teammates with a physical brand of hockey.
He was also among the most penalized players, standing up for all of his teammates when somebody took liberties against them.
Here’s what some of his former teammates had to say about his impact on senior hockey during his career with the Royals:
Hennigar believes any player who had a chance to play with Cormier or watch him play on a regular basis should consider themselves fortunate because he should never have played in the provincial senior hockey league.
“He should never have played because he should have been in the National Hockey league,” Hennigar said Tuesday from Saskatchewan, which he’s called home for the past four years.
Cormier had his chances to play pro hockey. There were invites to play in the American Hockey League, but nothing really materialized for one reason or another.
Hennigar believes his good friend could have been one of those guys who just fell through the cracks, but he said getting a spot in the pro game during the mid-1980s was tough, with teams trying to keep costs down and players going all over the place and European players starting to ply their trade in Canada.
Hennigar says Cormier was the complete player who could score, pass, shoot and hit, but more importantly, he was an awesome teammate who always made sure the team came first, even as he used to joke around by calling himself “The King of Bathurst.”
“All of the guys in the room respected him and loved him because they knew he had their back,” Hennigar said. “He basically stuck up for everybody and it didn’t matter who it was. That was what made him such a valuable teammate.”
Hennigar was responsible for getting Cormier to join the Royals. The two had met in junior and spent time with the American Hockey League’s Moncton Golden Flames on a 25-game tryout basis before they came to the Rock.
He had a lot more fun playing with Cormier than he did against him.
Of course, he never forgot his introduction to Cormier, a few years previously in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League when Hennigar was patrolling the back end for Laval and Cormier had just been called up by Hull.
Hennigar said his team had heard Hull had a new tough guy in town, so everybody was curious about who this Cormier guy was.
On his first shift of the game, Hennigar said, Cormier skated by his team’s bench and stuck his face in the bench glaring at every single guy as he glided by.
“We were all like, ‘who the hell is this guy?’”
In a matter of seconds, the trainer taps Hennigar on the shoulder and repeats the number of Cormier’s jersey and nothing else has to be said.
Hennigar hits the ice moments later and tracks down Cormier and they go toe-to-toe.
“It was a good fight. I don’t know who won or who lost. All I know is it was one of the toughest fights I ever had,” Hennigar said.
The plan was to square off again later in the game, but that never happened because Hennigar’s coach had gave instructions to the team that he didn’t want any shenanigans because the win was in the books and he didn’t see the point in a rematch.
That was just fine with Hennigar because it wasn’t something he wanted to do unless he had to.
“If I had to I would have, but I’m glad I didn’t have to,” he said with a chuckle.
Stark would argue with anybody that Cormier was the best multi-dimensional player to play senior hockey during his generation and he considers him a great teammate who always made sure he had fun on and off the ice.
According to Stark, life was a little easier with Cormier on the ice because he was a tough nut and one of the best team players he ever played the game with during his career.
“He made everyone on our team better because everyone got a chance to go out and play the game and felt confident knowing that Danny would have their back,” he said. “He was a great team player. A quality guy, really.”
Stark played parts of three seasons with Cormier and they lived together on a couple of occasions, and during that time he remembers American Hockey League teams trying to lure Cormier to the mainland when they ran into things like injuries.
Cormier received lots of telephone calls, but he never acted on them, and Stark always wondered what would have happened if Cormier had to take a chance on seeing if pro hockey was something for him.
“In my mind, had he taken them up on those opportunities he probably would have stuck there and continued on down that pro road,” Stark said.
Stark says the love and support shown to Cormier during his days in Corner Brook may have played a role in his decision to not take any risk with going for a shot at pro.
“The fan base was so supportive, you knew you were going to have fun and I think that may have shaped his decision,” Stark said.
Of course, it would be hard to talk about his friend without talking about throwing punches and bringing a crowd to their feet.
A game in Port aux Basques against the Mariners in the late 1980s will always stand out for Stark when it comes to defining his teammate’s compete level.
Cormier fought Brian Burley and broke his hand during the exchange. He then latched onto a backpedalling John Wiske and had another scrap. He even attempted to get at Mariners goalie Chris Pusey, but the officials made sure nothing materialized.
“They’re backing away from him and here he’s got a broken hand and still looking to go,” Stark said.
“Danny was definitely a gamer,” he added. “The more competitive the game, the more that was on the line, the better he was going to play.”
It may be coincidence, but Cal Dunville actually watched a tape of the Cormier battle with the Mariners and he believes that was a defining piece of Cormier’s legacy as one of the guys blessed with an incredible combination of skill, size and toughness.
Dunville played with the Stephenville Jets, and coach Don Howse expected him to be one of the guys to shut down Cormier. Dunville told his coach that he better have Zane Forbes on his wing or he couldn’t guarantee that he would be up to the challenge.
Dunville played alongside Cormier during the Allan Cup win in 1986 and he enjoyed life as his teammate more than he did looking up at the menacing presence that Cormier brought to the ice.
“Danny was tough, but he also had great skill,” Dunville said from Ontario Tuesday afternoon.
Dunville considers Cormier among the elite when it comes to imports who played senior hockey in the province, and he believes the Allan Cup win in Nelson against the Maple Leafs was largely in part to Cormier’s presence against a team built big and tough.
“Nelson tried to get physical with us and Danny was our nuclear weapon, without a doubt,” Dunville said.
He also recalls the pressure being on in Game 7 against Flamboro in the Eastern final for the Bolton Cup, the series used to determine the representative to play against the Maple Leafs.
Coach Mike Anderson sent Dunville and Cormier out on the ice to kill a penalty in the dying minutes of the game and Cormier scored an empty-net goal to deliver the crushing blow.
“He kind of willed the puck out of our zone and I will always remember that,” Dunville said.