Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lupul: Anytime a Good Bet for Maple Leafs

Joe Chesterfield.

That was the name of the imaginary goaltender Joffrey Lupul used to wear out in his driveway in Edmonton, when he was growing up with illusions of someday playing in the NHL in the late 1980s.

That goalie was made from cushions rescued from an old couch. In fact, Lupul knocked the stuffing out of him a long time ago, when Joffrey couldn’t decide who he was going to be that day ... Mark Messier or Glenn Anderson.

Young Joffrey was born to shoot. Pucks under the crossbar. Top shelf. Picking corners. It was a knack.

Like the play on January 7, when Lupul got the puck at 7:10 of the third period and the score tied 3-3 with the Red Wings. Goalie Jimmy Howard was staring him down with the puck on his stick. In slow motion, Joffrey took his time, getting the puck on his backhand and lifting it under the crossbar.

Just like when he was 7 or 8 against Joe Chesterfield.

In a case of truth being stranger than fiction, when talking about Joffrey Lupul, a power forward, being reborn in Toronto.

"I think they thought of me as the injured guy all the time," he said, thinking back to last year at the time. "I didn’t really get the chance to come back.

"But what a difference a year makes. The trade here changed my career."

On February 9 of 2011, Lupul was traded to Toronto along with young defensemen Jake Gardiner for defenseman Francois Beauchemin. Lupul could have been considered a throw-in in the deal. Only Toronto GM Brian Burke wanted Lupul, who was once the seventh pick overall in the 2002 Entry Draft back when Burke was running the Ducks.

"He wasn't the same player," Burke exclaimed. "He had lost 30 pounds. He suffered two blood infections in December 2009 following surgery and again in 2010."

From December 2008, Lupul played 23 games for Anaheim -- before he had to shut it down for the second infection. Before the trade to Toronto, Joffrey had five goal and eight assist in 26 games. But look at him now, on the No. 1 line with Phil Kessel and David Steckel -- standing fourth in NHL scoring behind Herik Sedin, Kessel and Claude Giroux with 19 goals and 28 assists in 41 games.

The Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., native, whose best previous seasons included 28 and 25 goals in 2005-06 with Anaheim and 2008-29 with Philadelphia respectively. Also included in his early successes came in a playoff game on May 9, 2006, when Lupul became the first player in NHL history to score four goals in a playoff game that included the game-winner in overtime, giving the Ducks a 4-3 victory over Colorado goaltender Jose Theodore. 

But that was before he was forced to lie awake awake in his bed for months on end with those bad thoughts, creeping doubts, entering his mind. Is this how his career is supposed to end?

The back surgeries. Bacterial infection and IV antibiotics folowed. The 30something pound loss came because Lupul was not being able to train.

Lupul was just 26 years old. He should have been in the prime of his NHL playing career. He should not have been having thoughts like, "Is it over?"

But he did.

"I never down deep thought I'd retire. I just thought it was bad run of luck," explained Lupul. "I just having numbness down my right leg."

It should have been a routine recovery, but a staff infection restricted his return. He had to return to the hospital a second time.

Eight more weeks of IV antibiotics. Those months were spent with demons a second time. More rehab.

"He's becoming a real good power forward, always going for the net," coach Ron Wilson said. "And because he went through all of that adversity, he's dug in and made himself stronger mentally and physically.

"He's become a Top 6 forward. Before he was always on the bubble. Good thing Brian Burke kept up with Joffrey."

Said Lupul, "When I go the net more, when I’m outworking people and winning battles, it makes a difference in my game."

It's a wonderful comeback story. Something like Lupul is familiar with like when he was 15 when he was only 5-8 playing bantam. But a growth spurt -- what a growth spurt -- helped him reach his dreams.

"Oh ... it was about seven inches in 13 months ... " Lupul recalled. "My mom's tall, my dad's tall. So we felt it was just a matter of time. Finally, one year, I started to grow." 

This isn’t exactly what Craig Lupul, an Edmonton lawyer and Joffrey’s proud father had when he (pardon the spelling) named his son after English author Geoffrey Chaucer. Joffrey is writing his stories with his hands, a stick and a puck ... usually deposited somewhere that not even Joe Chesterfield could stop. 

The story of his trade to Toronto included a stipulation that unless Joffrey Lupul played on 40 or more game in 2012-13, the Maple Leafs would receive fourth- or sixth-round draft choice.

"You bet on people every time you make a trade," said Brian Burke. "I bet of Joffrey Lupul because of his character and skill level."

Joffrey Lupul, a great story and a good bet for the Maple Leafs.

No comments:

Post a Comment