When you think of all the great NHLers to hail from British Columbia — Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, Paul Kariya, Glenn Anderson and Cam Neely to name a few — Mark Recchi is right there at the top of the list.
A humble, hardworking, well-respected player whose career in the NHL lasted 22 seasons and spanned four decades. Each of the seven teams he spent time with in the pros were in the Eastern Conference, but Recchi’s story began out west in his hometown of Kamloops, B.C., where Rogers Hometown Hockey makes a stop this weekend.
Your surroundings help shape who you are, and Recchi is Kamloops through and through.
Recchi now lives in Pittsburgh — where he played seven seasons with the Penguins and currently serves as an assistant coach after three years in player development — yet he manages to venture back to his hometown once or twice a year. Most of his immediate family still reside there, as do a plethora of fond childhood memories.
Recchi, now 49, began playing hockey at six years old and even at an early age he was able to lead his teams to success — just like the three-time Stanley Cup champion would go on to do throughout his NHL career.
“We always had really good teams, so it was always fun,” Recchi told Sportsnet. “We were always vying for championships, provincials and all that stuff so it was always really enjoyable.”
Like so many young Canadians, hockey was a way of life for Recchi and his friends, and the fun wasn’t limited to the local arenas.
“We’d either go up to the lakes, the ponds, or we had some parents that would just get their driveways and make them rinks or their backyards. We’d finish our [league] games on the weekend then go play [outdoors] all day,” Recchi said with a sense of nostalgia in his voice. “Those are the best times. Getting checked into snow banks and looking for pucks. Those are great memories that you never forget growing up.”
During Recchi’s minor-hockey days, the population of Kamloops was approximately 45,000 people. Today it’s roughly double that.
“It was a great town to grow up in,” he explained. “You could drop your bike anywhere in the city, you could go anywhere. The type of people there — hardworking people, humble people — it was a great city to grow up in and it was a great sports town. All the facilities for young kids to be able to do sports.”
For many young players in Recchi’s age group in the Kamloops area it was always a goal to suit up for the local junior club.
“We went to all the games. My dad would take us. We were all big hockey fans and you definitely wanted to be a Junior Oiler or Blazer at the time. No question about that.”
As a teen, Recchi spent time with the Kamloops Chevys, Langley Eagles and debuted in the Western Hockey League with the New Westminster Bruins.
Then, prior to the 1986-87 season, he was traded to the Kamloops Blazers. A dream come true for Recchi, but at the time there was no way he could have predicted he’d eventually have his No. 8 retired by the team or that decades later he would become a co-owner of the franchise alongside fellow NHL alumni Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan and Darryl Sydor.
Recchi missed a large portion of his first year with the Blazers due to a broken ankle, but he was able to recuperate in the off-season and take his game to a new level for his final year of junior. He finished the 1987–88 campaign with 61 goals, 93 assists and 75 penalty minutes in 62 games.
“I had a lot of great teammates and Ken Hitchcock, Don Hay, Don Moores — my coaches. Two of them are still coaching (Hitchcock with the Dallas Stars and Hay with the Blazers) and Don Moores was a huge influence on me. He coached me in minor hockey for a couple years and he was a big influence.”
Recchi’s WHL swan-song season resulted in him being selected in the fourth round (67th overall) by the Penguins in the 1988 NHL Draft. He pointed to two of his former linemates as key factors in helping him develop and mature early in his pro career.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had so many great teammates,” he said. “I think probably the two guys that had a significant impact on me early in my NHL career were [Bryan] Trottier and Joey Mullen. I got to sit between them. I don’t know if ‘Badger Bob’ [Johnson] did it on purpose but he put me in between those guys and they were very influential in helping me through my first full year and my second year as well. When you have people like that around you it makes all the difference in the world.”
Trottier and Mullen finished their NHL careers with 1,425 and 1,063 points, respectively, but Recchi was able to surpass them and sits 12th all time with 1,533 points. Not only that, but Recchi is the oldest player to ever score in a Stanley Cup final.
Trottier and Mullen both earned a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and after several years of eligibility Recchi finally joined them as he was inducted in 2017.
Hardworking, humble and now a Hall of Famer. Not bad for a kid from Kamloops.