CeeBees goaltender Freddy Diamond. — Photo courtesy Brian Tuck/Hardbread.com
Consider the great Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980s and a host of players come to mind, not the least of which is Gretzky and Messier. And Kurri and Anderson. Coffey, from the early years.
Eventually, Grant Fuhr’s name will come up.
The New York Islanders of the early ’80s? Bossy and Trottier, off the top. And Potvin. And then Billy Smith.
The Montreal Canadiens of the late 1970s? Lafleur and Gainey. The Big Three — Robinson, Savard and Lapointe. And Ken Dryden.
It’s the nature of the beast on a talent-laden hockey team, where the goalie — regardless of his résumé — is sometimes overlooked.
Knock it down a few notches, and we present the case of the Conception Bay North Eastlink CeeBee Stars (heretofore known simply as the CeeBees). The seven-time Avalon East senior hockey champs are after Herder No. 4, bringing a star-studded cast to Mile One Centre tonight for the first game of the all-Newfoundland senior hockey championship against the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts.
There’s Ray Dalton, who led the Avalon East senior league in goals this season. Chris Bartlett, perhaps the best all-round player to toil in senior hockey since the start of the decade. Ex-pro Brandon Roach. Chris Sparkes and Matthew Thomey, who tied for the league scoring title last season. Scott Brophy, who won a Canadian university championship last spring.
And on it goes.
Lost, perhaps, in the glare of the spotlight is their humble puckstop, Freddy Diamond, the least-known three-time playoff MVP and twice-named senior hockey goaltender of the year in Newfoundland hockey.
“What he brings to our organization,” said CeeBees coach Ian Moores, “is stability that cannot be underestimated. He gives our players and coaches complete confidence knowing he’s back there.
“Every time he laces ’em up,” said Moores, “he gives us a chance to win.”
Diamond had sterling numbers again this season (17-4 record, 2.87 GAA, .903 save percentage), prompting some cynics to suggest any sieve could put up Terry Sawchuk-like numbers playing behind the CeeBees.
And Diamond has had his share of critics.
The CeeBees lost the last two Herder finals to the Clarenville Caribous — after winning three in a row from 2006-08 — but it was the 2009 series that elicited howls of protest through the online chat rooms. In that series, which C.B.N. lost in five games, the CeeBees were bounced 8-2 in Game 1, with Diamond surrendering seven goals in two periods of work. In the second game, a 6-5 double overtime win for Clarenville, Diamond allowed five goals on 19 shots through 30 minutes.
But it wasn’t the first time he had faced adversity.
“I remember my second year in Harbour Grace,” Diamond said, “we had lost to Deer Lake the year before in seven games. (Ceebees player-coach) Eddie Oates took me out for a coffee and said the executive wanted to get rid of me. They didn’t think I could do the job.
“I had no choice but to pick it up, not that I ever doubted myself. I wanted to prove them wrong, and nobody from that executive is around anymore.
“At the end of the day, adversity is what drives me.”
Since that sit-down with Oates, Diamond backstopped the CeeBees to all three Herder wins, and earned the faith of the new CeeBees’ leadership.
“That year against Clarenville, a lot of people had him thrown under the bus with all that Hockey Talk BS,” said Moores, referring to the NL Hockey Talk chat room. “But he dealt with it in stride. The fact is, he’s a three-time playoff MVP, and that’s not too bad.
“Every goalie has an off-night, and Freddy’s had some of those. But not very often.
“The bigger the game,” Moores continued, “the better he gets. He’s definitely a gamer.”
Like any good goaltender, Diamond isn’t short of self-confidence. Still, Moores admits he’s usually whispering in his goalie’s ear, reminding Diamond just how good he is. But that’s probably as much for the coach’s reassurance as it is for Diamond’s.
If Diamond was driven to prove his detractors wrong, he’s equally inspired to regain his clutches on the old Herder trophy.
Funny how works in sports, but three three championships won by the CeeBees seem like ancient history now. Rather it’s the back-to-back losses that fans, and the CeeBees, remember.
“We want to win again, big time,” Diamond said. “The only way to get over losing is to win again.”
Diamond is another in a list of big-time hockey talent to hail from Bonavista. The small town has two NHLers — Michael Ryder and the injured Adam Pardy — an American Hockey League player in Andrew Sweetland and Scott Trask of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Moncton Wildcats.
But just as he remains in the shadows on the CeeBees, Diamond takes a backseat to his more popular hometown kin.
Not that he’s all uptight about that.
“That stuff doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I actually enjoy being in the background. It allows you to go out and do your thing.
“My job is stop pucks, not worry about being in the media. The only thing I worry about is winning.”
He may be the only one concerned, for with Diamond shining in goal, there are no worries in Harbour Grace.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org