Monday, September 16, 2013

Obscure Flyers profile: John Druce

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

This Flyers forward from the 90s might be best known for a throwaway line used by the club's television play-by-play man during a game at Pittsburgh in February late in his first full season with the team.

He might be better known for a key goal scored late in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden later that same year.

Whatever the case, John Druce  left an imprint on clubs in the latter part of the decade stacked with talent.

Acquired from the LA Kings late in the 1995-96 season along with a draft pick which turned into Todd Fedoruk, Druce provided four goals and four assists in 13 games as the Flyers rose from third in the Patrick Division to first in the Eastern Conference with a strong stretch run.

"I'm a streaky scorer,'' Druce told Gary Miles of the Inquirer shortly after his acquisition. "`This is an intense time of the season. It's time to rise to the occasion and play your best hockey, and that's what I'm trying to do -- go out every night and battle and see what happens.''

Druce participated in 79 regular-season games and 17 playoff games over parts of three seasons, but did we really get to see him? More often a healthy scratch or stashed across the street with the Phantoms, Druce spent the latter half of his career and most of his tenure here as a defensive specialist with face-off responsibilities and a knack for short-handed play.

So when Jim Jackson exclaimed "John Druce! Druce is loose" after a third-period strike against Patrick Lalime which boosted the Flyers to a 4-2 edge after trailing 2-0 in the first period of an eventual 6-2 win, you could sense the Ontario native might be sticking around a while having tallied in back-to-back games during a weekend sweep of the Pens after being out the previous eight.

But Druce sat 14 of the final 23 regular-season games and didn't score again, in part due to a lacerated leg.

Druce went seven playoff appearances through the first two-and-a-half playoff rounds without an assist, but picked up his biggest goal in seven years during a pivotal contest against the Rangers. Trusted enough by head coach Terry Murray to kill a late-game New York advantage in a 1-1 game, he skated out with Trent Klatt on a 2-on-2 break up the left wing, then picked the rebound of his initial shot out of Mike Richter's pads and roofed it from the right side to give Philly a 2-1 lead with 3:13 to play in regulation.

Even though Brian Leetch beat Ron Hextall after the conclusion of the same power play to tie the game over a minute later, without that surprise strike, Eric Lindros' memorable game-winner as seconds bled away in the third would only have been a tying score.

"I was up in the crowd and the guys up there were razzing me,'' Druce told Ed Moran of the Daily News about Rangers fans during Game 3, a 6-3 Flyers victory. "They were calling me a bum. "The toughest part about it is mentally you've got to be ready to play and when you're called upon you've got to go out there and do a good job. We've got a lot of depth on this team."

That "bum" helped Murray, then the new head coach with the Washington Capitals, take down the first-place Rangers during the second round of the 1990 playoffs. Nine of Druce's career-best 14 goals that postseason came against the Blueshirts in a five-game triumph. And nobody needs to be told that Rangers fans have long memories.

It still didn't seem to be enough for the veteran winger to stick. Between head coaches Wayne Cashman and Roger Neilson the following season, Druce only dressed for 23 NHL games and tallied a goal with two assists. He amassed 49 points (21 G, 28A) in only 39 AHL contests but was unable to parlay that into another job in North America. His last appearance in Orange and Black came against his old team, in their final game as division rivals until this year's realignment.

Left unprotected in the 1998 expansion draft but unwanted by anyone else, Druce spent two years in Germany's top league, one each with Hannover and Augsburg, before hanging up the skates for good at the start of the new Millennium.

His quote from the following feature aptly sums up his career: "Every day was a joy to go to the's something you never forget. It's like a roller-coaster ride playing in the National Hockey League. One day you're in the penthouse, the next day you're in the doghouse."

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