Friday, February 20, 2009

Larry Hopkins

You know your NHL career did not go the way of hockey dreams when you are best known as the mustachioed man mistakenly pictured on another player's rookie hockey card.

That would sum up how hockey history remembers Larry Hopkins, the man pictured as Paul MacLean in the 1982-83 O Pee Chee hockey card set.

I guess it can be chalked up to an honest mistake. After all both sported some pretty significant facial hair.

But that might be as close as the comparison between the two gets. MacLean went on to a 10 year NHL career averaging 36 goals and over 100 PIMs per season. Hopkins played in just 60 games in his career, scoring 13 times and assisting on 16 others.

The Oshawa born left winger made next to no splash at all in his quiet junior career with the hometown Generals. Despite playing with the likes of Rick Middleton, Nelson Pyatt and Lee Fogolin, he managed just 7 goals and 29 points in two years with the legendary OHA team. Despite his impressive size (he would play in the NHL at 6'1" and 210lbs) he was very polite, collecting just 13 minutes in the penalty box.

If it was not for his impressive size, NHL scouts may never have noticed Hopkins. He likely had realized the NHL dream was unrealistic for him when he passed on the chance to play with Oshawa as an overaged 20 year old junior and enrolled at the University of Toronto instead. He chose to pursue a degree in commerce while playing for the U of T Varsity Blues hockey team.

It is rare that a Canadian university player gets noticed by the NHL. But Hopkins quickly established himself as the best collegiate hockey player in all of Canada. Sensing he may be a late bloomer, the Atlanta Flames took a flier on him with the 152nd pick of the 1974 NHL Amateur draft.

Hopkins stayed at the University of Toronto for 5 seasons, completing his degree in commerce. In that time he also led the U of T to CIAU championships in 1976 and 1977.

Upon graduation late in the 1977-78 season, the Flames did not offer Hopkins a contract, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. The Toronto Maple Leafs offered the kid in their backyard a tryout contract. Though he would finish that season and all of the next in the minor leagues, he did get a chance to play in two games for the Leafs, wearing number 12.

This undoubtedly rekindled Hopkins' dreams of the NHL, and he worked hard while in the minor leagues. The Winnipeg Jets noticed and offered him a contract in the summer of 1979.

Over the next three seasons Hopkins was shuttled back and forth between the NHL and the minor leagues. His best season was in 1981-82 when he got into 41 games with the Jets, sometimes even playing on the top line with Dale Hawerchuk and Paul MacLean.

Hopkins retired after the 1982-83 season. He and his wife Linda soon returned to the Tulsa, Oklahoma area where he played 3 seasons of minor league hockey and was a very popular player and was voted as the unsung player of the year. He became an account manager for a telecommunications company.


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