EVEN AT BIRTH, STEPHANE MATTEAU WAS A runner-up. He was born in
September 1969, four days after future New York Islander star Pierre
Turgeon, in the same hospital in Rouyn, Que. The Matteau family and
the Turgeon clan met in the maternity ward, and their sons became so
inseparable that the Matteaus once threatened to move Stephane's bed
chez Turgeon. Stephane and Pierre competed in everything together as
kids, and more times than not Pierre was the more decorated of the
two. One of the memorable events they both participated in was the
1982 Little League World Series.
''Rouyn got to the World Series because Pierre hit a home run in
the last inning and then scored the winning run in extra innings,''
says Matteau. ''Pierre was the hero.'' Matteau pitched in the Series
semifinals and gave up 10 runs in a loss to Taiwan.
By that time the duo had already established themselves among the
legends of Rouyn (pop. 28,000), which is 400 miles northwest of
Montreal and only a few exits south of nowhere. The town is renowned
for its rich lodes of iron, lead, copper and hockey players. It is
the kind of place where folks start their cars at dusk and leave them
running all night to ensure that they'll get to the mines in the
morning. And it is a town of travailleurs -- grinders, muckers, guys
like Matteau. Thirty-two of Rouyn's sons have skated in either the
NHL or the defunct World Hockey Association, and very few have been
known for their balletic elegance on the ice.
It was Matteau's bulk that first attracted Neil Smith, then a
Detroit Red Wing scout, to the kid playing for Hull in the Quebec
Major Junior Hockey League. In 1987 Smith wooed the 6 ft. 3 in.,
205-pound Matteau at a Bon Jovi concert. Alas, Smith temporarily lost
his hearing and also his recruit, whom he would not acquire until the
NHL's 1994 trade deadline.
Mike Keenan had coached Matteau in Chicago and wanted him in New
York. Sure enough, the 24-year-old Matteau wrote his own epitaph in
Ranger lore with a pair of sudden-death playoff goals, both of which
were scored in double overtime against the New Jersey Devils in the
Eastern Conference finals. The second goal was the series-winner.
Said Smith at the time, ''That was, without doubt, the most important
Ranger goal of the last 54 years.''
Recently, Matteau was talking about a parade down Murdoch Street
in Rouyn, honoring two more children of Rouyn, Eric Desjardins and
Andre Racicot, Stanley Cup heroes from the Montreal Canadiens.
Turgeon was also feted that day for winning the NHL's Lady Byng
Trophy, given for gentlemanly play. Matteau marched in the parade,
Rouyn's Charlie Brown once again. But soon, perhaps, Matteau will
have his own parade. ''Finally,'' he says, ''maybe, it is my turn.''