He is a smallish, narrow-shouldered man with dark eyes that peer
from sockets ringed by subtle scars. His hands are callused, his
fingers perpetually swollen, and when he walks, there is a hitch
to his gait. This is Chicago Blackhawks star Doug Gilmour on the
eve of the regular-season opener, before subjecting his already
battered body to another grueling year.
Even by hockey's suck-it-up standards, Gilmour has an uncommon
pain threshold. Over the course of his 15-year career he has
returned to the ice after suffering a shattered orbital bone;
played in a postseason game after four injections to kill the
pain in his right foot caused by stretched ligaments and
tendons; and set the pace at practice with a wide-gapped grin
the morning after his front teeth were knocked out by a stick.
"Look," he says, "when it's little stuff, you play."
Little stuff? Gilmour is a two-time All-Star center, a Stanley
Cup champion, a playmaker and a penalty killer, but first and
foremost he is a warrior. If you're anointing the NHL's Prince
of Pain, Archduke of Agony, Sultan of Silent Suffering, Gilmour
is your man.
Gilmour, 35, was given a three-year $18 million free-agent
contract by the Blackhawks this past summer not just because he
has scored 1,176 points in 1,125 career games, but also because
he's the type of player who once had bone spurs shaved off his
insteps and within days crammed his feet into his customary
half-size-too-small skates so he could suit up for a scrimmage.
"He is the best competitor I've ever played with," says Tampa
Bay Lightning left wing Wendel Clark, Gilmour's teammate on the
Toronto Maple Leafs from 1992 to '94. "You know he's played
through everything, but he'll never complain. He just puts his
body on the line and doesn't miss a beat."
October 11, 1998
Barely 5'10" and 170 pounds, Gilmour will smack an opponent with
his glove, jab him in the gut with his stick or give him a knee
where he wants it least. He consistently barrels face-first into
the man with the puck, even if that player is a head taller and
50 pounds heavier. "You don't stop to think that you're not as
big or as strong as another guy," Gilmour explains. "You figure
you are, and you go after him."
As a member of the St. Louis Blues in 1988, Gilmour smashed into
6-foot, 200-pound Detroit Red Wings defenseman Lee Norwood and
suffered a concussion. Seven years and countless knocks to his
noggin later, he still hadn't learned to pick on guys his own
size. Trying to ignite the languishing Leafs during the '95
regular season, he crashed into 6'4", 210-pound Edmonton Oilers
defenseman Luke Richardson--a granite slab with a pulse--and was
knocked unconscious. "Doug gets a lot, but he gives a lot," says
Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios. "He's fun to watch."
You've got to love Gilmour's game, but imagine if you were
married to him. Amy Gilmour, Doug's second wife, received fair
warning on their wedding day, Aug. 4, 1995, when Doug needed a
cortisone shot to reduce the swelling in his chronically swollen
fingers so that he could get the ring on. A few months later Amy
was home watching the game against the Oilers in which Gilmour
hit Richardson. All she remembers seeing was her beloved being
helped off the ice. "I hated that," Amy says. "But with Doug you
have to handle those things and not kill yourself worrying."
Gilmour's parents, Don and Dolly, came to the same conclusion
soon after Doug began playing hockey at age three. Doug was
raised in Kingston, Ont., a bare-knuckle town of 61,000 on the
northern edge of Lake Ontario, the place where hockey was born
in the 1800s. At six he was whupping 10-year-olds on the pond.
When Doug was nine, he was bedridden with a severe ear infection
and a high fever. Don was coaching Doug's team at the time, and
as he began to pack the car for practice, suddenly there was
Doug, out of bed and in the frigid air, saying he planned to
practice that night. "That's how he always was," says Don.
Brian Sutter, Gilmour's linemate when he broke in with the Blues
in 1983-84, says that Gilmour "gets through on straight heart,
and you come out of the cradle that way." Gilmour doesn't know
why he subjects himself to such punishment. After pondering for
a moment, he shrugs and says, "I guess it's just what you have
to do." Then he tells a story about his dad.
One summer afternoon in the early '70s, Doug was playing
football on a neighbor's lawn. Carrying the ball, he stopped in
front of a would-be tackler and gave up because they were
nearing the road. Moments later Don, home from his shift as a
storage keeper at the Kingston penitentiary, summoned Doug
inside. "What are you doing?" Don asked. "It's a tackle
game--you're supposed to get tackled."
"Well," Doug answered, "we were getting close to the road
"I don't care," Don snapped. "You never stop running until you're
When Gilmour was a 17-year-old rookie with the Cornwall Royals
of the Ontario (Junior) Hockey League, he scored 119 points in
67 games. But because he was only 5'9" and weighed barely 150
pounds, he wasn't drafted until the Blues selected him in the
seventh round. Angered by the slight, Gilmour returned to
Cornwall the next year determined to show his mettle. Early in
the season he picked a fight with the Kitchener Rangers' Mike
Eagles, who punched Gilmour in the right cheek and cracked his
orbital bone. Gilmour felt his face sag, but he finished the game.
As a rookie in St. Louis, Gilmour ran wild with the veteran
hell-raiser Sutter on his left wing. By the 1986 playoffs
Gilmour had also blossomed offensively; he led postseason
scorers with 21 points and carried the Blues to the Western
Conference finals. By this time the combination of relentless
desire and rare passing ability had made him a star. He was
traded to the Calgary Flames before the '88-89 season in an
eight-player deal that St. Louis would rue, and he immediately
drove his new team to the Stanley Cup. Consider this classic
snapshot from the Gilmour album: In overtime of Game 1 of the
Smythe Division finals against the Los Angeles Kings, Gilmour
collided with the Kings' 6'1", 200-pound forward John Tonelli,
whose stick tore a gash in Gilmour's cheek. Minutes later
Gilmour scored the game-winning goal, and only then did he take
the six stitches required to close the cut. The Flames went on
to sweep the series.
"When a little guy is sacrificing his body and making plays, it
affects the whole team," says Boston Bruins defenseman Dave
Ellett. "Doug never gives up, and he has skills."
Ellett discovered that as Gilmour's teammate in Toronto, where
Gilmour was traded in '92 after he became embroiled in a
contract dispute with Calgary. Though the Leafs went Cupless
during Gilmour's five years with the team, his tenacity won the
hearts of Toronto fans. He lost his two front teeth to the stick
blade of the Blackhawks' Jeremy Roenick soon after arriving, and
the image of Gilmour's fanged grimace at practice the next day
symbolized the Leafs. Nicknamed Killer because he resembles
Charles Manson, Gilmour sometimes looked more menacing than the
crazed cult leader.
Twice Gilmour led the Leafs to the conference finals. In 1993
the Kings vowed to bully Gilmour into submission, but he
exchanged head butts with 6'1", 235-pound enforcer Marty
McSorley and at one point flattened 200-pound defenseman Alexei
Zhitnik with a hip check. He kept scoring, too. Even though the
Leafs lost in seven games, Gilmour had 35 points in 21 playoff
The next season Gilmour again led by example. Before Game 6 of
the first-round playoff series against Chicago, he let a doctor
wiggle four needles filled with novocaine into his swollen right
foot so that he could play. His teammates stood in awe. The
Leafs won 1-0. "I didn't think he could play," says Leafs
trainer Chris Broadhurst, "but he never doubted it."
"There was another time, in Hartford, when I felt bone fragments
below his left shoulder," Broadhurst adds. "The X-ray showed
that some bone had chipped off. We expected him to be out six
weeks. The next day he said it felt O.K. He never missed a shift."
Over the next few years the Leafs went into decline. Gilmour,
however, persevered despite two herniated disks in his back that
sent such pain through his body that he couldn't bend over to
tie his skates. Frustrated with the club's fall, Gilmour worked
harder even though his body started breaking down, and he began
popping painkillers daily. When the Leafs begged him to sit out
a few practices to give his body a break, he seethed. Once he
threw his stick at an assistant who tried to coax him off the
ice during a scrimmage.
On Feb. 25, 1997, with Toronto rebuilding, Gilmour was traded to
the New Jersey Devils. These days he admits being concerned
about the toll the injuries might eventually take on his body.
Yet he refuses to change his style. In New Jersey, Gilmour dyed
his graying hair black and sprung for a new set of teeth. He
altered little else. "He'd get in his self-destruction mode, and
the whole bench would get a lift," says New Jersey coach Robbie
Ftorek, who was the team's assistant coach in '97-98. Late last
season he missed five weeks following arthroscopic surgery to
remove loose cartilage, but Gilmour led the Devils with five
goals and two assists in six playoff games.
The Blackhawks say they have felt Gilmour's presence from the
first day of camp. Although his teeth gleamed and were perfectly
aligned, his teammates were still calling him Killer. "For his
sake I'd like to say he won't get too beaten up this season,"
says Chicago coach Dirk Graham. "But I know he will. He's Doug