In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's Sports section. Blade sports writer Mark Monroe talked with former goaltender Pat Jablonski, who played for five NHL teams and posted a 3.74 goals against average in 128 career games.
Pat Jablonski once stoned Wayne Gretzky on a breakaway and stood at the epicenter of hockey in Canada as the No. 1 netminder in Montreal.
The only Toledo native to ever make it to the NHL, Jablonski played for St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Montreal, Phoenix and Carolina. Along the way he backed up legends Patrick Roy and Curtis Joseph.
Jablonski, whose father, Greg, was a former Goaldigger great, was selected in the seventh round of the 1985 NHL draft by St. Louis. He was the 138th pick overall.
Jablonski started playing junior hockey in 1985 and played two seasons in the International Hockey League for Peoria.
In 1989-90, Jablonski was called up to the NHL. In four games for the Blues, he made 81 saves and had a 4.90 goals against average. The next season he appeared in eight games (2-3-3, 3.05 GAA).
In 1990-91, Jablonski won the James Norris Memorial Trophy while playing for Peoria (23-3-2, 3.00 GAA).
Jablonski then minded the net 10 times for St. Louis in 1991-92 and posted a 3-6-0 record.
In 1992, Jablonski was traded from St. Louis to the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning where he saw his most extensive action. In 43 games, Jablonski had a 3.97 GAA. As the team's No. 1 goalie, he also recorded his only NHL shutout. Jablonski played in 15 NHL games the next season (3.88 GAA).
He later suited up for one of hockey's most storied franchises, the Montreal Canadiens (1995-97). Playing behind Roy, he had a 2.94 GAA and .907 save percentage.
In 1996-97, Jablonski played in two games for Phoenix.
He caught on with the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997-98. In five games, he had a 3.01 GAA. But that would prove to be the last time he would appear in the NHL.
Jablonski played three more seasons in the IHL before finishing his career in the Swedish Elite League in 2001.
Pat's twin brother, Jeff, helped lead Lake Superior State to a national championship and was named to the All-ECHL team in 1997.
Jablonski now lives in Tampa with his wife, Melany, and their two daughters, Olivia, 7, and Onna, 4. He works as a consultant for a healthcare company.
"I VIVIDLY remember playing against Gretzky and [Mario] Lemieux. It's funny. I didn't fear Gretzky. He would score and made everyone better. But Lemieux could make you look stupid. He was scary good. He would make you look terrible. I stopped Gretzky on a breakaway once. But I expected to make the stop. I knew I
"All you think about is who you're playing against and what you need to do. You live in the moment. I would study the key guys. I knew [Mark] Messier would shoot off the wrong foot across to the far post and low. I knew [Steve] Yzerman loved to go top, glove side. I knew [Sergei] Fedorov would deke and go high. You just position yourself to make sure they would do it."
"I MUST HAVE been four or five. Our neighbors built a rink in their backyard. I was the youngest of four, so they put me in net. They needed someone to shoot at, and I was the youngest. My brother, Bobby, got me into goaltending, and I remember him working with me. Bobby was 18, and I was 11 when he got sick with a rare form of testicular cancer. He still played goalie for Whitmer the year he died. I stayed at goalie with him in the back of my mind. I always knew he was up there smiling, knowing I had made it in hockey.
"I was drafted the day after my 18th birthday. I remember I was out playing baseball. I had no idea. But my parents said the Blues had called and said I was drafted. I never even thought about playing pro hockey. I just played because I loved to play. I was blessed with God-given talent. But there's no question I had to outwork everyone to get there."
"MY FIRST GAME was in St. Louis against Detroit. I played really well except for one mistake. Mike O'Connell did a fake dump in, and I went back for it. But he kept it. I dove back and got my stick on it but it went in. We were winning 2-0 late in the third period, but we ended up losing.
"My first NHL win was against the Blackhawks. I remember it like it was yesterday. That was a huge rivalry. It was like a playoff game. I was backing up Curtis Joseph and Vincent Riendeau. They both got hurt within two days of each other. I played very well, and we beat Chicago 2-1. That's when I felt like I had made it. It was nerve racking. I was so young, and the team was relying on me. But my teammates had confidence in me after that. The guys knew I could play.
"There were a lot of great players that went through St. Louis, and I played with a lot of them. Brett Hull was just a pure goal scorer. His one-timer couldn't have been better. Al MacInnis had such a hard and heavy shot."
"Playing for Tampa Bay was great for me. They gave me a chance to play [a lot]. I played in 10 games in a row around November, and we were in first place. We were a big hit in town. Hockey caught on very well. I'll always remember my shutout [1-0 against Ottawa]. I had like 35 saves."
"PLAYING FOR Montreal was like playing for the New York Yankees or Dallas Cowboys. It's the only sport in Canada. We had a chartered plane and we'd have one bus for the players and one bus for the media.
"My most vivid memory was when they traded Patrick Roy. We were playing Detroit, and the Red Wings were lighting him up [nine goals]. Roy and [coach Mario] Tremblay were fighting. Tremblay wanted to prove he was in control. He was trying to embarrass him. Tremblay finally pulled him and put me in. Roy got traded. It was four days before the next game, and I was going to replace him. It was like the Super Bowl with the media. They were all over me. I played well, and we beat New Jersey 2-1. That was the most stressful four days of my career."
"I HATED TO get scored on. If anything got by me, I would get so mad. In practice I broke so many sticks. I'd throw them in the stands. I was very competitive. That was instilled into us by mom and dad. You played to the best of your capability.
"I don't know that I was ever looked at as a true No. 1. There were those hopes and expectations. But one night I'd have a shutout and the next game I'd give up five. Goaltender is the most important position in the sport. But I never had a position coach until late in my career. I relied too much on athleticism. At times it showed."
"I WAS 34 when I retired. I could have still played. But I knew I had a good run. My wife was pregnant, and I did not want her to be alone. It's harder to stay up than it is to make it. You always have young kids coming up. I was just pushed out like I pushed someone else out."