Curtis Joseph the hockey player is well documented. Curtis Joseph the person is a mystery.
For the more than 400 people who attended the annual Kinsmen Club/Prince Albert Raider Sportsman and Athletes of the Year banquet on Saturday in the Ches Leach Lounge at the Art Hauser Centre, the mystery is solved.
In a surprisingly candid keynote speech to the crowd who gathered to honour Katelyn Lehner, Graham Pedersen and the Friday Night Lights committee, Joseph went through his life not only as a hockey player, but as a person.
Born in Ontario on April 29, 1967, Joseph was born Curtis Munroe to a single mother who gave him up for adoption to a co-worker.
His new family was interracial with his father Harold, in Joseph’s own words, “the Don King type.” Joseph said it was tough growing up and when he did start playing hockey at the age of 11, he had no support from his parents at all.
“The community (of Keswick) was real outstanding,” said Joseph. “The community picked me up. My parents never saw me at one practise or one game.”
“It was not your typical childhood,” added Joseph.
Because of his family life, Joseph played all of his minor hockey at the house-league level. When he was done school he played two years of Junior B hockey with the Richmond Hill Dynes, but he knew if he wanted to go anywhere, he was going to have to get a scholarship to a U.S. school.
“That was my dream,” said Joseph. “I wanted to get a scholarship to a U.S. school. If you think about what you want to do, and put it out there, it will happen.”
One day while playing with the Dynes, his parents moved to Halifax, N.S., and never even told him. Now he really needed to go somewhere and intervention was right around the corner.
A gentleman that worked at the grocery store in his hometown suggested Joseph go to Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Sask. Joseph admits he knew nothing about the place, but being 20 years old he had just one shot at getting that elusive scholarship.
“I had a girlfriend at the time and I just left her to go to Notre Dame,” said Joseph. “I talked to Martin Kenney, the president at Notre Dame, and I went out there on a leap of faith. I remember tumble weeds going by and I was wondering, ‘What am I doing here?’”
Joseph quickly settled in at Notre Dame sharing a trailer by the tracks with five other guys. His coach, Barry McKenzie, saw his talent immediately and during one of the first games inserted him in the line-up.
“We were in Minot playing and after that game I was offered a full scholarship to the University of North Dakota,” said Joseph. “I turned it down.”
Joseph says the reason was simple: the Hounds were an incredibly good team and he knew there would be more offers as the season went on.
“We had Rod Brind’amour on the team,” says Joseph with obvious respect. “God bless him! Here was a guy that was going to be a first-round draft pick right out of Junior A. Every scout had to come and watch him.”
The Hounds went on to win the Centennial Cup that season as national Junior A champions and Brind’amour was indeed a first-round selection, ninth overall to the St. Louis Blues. Joseph also got what he was after as he received a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin.
During his one season in Wisconsin, Joseph was named as a second-team all-American and having never been drafted by an NHL team, he got invited to St. Louis where he said head coach Brian Sutter was, “a big influence in my life.”
After a brief stint in the minors, Joseph was in the NHL for what would last 19 seasons. During that time he played with Brett Hull, “the most talented guy I ever met,” and was coached by Mike Keenan who he called, “a different bird.”
After six years in St. Louis he played with Edmonton for two-plus seasons, but he is best known for the four years he spent as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“They gave me a four-year contract that was off the charts,” says Joseph of the $24 million deal he signed in 1998. “Like the saying goes you have to make hay while the sun shines.”
Joseph then went to Detroit for two years because he thought he had a chance of winning a Stanley Cup there and when that didn’t work out he moved on.
“Eddie Olczyk was in Pittsburgh and he wanted me to come there, but one day my phone rang and I saw that it was from Wayne Gretzky,” says Joseph. “He said to me he was going to be the coach of the Coyotes and he wanted me.”
“I always say that I went there because Mario (Pittsburgh owner Mario Lemieux) never called,” adds Joseph with a laugh.
Joseph says playing in Phoenix, with Gretzky as his head coach and Grant Fuhr as his goaltender coach, he was “living the life in Phoenix.”
After two years in Phoenix, Joseph was without a contract and at Christmas he went to Switzerland to play in the Spengler Cup for Team Canada. Having not been in a game for eight months, he turned in the performance of his life leading Canada to the gold medal.
“I went from going nowhere to having seven teams wanting me as their back-up,” remembers Joseph.
He settled on the Flames and when he arrived in Calgary, he says he had to calm Miikka Kiprusoff down.
“Kipper was looking at me all worried and I said, ‘don’t worry, I’m not here to take your job,’” laughed Joseph.
The pair worked good together with Joseph providing tips to the Calgary star from time to time. One time he told Kiprusoff that Joe Sakic from the Colorado Avalanche likes to go low blocker side and when the exact scenario unfolded, Kipprusoff made a move to make the save before Sakic even fired the shot. Joseph says he told Kiprusoff, “not to make it look so easy.”
Joseph played one final year in Toronto before retiring in January, 2010. He finished his career with 454 wins, more than any goalie who has never won a Stanley Cup, and fourth-best all-time. He also has a gold medal from the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
He spends his time now being a dad and has homes in Oakville, Ont., and Virginia Beach. Joseph says he encourages young players to enjoy the game and he loves coming to events like this weekend in Prince Albert.
Joseph was busy all weekend, first stopping shots in a promotion during the first intermission of the Raiders-Edmonton Oil Kings game on Friday and then signing autographs.
Following the dramatic win by the Raiders he visited the team in the dressing room and he said that German import Leon Draisaitl approached him and said he had gotten a text from his dad, who said he had scored a goal on Joseph in a world championship game many years ago.
“The Raiders have a great group of kids,” Joseph told the crowd on Saturday. “You’re lucky to have them and I’ll be following them on the internet.”
“Your sense of community here is inspiring,” added Joseph. “I will be telling everyone about P.A.”