May 9, 1977
Before his first NHL game, New York Rangers defenseman Brad Park was assigned the number 2 jersey, but Park, a baby-faced wunderkind from Toronto, had no way of knowing how that number would come to define his career. He would finish second in the Norris Trophy voting six times and play all 17 of his NHL seasons in the shadow of a more celebrated defenseman: first Bobby Orr and later Denis Potvin. "I was always out to beat those guys," says Park, now 51 and living with his wife, Gerry, in Lynnfield, Mass., "but I'd like to think we shared a competitive respect for each other."
While marshaling the defenses of the Rangers, Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings from 1968-69 to 1984-85, the 6-foot, 200-pound Park had to contend with a pair of shredded knees that underwent 15 operations. Still, he played 50 or more games in 13 of his seasons, and every one of his teams made it to the playoffs. He finished with 213 goals and 683 assists, and had 125 points in 161 postseason games. He also amassed 1,429 penalty minutes.
Off the ice, too, Park fought for his teammates. First, as vice president of the NHL Players' Association from 1971 to '83; then, in '95 as a plaintiff in a multimillion dollar class-action suit against ex- NHLPA boss Alan Eagleson, who had pled guilty to mail fraud, and others, on the allegation that they had suppressed players' salaries. (The suit was dismissed for having been filed too late, but an appeal is pending.) Park's current involvement in hockey includes broadcasting home games of the AHL's Lowell Lock Monsters. He also helped design the North American Superskills Academy (Internet-linked software that allows youth-league players to compare their statistics against a national average) and created the Hockey Pipeline System (pipelike obstacles used in on-ice practice drills). While he served a stint behind the bench of the Red Wings in 1985-86, his fondest coaching memories are of shepherding three of his sons through Pee-Wee hockey.
Park's proudest moment (aside from seeing his five kids attend college and his son Rob, who has cerebral palsy, get married last year) came in 1988, when he was elected to the Hall of Fame. "Hockey came to me at a very young age, like a Christmas present," says Park, "but induction into the Hall was the big bow to top off the package." When enshrined in glass alongside the game sweaters of the other stars in Toronto, Park's number 2 seems symbolic of nothing less than a first-rate player.