Last fall, when
his fellow seniors at Massachusetts' Acton-Boxboro High School were ordering
class rings, Tom Barrasso took a pass. "Why aren't you going to order a
ring?" Barrasso's father, Thomas F., asked him.
replied, "the only ring I want to wear has the Stanley Cup on it."
has come to be known for such statements, which stamp him as either
astonishingly confident or outrageously conceited. Whichever way you take him,
consider that four months after his graduation Barrasso was the starting, and
winning, goaltender in the Buffalo Sabres' opening game of the NHL season.
That's like a pimpled schoolboy stepping into the starting rotation of the
Yankees, or a cocky teen-ager bringing up the ball for the Celtics.
In that Buffalo
opener on Oct. 5, the 18-year-old, 6'3", 195-pound Barrasso had a 21-save,
5-2 win over Hartford, thereby becoming the youngest goalie to win in the NHL
since 17-year-old Harry Lumley won a game for Detroit in 1944. "We knew he
was good, but he's maybe even a little bit better than we expected," says
Sabres General Manager and Coach Scotty Bowman. Barrasso's 5-2 win over
Winnipeg at Buffalo Sunday night brought his record to 4-1 with a
The idea of an
18-year-old starting NHL goalie may be shocking to most hockey fans, but not to
Barrasso. "It's not that big a transition if you're ready, and I think I'm
ready," he says. "There was pressure in starting, but there would have
been more pressure in waiting and having people wondering, 'Hey, when is the
kid going to play?' Better to get in there early."
always followed that philosophy. When he was five, the bigger kids playing
street hockey would put him in goal with just a glove and a stick. "He'd
come home all black and blue from getting hit with sticks and frozen tennis
balls," says his father. Once when Barrasso's mother, Lucy, took Tommy for
a routine checkup, the doctor, out of the mother's earshot, asked the boy,
"How often do your parents beat you?"
reached the mite division (7- and 8-year-olds), he got his hands on a copy of
former Montreal Goaltender Jacques Plante's book Goaltending, a volume, now
tattered and dog-eared, that he consults to this day, "just to keep
drilling the basics into my mind." By the time he reached high school,
Barrasso had finished his fantasizing and started to think seriously about the
NHL. "I wasn't a real popular guy at my school," he says. "Some
teachers couldn't understand how I could write off schoolwork on game days. I
did it because hockey was going to be my career. And like a lot of Boston kids
I fantasized about playing for the Bruins."
"Tom was very
confident of his ability," says his former high school coach, Tom Fleming,
now athletic director at Lake Placid's Northwood School. "But let's face
it, he wasn't proved wrong very often. We went 80-4-1 over the four years Tom
achievement that eluded Barrasso's high school teams was the Eastern
Massachusetts championship; Acton-Boxboro lost in the finals for four
consecutive years to a Catholic powerhouse, Matignon High of Cambridge. Yet
when Matignon Coach Marty Pierce led a team of Massachusetts high school
all-stars against the Minnesota all-stars last April, he picked Barrasso as his
netminder, and Barrasso allowed only four goals in a three-game Massachusetts
It was Barrasso's
puck-handling ability, stand-up style and his size that dazzled Bowman—and
convinced him that he should make Barrasso the fifth pick overall in the June
draft. In NHL history, no goalie has ever been picked higher than No. 5. Bowman
had had pleasant results with a big goalie. It was 6'4" Ken Dryden who
backstopped the Bowman-coached Montreal Canadiens to five Stanley Cups in the
'70s. And while the lefthanded Barrasso plays more in the style of Tony
Esposito, with his glove held low and his pads fanned out like an upside-down
Y, his huge frame fills the mouth of the net the way Dryden's did.