Ex-Caps Goalie Stephenson Passes Away
Former Canadian Olympian set Caps' single-season wins standard in 1979-80
A 5-foot-9, 175-pound native of Fort William, Ontario, Stephenson represented Canada in the 1968 Olympic Games and was a member of the Canadian National Team for several seasons. He was signed by St. Louis as an amateur in January, 1972. After a brief (21 games) minor league apprenticeship with the Kansas City Blues of the old Central Hockey League, Stephenson broke into the NHL at the age of 27 in 1971-72, getting into two contests with the St. Louis Blues. He notched his first NHL win with St. Louis the following season, posting an 18-15-7 mark in the process.
Dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers just prior to the start of the 1974-75 season, Stephenson played on the Stanley Cup champion Flyers club that season, posting a 7-2-1 record as the understudy to Hockey Hall of Famer Bernie Parent.
Stephenson enjoyed his best season in the NHL in 1975-76. With Parent out of action because of an injury, Stephenson fashioned a 40-10-13 record to go along with a 2.58 GAA. He was second in the league in wins and fourth in GAA that season.
Stephenson spent just two seasons with the Capitals, coming to Washington more than three decades ago. An August 16, 1979 deal sent a third-round pick in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft to Philadelphia and Stephenson to the Capitals. (The Flyers used the pick to take defenseman Barry Tabobondung, who was later killed in an accident while saving his son’s life.)
After a sluggish start in his first season with the Caps, Stephenson took over the reins as Washington’s top netminder in 1979-80, setting single-season franchise records (since broken) for wins (18), games played (56) and goals against average (3.57).
Injuries plagued him in 1980-81, limiting him to just 20 games in net. After posting a 4-7-5 mark to go along with a 3.92 GAA, Stephenson announced his retirement from the NHL.
The last of Stephenson’s 14 NHL shutouts was the only one he authored as a Capital, and it came at the Capital Centre on Oct. 21, 1980. Stephenson made 24 stops in outdueling his opposite number (35), Hockey Hall of Famer Tony Esposito that night. Stephenson was the game’s No. 1 star and Esposito (35 saves) was No. 2 as the Caps came away with a 2-0 win.
Known as “Fort Wayne,” Stephenson was also famous for his impressive goalie mask artwork. During the 1979-80 season when Stephenson nearly backstopped the Caps to their first-ever playoff berth, a Capitals Centre banner proclaimed, “Wayne – our Stevie Wonder.”
Stephenson is survived by his wife, four children, three grandchildren and a brother.