|Doug Jarvis: NHL Ironman
by Mike Vogel
A little more than two decades ago, a kid came out of Brantford, Ontario, and into the NHL. He went on to win four Stanley Cups and break a record that most figured would not be approached. Along the way, he spent a few years in Washington with the Capitals.
And no, it’s not Wayne Gretzky. It’s the other kid from Brantford, Doug Jarvis.
Jarvis has had an interesting career in hockey, and he’s now in his 25th year at the NHL level. After a 13-year playing career in the NHL, Jarvis is now in his 12th year as an assistant coach for the Dallas Stars. He earned his fifth Stanley Cup ring—and first as a coach—last June when the Stars defeated the Buffalo Sabres in the Stanley Cup finals.
Jarvis broke into the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens in 1975-76, a year after he recorded 45 goals and 133 points for the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey Association. On June 3, 1975, the Toronto Maple Leafs selected the 20-year-old center with their second pick (24th overall) in the 1975 Entry Draft.
Jarvis was excited, and not only because he had grown up following the Leafs. But he would never don a Leafs sweater. Just 23 days after the draft, Toronto traded Jarvis to the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman Greg Hubick.
“My home was about an hour from Toronto,” he says of his youthful allegiance to the Leafs. “They were a team that I saw a lot of, obviously. Actually it was a team that at that time was losing some key people in the center of the ice—Dave Keon was retiring and Norm Ullman. I thought it would be a pretty good opportunity to catch a spot on that team, whereas Montreal tended to have a lot of depth. So when I got traded to Montreal and I wasn’t sure what to make of it, I just said to myself, ‘You just have to go and do your best and play the way you’ve always played and see what happens.’”
To this day, Jarvis says he does not know what was behind the deal. It is a bit unusual for a team to trade a player who has yet to even attend a training camp.
“I really don’t know,” he muses. “It’s one of those [things] where you get a phone call. I’d never really met in person with any of the Toronto people at that time. All I was was a draft pick at that time. They just phoned and said, ‘Your rights have been traded to Montreal.’”
The deal turned out to be a terrific one for Jarvis and the Habs—and quite a stinker for the Leafs. Jarvis became a top-notch checking line center and faceoff man. He also became the most durable player in league history. Each of his first four seasons in Montreal concluded with him getting his name etched onto the Stanley Cup. On the other hand, Hubick played just one season in Toronto before being farmed out to the Leafs’ Dallas farm club, where he was a teammate of current Caps coach Ron Wilson. (Hubick later resurfaced for a brief cup of coffee with Vancouver in 1979-80.)
“I was pretty fortunate,” he says of joining the Canadiens just as their dynasty was about to take flight. “Montreal was looking for a specific person. They were looking for a checking center-ice man and there was a role that they wanted filled. Even though I had come out of junior with a fair amount of offensive points, really my strength lay in the fact that in junior I was expected to do a fair amount of checking, as well. I kind of learned the game from that angle. I had already had some schooling in that aspect of the game when I got to the NHL. So I was able to catch a spot with them and work into the group.”
Jarvis spent seven seasons in Montreal, racking up an aggregate plus/minus rating of plus-105. When you take into consideration that he was frequently on the ice against the opposing team’s top scorers, it’s quite an achievement.
Just prior to the 1982-83 season, Jarvis learned that he and three of his teammates were headed to Washington. New Capitals general manager David Poile acquired Jarvis, defensemen Rod Langway and Brian Engblom and winger Craig Laughlin from the Habs in exchange for forward Ryan Walter and defenseman Rick Green. The trade still stands as one of the best in Caps’ history, and it instantly boosted the fortunes of the then-sagging franchise.
“That summer, before we came, I know there as a big ‘Save The Caps’ campaign,” Jarvis remembers. “We really didn’t know what we were walking into. But after meeting with David Poile and seeing the type of man he was and what he wanted to accomplish here, I think we all got on board and got excited about the team. And really, when I look back on my three and a half years here, we really had enjoyable times seeing the team go from a non-playoff team to a team that all of a sudden was recording over a hundred points a season. It was fun to be part of that kind of a building process.”
In his second season with the Capitals, Jarvis won the Selke Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s top defensive forward. He remains the only Capital ever to win the award.
When he came to Washington, Jarvis brought along a streak of 560 consecutive games played. At one time, Ron Wilson’s uncle, Johnny Wilson, held the NHL record with 580 consecutive games played. Former Ranger forward Andy Hebenton broke that mark in the 1960s. While Jarvis was still with the Canadiens, St. Louis’s Garry Unger broke Hebenton’s mark and established the new league standard at 914 consecutive games played.
When he finished his third season in Washington, Jarvis’s streak stood at 800 games. In 10 NHL seasons, he had not missed a single game.
“It probably hit home as I heading up to Garry Unger’s record of 914,” he remembers. “Other than that, you would pass somebody on the consecutive game ladder, maybe about the 500-game mark and then the 600-game mark and it would generate a little bit of news and then it would fade away. And you’d go on for another couple of years and it wouldn’t be heard about again until you got to somebody else. It wasn’t probably until it got into that last training camp that it started to build almost from the start of training camp.”
That last training camp was with Hartford. Early in the 1985-86 season, the Capitals dealt Jarvis to the Whalers for forward Jorgen Petterson. Washington was looking to infuse more youth into its lineup, and with Hartford, Jarvis would be able to keep the streak going. He left Washington with the streak at 825; he stretched it to 882 by the end of that season. Early in the 1986-87 campaign, he passed Unger. He earned the Masterton Trophy that season, awarded annually for perseverance and dedication to hockey.
Jarvis played in the first two games of the 1987-88 season before retiring to a coaching position. He appeared in 964 NHL contests without missing a single game. For a 5-9, 170-pound checking center, it was a remarkable feat.
“I was fortunate,” Jarvis allows. “There’s no doubt that there are a lot of things that can happen, not only on the ice, but also at practice—the flu, those kinds of things. I was very blessed to stay free of injury. It’s not one of those things that you can set out to do. You can’t say, ‘I’m going to break a record’ like that. You just have to come and play one game at a time and wait and see what happens. When I look back, the games just seemed to add up and they kept going. So I felt very blessed and fortunate to stay free of injury.”
It’s been a dozen years since Jarvis set the new mark. Does he think his record will one day be broken?
“I do,” he states. “Again, it’s not something that you can set out to do. But there have been people who have approached it. I know that a few years ago Steve Larmer was within a season of it, so there are some people who have progressed to it. It wouldn’t surprise me. I never thought that I’d get to that point myself, but it happened.”
As soon as his playing career came to a close, Jarvis transitioned into a coaching role. It was a move he had been preparing for throughout his playing career.
“I always enjoyed the coaching aspect of the game,” he says. “Even when I was playing, I really enjoyed watching other games and studying games and looking at the strategy that was being employed. So getting into coaching was something that I wanted to do when I was done playing. And it happened that when my playing days finished, I got a job interview in Minnesota as an assistant coach there, and caught on there that year.”
That was in 1988-89. After two games with Hartford in 1987-88, Jarvis went down to Binghamton of the AHL where he served as a player/coach for the rest of the season. It’s the only time he has ever spent any time in the minors during his pro hockey career. He has been with the Stars as an assistant ever since. During his dozen seasons with the Stars, Jarvis has worked under three different coaches and three different general managers. His longevity with one organization is rare in the coaching field, which is generally characterized by much turnover.
“It’s a profession that usually has a fair amount of movement in it,” he agrees. “And I haven’t moved. I haven’t pushed to move, either. I like the organization and I like the people that I work with, too. That’s a big part of the business, enjoying your working environment.”
Take a quick look at the roster of those Stanley Cup winning teams that Jarvis played on in Montreal. You’ll note that many of the players on those Scotty Bowman-coached clubs went on to post-playing careers as coaches, general managers, scouts and other front office positions in the game. Was there something about playing for Bowman that created front office/coaching types? Or was there something in the water in Montreal?
“I think the organization itself in Montreal was a great learning ground for any young player coming in there,” says Jarvis of the preponderance of former Habs behind NHL benches and in NHL front offices. “Excellence was demanded, and they went about their business in a certain way to achieve that excellence. I think all of us who went through that process there really learned a lot about the game, how the game is to be played and expectations of players and that sort of thing. I think those things have been a big benefit to anybody who had an interest in sliding into another role when their playing days were done.”
While Jarvis played on Cup-winning clubs in his first four seasons as a player in the league, it took him 11 years to win the Cup as a coach.
“It’s a little different as a player,” he says, of the Cup-winning experience. “You feel like you’re out on the ice, you’re really making things happen. I’ve always felt that coaching is the next best thing to being a player, because you’re still close to the environment and close to what is going on. So I think the same feelings apply there. As a player, you’re right out there in the action. As a coach, you’re one step removed from that even though you’re still very close to what is taking place.”
“No doubt, it’s the Stanley Cup,” he says, when asked about his best hockey memory. “And in particular, it’s the first one. As a kid growing up, your dream was to play in the NHL and then to actually get your name engraved on the Stanley Cup. It certainly was a very memorable experience and something I look back on in a real fond way.”
Ask Jarvis which of his personal achievements—Selke Trophy, Masterton Trophy or iron-man streak—he is most proud of, and you may be surprised.
“I think maybe the Selke,” he says. “That’s [being compared] against your peers that are playing, being compared favorably to every other forward in the league. So that has some weight when I look back on it.”
These days, Jarvis coaches Selke Trophy winners. Dallas winger Jere Lehtinen has won the award two years in a row. And Dallas center Guy Carbonneau—like Jarvis, one of the best faceoff men of his era—has three Selke Trophies to his credit.
But more importantly to Jarvis, he is coaching Stanley Cup winners.