Our latest installment of NHL player interviews is a little conversation with Mike Liut. For those of you over, say, 35, you know right away who Mike Liut was – one of the league’s best goaltenders, hands down, during the 1980s. For those of you who may not remember Mike, trust us, he was good. So good that he finished second only to Wayne Gretzky in Hart Trophy voting in 1981. That’s MVP of the league! Mike played thirteen seasons in the NHL for the St. Louis Blues, Hartford Whalers and the Washington Capitals and before his NHL career, he played in college for Bowling Green (CCHA). Mike won a variety of awards throughout his storied career in the NHL and for some reason, his hockey card back in the early 1980s was always one of my favorites! Here we go….
1. You almost won the Hart Trophy in 1980-81 as the NHL’s most valuable player. You ended up a runner-up to some guy…….let’s see……Wayne something? Gretz…….? Anyway, it’s hard to remember his name. How did you, as a 25 year old, react to being named a candidate? That must have been wild!
It was my second year in St. Louis; as a team we had a great regular season finishing second overall to the Islanders. I think we had 8 players who scored 20 or more goals and Wayne Babych reached the 50 goal milestone. We invented ways to win that season, everyone pulling in the same direction and definitely a lot of fun. When a team has that type of season, the credit can fall unevenly. It was very satisfying to be recognized in the Hart Trophy voting, finishing second to Wayne in what was, at the time, the closest balloting ever and winning (what is now) the Ted Lyndsay award from the players – that was very special. Unfortunately, we had a very difficult first round win against the Penguins and we were forced to play 11 games in 17 days, plus overtime, which ended in a second round loss to the Rangers, a team we had beaten 4 times during the regular season. So…in the end it did not feel much like a successful season, that loss over-shadowed everything that season.
2. As a gear shop, we have to ask a couple of gear questions. Were you picky about your equipment when you played? If so, what were you most picky about?
I’m dating myself, but we really had two equipment companies, Cooper (eventually acquired by Bauer) and CCM; we did not have the luxury of being picky! I used Cooper gloves/pads and Bauer skates. The knee section wrapped around to the inside of my knee which allowed me to butterfly – most goalies played a stand-up style – so the Cooper equipment fit my style and once I found equipment that worked I would stay with it. I used Bauer skates and John Brown arm gear for my entire career also.
3. That said, who in your career was the MOST picky about equipment? Forwards or goalies apply.
I am not sure any of us had the luxury of being picky, the options were just as shallow for skaters. I think players spent their time on their sticks; everyone (scorer or otherwise) shaved, torched and taped their sticks to perfection; you can do that with wood! There – I dated myself again!
4. As you look back, is there a single moment or game in your career that you find the most memorable?
I was privileged to have had a long career, but the highs and lows of a career meld together unless you win the Cup. The team and league awards/milestones are great, but winning is the only statistic that matters, so its the only truly memorable moment. During my 15 year career the Canadiens, Islanders, Oilers, and Penguins won 14 of the 15 Stanley Cups with the Flames winning the other one on a bit of a fluke, if you remember, when they upset the Oilers.
(editors note: oh, we remember!)
5. You are a second cousin to Hall-of-Famer Ron Francis, whom you played with in Hartford. Were you guys close growing up? If so, there must have been some hellacious backyard hockey games going on. Who got the better of who?
Ron and I actually grew up 500 miles and seven years apart so we did not grow up knowing each other. My dad saw Ron play when he was playing midget for the Soo and that is when I became aware of him (I think it was my second pro season and Dad said he would be in the NHL shortly – I think 3 years later). As I was seven years older, I think I would have gotten the better of him based on age, but Ron was playing on those Penguin teams that won the Cup and I was with the Caps…..he definitely got the better of me then!
6. Now in your post-player days as an agent with Octagon, we’re sure you find a lot of satisfaction in the success of the players you represent on and off the ice. Did you always know that you’d be involved in hockey after your playing days? What do you think you would have done for a career had hockey not been an option?
I attended law school immediately after my career finished, which I had somewhat thought about while in college, but the opportunity was presented to me and I was encouraged to go in that direction. I think I always thought I would stay connected to hockey (I turned down jobs at ESPN and with an NHL team as a goalie coach to attend law school); hockey is a passion to play and compete. With the friendships that you develop, it is hard to walk away from it completely. If I had not joined Octagon I would have practiced law in Michigan, but I think I would have had a touch with hockey as part of that law practice as opposed to being fully embedded in hockey and touching the law in support of our hockey clients or in some of the other non-hockey roles I have filled with Octagon.
Big thanks to Mike for taking the time to chat with us. So cool.