Oddly enough, this week's inductee could have been a big time major junior goalie, but decided to go the college route. For that, he was hardly scouting and was considered a big time sleeper. Yet, his name alone was something for people to remember, if nothing else about his career stood out. Ladies and gents, it's Daren Puppa.
Puppa grew up in a small town of Kirkland Lake, Ontario; Puppa was little known outside of his local rinks. He did make enough of a splash with the Kirkland Lake Intermediates to be touted as a prospect for a big OHL career. While Puppa was drafted by the Belleville Bulls, he never played in the Major Juniors as he wanted to be a scholarship athlete in the US. Enter RPI, which was also home to a young stand-out named Adam Oates who was the stud on the RPI Engineers' team.
Yet, before he got a chance to go to RPI, the NHL came calling as Puppa was selected in the fourth round of the 1983 Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres. Scotty Bowman had hear stories of Puppa from then University of Denver coach Ralph Backstrom when Backstrom talked about not being able to lure Puppa to Denver. Bowman took a shot and hoped the sleep pick paid off for him, unlike the legend of Taro Tsujimoto.
So, the pressure was on Puppa to perform at RPI. Puppa was thrown into the starter's role right away for the Engineers and didn't disappoint. His first year in the 1983-84 season, Puppa went a stellar 24-6-0 with a 2.94 GAA. Yet, the second season for Puppa was the most notable. Puppa went an astounding 31-1-0 for the year with a 2.56 GAA and helped lead RPI to their second NCAA Championship in 1985, their first in 31 years and their last one to date. That year, Puppa became the first ECAC goalie to win more than 30 games in a season. With nothing more for Puppa to prove in the NCAA, he left school to go to join the Sabres organization.
In his first pro season, Puppa was in a dog fight with Jacques Cloutier to be the back-up to Tom Barrasso. Puppa started and ended the season with the Rochester Americans, but would be called up in November for seven games. With the Sabres, Puppa was respectable with a 3-4-0 record with a 3.14 GAA and one shutout to his name. Yet, even in Rochester, Puppa was back up to Mike Craig and only got 20 games in that season of the AHL, going 8-11-0 with a disappointing 4.34 GAA in the AHL. During the 1986-87 season, Puppa took a full season in Rochester as a starter and got the swagger he had when he left RPI. Puppa went 37-14-2 with a 2.80 GAA, but when called up by the Sabres he went 0-2-1 with a 4.22 GAA. Odd how two seasons in two leagues create such bi-polar results. Another split season for the 1987-88 campaign, but more time in Buffalo was rewarded for Puppa. With 26 games in Rochester (14-8-2) and 17 games in Buffalo (8-6-1), it was proven to management that Puppa's time was ready.
After waiting, Puppa was thrown into a partial starter's role in the NHL with the departure of Tom Barrasso to Pittsburgh in the 1988-89 season. And while he played in 37 games for the season and did hold his own going 17-10-6, Puppa's season ended abruptly in January when he broke his right arm (his catching arm) and it ended his season. Yet, the 1989-90 campaign was one to remember for Puppa as he reached many milestones for his career. Not only was Puppa put into the NHL All-Star Game (and getting the victory), but he was second behind Patrick Roy in Vezina Trophy voting after a 31-16-6 season.
However, the higher they raise, the harder they crash-- because that's how physics works. The 1990-91 season saw the start of his back problems, as Puppa missed nine games in November to a back injury. Also, Puppa was lost to a groin pull in February of 1991. In that season, Puppa only got 38 games in and finished with a 15-11-6 record. The 1991-92 season saw more injury woes as Puppa fractured his arm and missed 16 games in November and for the season, Puppa went 11-14-4 for the Sabres and 0-2-1 for Rochester when he went there to rehab. While the 1992-93 season saw a bounce-back by Puppa, he had been usurped by Dominik Hasek and even with a 11-5-4 record, Puppa was expendable.
In February of 1993, Puppa was traded with Dave Andreychuk and a first round pick to Toronto for Grant Fuhr. Puppa played eight games for the Leafs and went 6-2-0 with a 3.58 GAA for his tenure there. His stay in Toronto was short-lived as he was left unprotected for the Expansion Draft.
It was an interest Expansion Draft for Puppa, as he was picked by the Florida Panthers in the Phase I of Draft, but then was unprotected again and was then picked up by the Tampa Bay Lightning during Phase II of the Draft. He went to Florida either way, at least.
In a new town, new franchise-- Puppa was the starter for the Bolts and kept them in it for the most part. Though in his 63 games, Puppa went 22-33-6, his GAA of 2.71 showed it wasn't on him for losing the games that they did. The shortened-season in 1994-95 got Puppa closer to making the Bolts a contender with a 14-19-2 record and 2.68 GAA and in the 1995-96 season, Puppa's efforts were rewards. That season, Puppa was able to get the Bolts in the playoffs with his play, even with the injuries he had during the season (sprained wrist, knee surgery, back issues). The record of 29-16-9 aided the Bolts to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. However, Puppa's role was diminised in the playoffs thanks to back spasms at the end of the season and often would come in relief of Jeff Reese for three games. However, this was the beginning of the end of Puppa's strong reign.
The 1996-97 campaign was a huge wash for Puppa as he underwent back surgery in November and missed the majority of the season. He played in only six games, going 1-1-2 with a stellar 2.58 GAA. The 1997-98 season started off well enough health-wise, with Puppa playing 26 games, but going 5-14-6 for the season; yet his back issues flared up and caused him to miss the season of the season from December onward. The 1998-99 season saw only get 13 games (5-6-1) in before a groin injury put him out for the rest of the year in November of 1998. The final straw was when Puppa had another early season injury in November of 1999 after playing only five games (1-2-0) and forced Puppa to retire.
Puppa left the Lightning and still is the leader in franchise goaltender's games played, minutes, saves, ranked second in wins and fourth in GAA.
In his career, there were plenty of ups, but one thing or another got him down. While he was able to play out of slumps and deal with different situations in front of him, his own body is the true enemy for him in the end. But yet-- still one of the best hockey names out there in history.