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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Lost Rookies: 1985-86 OPC Geoff Courtnall

  Geoff Courtnall entered the NHL the same season as his younger brother, Russ.  Russ Courtnall was a 1st round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Geoff was undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins.  Geoff was the late-bloomer of the two.  Russ had more hype, but in the end, it is debatable who had the better career.
  Geoff signed with the Bruins in the 1983 offseason.  Although he had a rather uninspiring season with the Hershey Bears of the AHL, he did get called up and played 4 uninspiring games with the bruins in January.  
  He started the 1984-85 season with the Bruins.  In his first game, within the first minute, he got into a fight with Ray Neufeld.  He must have determined to make an statement to the club.  He scored his first career goal on October 21st, 1984 against Marc Behrend of the Winnipeg Jets.  On January 9, 1985, the brothers played each for the first time in the NHL.  The Bruins won 5-3, and bother brothers, Russ and Geoff, each scored a goal.  Geoff was a regular on the Bruins over the next three seasons, scoring about 15 goals and 35 points each year.

1986-87 OPC Russ Courtnall
  The 1987-88 season was Geoff's breakout year.  He moved his way up through the line-up and was eventually on the 1st line with Cam Neely and Ken Linseman.  He had 58 points in 62 games when he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers, along with minor league goalie, Bill Ranford, and a 2nd round pick to the Edmonton Oilers for Andy Moog.  Courtnall struggled with the Oilers.  He had 8 points in 12 games during the regular season, including a hat trick while playing on Wayne Gretzky's line, and only 3 points in 19 play-off games.  He didn't get much time on the top lines.  The Oilers were deep on the left-wing already with Glenn Anderson, Esa Tikkanen, and Mike Krushelnyski.  On the plus, side, Geoff won a Stanley Cup with the Oilers.

1988-89 OPC Geoff Courtnall
   It was a tumultuous summer in Edmonton during 1988.  The Oilers were a success on the ice, but the team wasn't paying owner Peter Pocklington's bills.  The cash-strapped owner made the infamous Wayne Gretzky trade, which included $15 millions dollars going to Pocklington's pockets.  A few weeks before that, the Oilers made another financial decision.  Geoff Courtnall was a restricted free agent and was looking for a raise.  The Oilers and Courtnall couldn't come to an agreement, so the New York Ranger made Courtnall an offer and he accepted.  As a restricted free agent back in 1988, the Rangers would owe the Oilers compensation for signing Courtnall.  It was basically a trade.  If the Oielrs and Rangers couldn't agree to the compensation, then a NHL official would decide.  For some bizarre reason, the Oilers traded the rights to Courtnall to the Washington capitals for Greg Adams (not the good Greg Adams, the other one).  The Capitals immediately matched the Rangers offer.  The Rangers filed a dispute with the NHL and then took the NHL to arbitration.  They lost both cases.
  Courtnall responded with a career season with the Capitals in 1988-89.  He scored 42 goals and 80 points.  It impressed Topps so much that they decided Geoff deserved to be a 2nd Team All-Star.  In reality, he had finished 4th in voting.  Geoff was finally rewarded with a rookie card.  Although I personally find the close-up headshot of Geoff to be one of the worst cards in the set.  First off, it's a head shot.  Secondly, it's the look on Geoff's face.  Lastly, it's the centering of the picture and the amount of dark space.  So while I was already doing Geoff Courtnall Cards, I decided to update his 89-90 rookie card as well.

1989-90 OPC Geoff Courtnall
   Geoff had a pair of good years while with the Capitals. 
  (After posting, I was enlightened to an incident that should be mentioned.  Courtnall's departure out of Washington was hastened by the Georgetown Limousine Scandal.  Three Capitals players, including Courtnall, were accused of rape by a 17 year old woman.  The District Attorney decline to lay charges in the incident but it made the front page in Washington.  Courtnall expressed disdain with the way he was treated by the press during the investigations.  He requested a trade out of Washington.)
  In the summer of 1990, the Capitals traded Courtnall to the St. Louis Blues for Peter Zezel and Mike Lalor.  Courtnall rode side-saddle to the Hull and Oates show in St. Louis.  He was traded at the 1991 trade deadline, along with three other Blues, to the Vancouver Canucks.  The trade would be considered one of best trades in Canucks history.
  It took a few season, but the Canucks made a run for the Stanley Cup in 1994.  The Canucks had six players they had acquired from the Blues in trades on their roster.  They also had Greg Adams, the good one.  Courtnall had four good seasons with the Canucks, including a pair of 70 point seasons.  In April of 1995, the Canucks traded for Geoff,s brother, Russ.  A few months later Geoff left the team as a free agent.
  Geoff returned to the St. Louis Blues for the 95-96 season.  During the 1997-98 season, Geoff suffered an eventual career ending concussion.  He missed four months during that season but returned for the play-offs.  After playing 6 games in 1999-00, Geoff retired due to post-concussion syndrome.
  Geoff eventually moved back to Victoria and now works in real estate and investing.  Geoff, and his brother Russ helped fund the Archie Courtnall Centre, a mental health facility in Victoria.  Geoff battled with alcohol after retiring. Geoff's father Archie also battled alcohol and depression.  Archie committed suicide in 1978, when Geoff was 16.  It took Geoff almost a decade to better his demons, and now he is committed to helping others.
  Courtnall never received had a rookie card until the 1989 atrocity.  Since his 83-84 season was a bust, I don't think he would have earned one until the 1985-86 season.  

1985-86 OPC #278 Geoff Courtnall (RC)

1985-86 COP #278 Geoff Courtnall (RC)


  1. A great revisit to the career of a very underrated player IMO. The 85-86 image looks fantastic. Another righting of a Topps/OPC omission, for sure. Considering the Courtnall some of the tragic family history it makes both Geoff and Russ's story that much more compelling. Great work again Jason!

  2. Both brothers had excellent careers. I had an instructional hockey video they put out in the early '90s called "The Shooter's Edge" that was rather informative.

    Geoff definitely deserved a card earlier than the one Topps and OPC gave him in 1989-90. I'm sure he'd like that '88-89 custom that you created. Nice work!