The New York Islanders - along with every other NHL team and many other businesses - have temporarily suspended operations due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organizations have strongly advised the public to practice self-quarantining and avoid close contact and crowds to limit the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gather in a virtual space and talk about old hockey players.
As long as the Islanders are on pause, we’ll run this series to give folks a place to chat, reminisce, and generally relieve the stress of the times.
For a guy who only played 18 games as an Islander, Jason Strudwick was part of a lot of Islanders storylines.
Drafted in the third round of the 1994 draft, the hulking 6’-4” defenseman could have combined with the even more hulking Zdeno Chara to give the Islanders a pair of kaiju monsters along the blueline that few teams could match. But patience wasn’t part of the plan back then under GM He Who Shall Not Be Named.
Strudwick was never a big scorer, even in Junior for Kamloops, but he was big and tough and highly intelligent. He played mostly with Kentucky of the IHL in his first two pro seasons, getting called up for one game late in the 1995-96 season and a bunch more in early 1998. In March of that year, he was dealt to Vancouver for enforcer Gino Odjick. That was the Islanders’ second trade with the Canucks in a matter of months, and it set up a complex game at GM Place in late March, 1998.
In early February, Mike Milbury acquired Canucks captain Trevor Linden in exchange for winger Todd Bertuzzi and defenseman Bryan McCabe, who was the Islanders captain. The deal was supposed to be a swap of young talent for veteran talent, but neither team was good enough to make the playoffs (the Canucks would end up getting the better of it soon enough). Ahead of the deadline, and already in Vancouver for a game two nights later, Milbury and Vancouver GM Mike Keenan traded Odjick for Strudwick straight up on the eve of what would be Linden’s emotional return to his adopted home.
And, uh, yeah. Things did not go smoothly. Odjick, upset about the trade, tore into Canucks management and lamented being swapped for, “someone I’ve never heard of.” Ouch.
Strudwick, who was 23 at the time, got a phone call in his hotel room from Milbury saying, “Jason, thanks for everything; we’ve traded you to Vancouver.” Later, he said all of the right things when asked for a response to Odjick, but admitted in the book 100 Things Canucks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die that he was hurt by it. And, of course, the next game for each club was against the other.
So, what happens when one tough guy gets traded for another? Yup, you guessed it.
It was a painful but memorable introduction to the Canucks community for Strudwick, and he tells whole the story better than I could, so check it out here (or buy the book, I guess).
Strudwick would spend four seasons with the Canucks during the early years of their West Coast Express era. His first NHL goal came in his third year in the league in a Leap Day game against the Kings in 2000. Although he would gain a reputation as being a bit of a journeyman in his career, that trade to Vancouver would be the only one he would ever experience.
He’d jump around as a free agent for the next eight years with the Blackhawks, Rangers and his hometown Oilers. He scored a career high three goals and seven assists for the Rangers in 2005-06 and logged a lot of minutes for them. He left for Switzerland the next season, but re-signed with them later in the year and stayed in New York for the next season, too. Strudwick’s final playing stop was with Edmonton from 2008-2011. After 29 games in Sweden, he called it quits for good.
He stayed in his hometown and put that high intelligence, 14 years of NHL experience and sense of humor to good use by getting into broadcasting. Strudwick hosted a show on the City network and is currently on TSN radio, where he’s the co-host of the long running Jason Gregor Show out of Edmonton.
Jason Strudwick didn’t score a lot, played on some bad to mediocre teams and wasn’t one of the most feared fighters of his era. How did he carve out such a long career?
“I just try to be myself,” Strudwick told NHL.com. “As you get older you realize there are certain roles on a team. Not everybody is going to be on the power play, not everybody is going to be the first guy on the shootout. I just help the guys be positive in the room.”
Meanwhile, when asked for a quote for that same Strudwick story, former Islanders teammate Todd Bertuzzi said, “You must be running short on stories.”
In short, he seems like a good dude (also, the karaoke story in there link is a classic).