Chris Drury has never been a point-per-game player. He's never scored more than 70 points in a season. He's also never been named to an NHL All Star team. And yet, for a player with a hockey career that immediately appears to be unimpressive, Chris Drury has built a reputation as an unrivaled winner, as a clutch performer with few peers.
When it comes to his NHL career, Chris Drury was only really a winner with the Colorado Avalanche. His lone Stanley Cup ring was earned during the glorious 2000-01 season. And while his stint in Denver was relatively short, his impact on the Avalanche rivals that of any other player, and his reputation as a lifetime winner was cemented with Colorado. For that reason and others, Chris Drury easily joins the list of Top 19 Avalanche Players of All Time.
Some great players across all sports play their entire lives without winning a championship. A lifetime of effort but no ultimate victory in whatever league or sport they play in. Chris Drury never had it that hard.
In 1989, at the age of 13, Drury led his Trumbull, CT little league team to an amazing World Series title over repeat winner Taiwan. Drury pitched a complete game and drove in two runs in the championship.
That same year, his pee wee hockey team won the amateur national championship. In 1991, Chris and his Fairfield College Prepatory School hockey team won the Connecticut state championship. They finished second the next year.
His success carried over into college, too. Drury was a freshman when Boston University won their last NCAA hockey championship in 1995. And he won the Hobey Baker award in 1998 as a senior, scoring 57 points in 38 games.
But before all that, Drury was drafted 72nd overall by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1994 Entry Draft. Obviously, he stayed in school and developed his skills and enjoyed incredible success. By the time he entered the National Hockey League in 1998-99, the Nordiques had become the Colorado Avalanche, had already won a Stanley Cup, and had one of the strongest rosters in the league.
Drury, a smallish but quick center with good hands and incredible offensive awareness, fit right in as the Avs' third line center, behind Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. And in addition to a steady stream of points (20 goals and 24 assists), Drury established himself as a clutch performer both by winning late face-offs and scoring game-winning playoff goals. In the 1999 post-season, Drury scored four game-winners in 19 games. Not bad for a rookie. For his hard work, the league awarded him the Calder Trophy for best rookie, the only Avalanche player to receive that award (Tanguay and Son of Stastny were robbed).
In 1999-2000, Drury improved his offensive contributions, scoring 67 points in 82 games. Avoiding the sophomore slump, he established his reputation as a reliable 20-goal scorer and clutch face-off winner. But even more than that, Drury established his heart and his dedication to winning. With teammates like Ray Bourque, Patrick Roy, and Adam Foote---each with huge personalities and reputations---it's tough to make a mark in the locker room. But Drury's drive and youthful exuberance for the game immediately endeared him to his fellow Avs. Chris Drury, more than anything, established himself as an ultimate team player.
Unfortunately, Drury had to wait one more year before he was able to add the ultimate prize to his crowded trophy room. It wasn't until his third season that he and the Avalanche "won one for Ray," taking the Stanley Cup away from the New Jersey Devils in seven games. In the post-season, Drury added two game-winning goals and 16 playoff points to his already impressive regular season showing of 24 goals (5 game-winners) and 41 assists in 71 games.
His contributions to the Avalanche, especially in that championship year, and especially his clutch, game-saving performances, have left a lasting impression on his former Colorado teammates. Especially on Joe Sakic, one of the most clutch players in the history of the NHL. In an exceptional article that ran in Sports Illustrated last year, titled "The Winner," writer S.L. Price quotes Super Joe:
"You want a goal, you're in overtime -- you want him," says the 37-year-old Sakic, who holds the record for OT playoff goals, with seven [now 8 - Joe]. "He loves that time. His level of play rises."
Sadly, 2001-02 was Drury's final season with the Avalanche, and it was also his worst statistically. He still surpassed 20 goals, but only scored 25 assists for a total of 46 points in 82 games. The Avs also succumbed to the Red Wings in the playoffs. On that grim note, Drury was traded to Calgary just before the start of the 2002-03 season along with fellow Top 19 member Stephane Yelle in exchange for Derek Morris, Jeff Shantz and Dean McAmmond. Superb third and fourth line centers for pretty much nothing in return. Not exactly Pierre Lacroix's brightest moment as Avalanche general manager.
Drury would only suffer one season in the hell hole of Calgary before finding his way to the Buffalo Sabres, where his solid leadership gave the poor residents of Buffalo another fleeting try at a professional sports championship. By 2006-07, the Sabres were one of the best teams in the league and expected to make a serious run for the Stanley Cup. Drury had 9 game-winning goals during the regular season. Then, along with Daniel Briere, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek, Drury led the high-powered Buffalo offense to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they triumphantly lost to the Ottawa Senators in five games.
With the Sabres facing serious salary cap concerns and Drury facing a big contract offer from the Rangers, he thanked the Buffalo fans for all their support by jumping ship to New York City. In 2007-08, he scored 25 goals and 58 points in 82 games. The Penguins dispatched the Blueshirts in the second round of the playoffs, but not before Drury extended his career number of playoff game-winning goals to 16.
Drury is still only 31, and, judging by his durability so far, should enjoy a long, impressive career in the NHL. Though he may never return to Colorado, he'll forever be known as one of the best players that ever wore the burgundy and blue. His intensity, his dedication, and his never-give-up attitude will always be remembered fondly by the Avalanche faithful. A permanent member of the Top 19 Avalanche Players of All Time, no doubt.
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