Here’s part two of my interview with Darren Pang…talking about his callup to the NHL, what he thought of that whippersnapper Eddie Belfour, and his relationship with Ads coach Lane Lambert.
RM: Do you remember your NHL debut like it was just yesterday, or are the details kind of a blur?
DP: Cliff Koroll, when he was recalled to Chicago, he said to me on his way out, “You keep playing hard, you’ll get a chance.” It was the first time someone had really said that to me. It was probably a week later…I believe it was February because of my birthday…I had just turned 21. It was shortly after that, then Jimmy Pappin, who took over for Cliff Koroll, pulled me aside and said, “Get your stuff ready. You’re going up.” And I was like, “What happened Pappy”, and he goes, “Murray Bannerman hurt a groin, and you’re going to back up Warren Skorodenski tomorrow night in Chicago.” But during the game, Skorodenski got hurt, but he stayed in the game. And every five minutes he kept going down and staying down. The trainer would go on the ice, and Bob Pulford told me “Get yourself ready, you could be going in.” I remember being pretty nervous, like I wanted to throw up. Anyway, the next night, or two nights later, I’m not sure which one it was…I started in Minnesota, and gave up a goal on my first shot. But hung in there, lost the game 4-1, and had a pretty good experience. Steve Payne scored two goals on me. And he was a former Ottawa 67. I grew up watching Steve Payne, and here I am playing against those guys.
RM: Eddie Belfour was just coming up while you were there with Chicago. Was it obvious right away that Eddie was a special player?
DP: Nope. In fact I told a lot of people, and I told Eddie this…I didn’t think he could play ten games in the NHL. We were both in rookie camp in 1987, and Wayne Thomas was just hired as the goalie coach. I played against Wayne in the IHL, he was coaching Salt Lake, so I knew his drills. He coached Mike Vernon, and I thought I played a little bit like Mike Vernon. So we went to a rookie camp, and we did all these drills. X-drill, Y-drill, Z-drill, U-drill, V-drill, typical goalie drills. And Eddie Belfour, he just was terrible. He couldn’t move from his post to the crease. He couldn’t cover the short side. It was really weird watching him. I was a third year pro going on my fourth year, and I remember looking at Wayne Thomas going, “This guy can’t play.” And I meant that sincerely — I mean, he tried hard. That year he went down to the IHL, and I think he was rookie of the year with John Cullen in Saginaw, and I was on the All-rookie team at the NHL. So I was the one that made the team and played 50 games. He got called up the next year, because Mike Keenan came on board. And he got called up, and he was okay. He’d have a brilliant period, and then he’d have a bad one. The next year, I got injured, tore my ACL. And they traded for a bunch of guys…and Eddie Belfour got a chance. He played really well in the playoffs. But it took him three years to take off. And Eddie, he’s a hall of fame goaltender, but I tell people that he willed himself into a hall of fame goaltender. He wasn’t a natural goalie….he was stubborn, he was determined, motivated, and he willed himself to be the great goaltender that he was. And I greatly admire him for what he ended up being.
RM: I understand that your history with Admirals coach Lane Lambert goes a long way back, much earlier than tonight.
DP: He and Steve Yzerman grew up with the Red Wings together. And when I was sent down to Saginaw my second year, I would drive to Detroit a lot to be with Steve, and spend the night with them. And they roomed together. I hung out with these guys for a couple of years and got to know Lane pretty well. I don’t see him very often, so it was nice going to the office and talking to him. He hadn’t talked to Steve in a little bit…so we exchanged numbers, I made sure he had Steve’s number. And I’ll call Steve after this and let him know that I saw Lane. I know Steve really liked Lane.