Curtis Joseph: Behind the Mask

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Curtis Joseph: Behind the Mask

Curtis Joseph wasn’t always known for being a confident, spirited competitor, but he was often thought of as living behind a mask.

He started life a timid child, admittedly frightened of his own shadow. The man some know as CuJo today began life as Curtis Shayne Munro on 29 April 1969 in Keswick Ontario. His mother, Wendy Munro, was unmarried and decided to give him up for adoption; she named the baby Curtis after his biological father, her high school sweetheart.

A nurse and acquaintance of Wendy’s took the child home five days after he was born, and the future All-Star found himself in a ready-made family. His new parents, Jeannne and Harold Joseph were a couple in their mid-40’s, with four grown children and a 5-year-old adopted son named Grant Eakins. The family was of mixed race; Jeanne was black and Curtis and Grant were white.

The parents ran a special care home for men with brain-related injuries, and by some accounts this left very little time at home. By his recollection, however, Joseph, still then called Munro, said he wouldn’t have changed a thing. “They say everything you go through in your childhood builds character and inner strength.”

Grant and Curtis dealt with the issues of living in an adoptive family together, and the older boy took CuJo into his care. Within his basic environment, the young lad’s imagination led him to the game. When asked by teachers in school what he wanted to be, young Joseph answered, “hockey.” His mother thought it was too rough a sport, and it wasn’t until he was 11 years old that she allowed him to first play.

He began by imagining himself as a goal-scorer as he felt the rush of snapping one past the netminder. His physique eventually led him to place his skates firmly in the crease however, and he continued to develop as a hockey player.

He loved the game and dreamed of making the NHL, but he was a chunky little high school goalie in an over-saturated Ontario market. It wasn’t until a local merchant suggested he contact Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Saskatchewan that he got his first real opportunity. The team was in need of a goaltender, so he packed his gear and headed West.

Once there he roomed with five other players in an old trailer, and despite playing with worn-out, hand-me-down equipment he played a remarkable 25-4-7 in 1987-88. Soon he was playing for the University of Wisconsin, where he finally changed his name to Curtis Shayne Joseph, posting a 21-11-5 record in 1988-89 and eventually attracting NHL scouting interest. "Curtis proved to be a leader at Wisconsin, on and off the ice," said Blues executive Ron Caron. "He was as good a player as has ever emerged out of nowhere at age 21."

Despite this he went undrafted, but signed in June 1989 with the St Louis Blues. When he played he posted good numbers, but was regularly plagued by injury. In fact the Blues tried to trade him in 1993 to the Devils, but the offer was rejected because Joseph was, “an overpaid, average goalie who is prone to injury.” Taking the criticism to heart he worked to become the Blues #1 starter just two months later.

That year he had an amazing playoff run, almost single-handedly taking St Louis through to Game 7 of the second round, stopping 61 of 63 shots in an eventual double OT loss against Toronto.

The next year Blues newly appointed GM/head coach Mike Keenan singled Joseph out for regular and harsh criticism. He pulled him from games and dressed him down in front of other players. "I couldn't imagine anyone treating other human beings that way," Joseph once said in regard to the treatment by his coach. "I had had it. I even cleared his (Keenan's) desk one day when our conversation got a little heated. The trade to Edmonton (for Shayne Corson and Marty Reasoner on 28 July, 1995) was the best thing that ever happened to me. I couldn't take it anymore."

From there his on-ice career continued to rise as he moved from Edmonton on to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and eventually to Detroit, Phoenix, and Calgary before returning to Toronto.

But for such a stingy man on the ice, Joseph has been shown to be one of the most generous athletes in professional sport when off the ice. He made his presence especially felt in Toronto, where he was constantly involved with one good cause after the other. He set up CuJo’s Kids in conjunction with the Sick Children’s Hospitals immediately after his arrival in the city, and annually bought a $200,000 luxury box for at the Air Canada Centre, giving the seats to underprivileged and seriously ill children.

When asked how he felt about being a role model for so many young people he replied, “I think that when you are in the limelight it is part of your obligation to be a good role model. A lot of kids look up to you, and you are given a God-given talent, so it is your responsibility. It isn't hard to deal with. I never have to think twice about doing anything.”

So from modest beginnings came a modest man of not-so-modest talent. Working for the local community earned him the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2000, awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution in his community.

Toronto’s newest roster change brings an impressive stat sheet and an admirable human being to the team dynamic, and while fans and sceptics alike will watch to see what a legend in the League can do for this city now, CuJo himself will be looking forward… hoping to see a winning record and a Stanley Cup ring.

Also read about Joseph's seventeen-year career and playing style in CuJo: A Beginner's Guide

Original material M MacDonald Hall - 16 January 2008

Quoted material from: The Man Called CuJo by Larry Wigge; SLAM Sports open chat with Curtis Joseph

M MacDonald Hall is the Bleacher Report Calgary Flames Community Leader, and will be adding to the NHL department over the summer. Future articles include a breakdown of Calgary Flames playoff performance in the 21st Century, roster changes and information, and regularly updated trivia. M’s Bleacher Report archive includes an assortment of Flames/NHL articles.

M also writes on various other topics, sport and non-sport related. Enquiries regarding NHL writing or other subjects may be directed to M's Bleacher Report profile or via email.

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