The winner of Bunny Larocque Trophy for backup goalies is …
Before the playoffs began, InGoal Magazine announced the creation of a new award, the Bunny Larocque Trophy for excellence in backup goaltending in the NHL. After the first round of the playoffs, we announced the finalists: Aaron Dell, Scott Darling, and Antti Raanta. We promised to announce the winner after the second round, but decided to hold off until we could properly involve two individuals absolutely central to the presentation. That time is now, but first a bit about the award’s namesake.
Michel “Bunny” Larocque
Larocque’s success in the NHL as a backup knows no equal. His accolades speak for themselves:
Larocque came into the NHL at almost the same time as Montreal Canadiens star Ken Dryden and spent his career with the Habs in the legend’s sizeable shadow.
Despite never claiming the starter’s role, Larocque’s career is studded with accomplishments, including four Stanley Cups and four Vezina Trophies, which at the time were shared between goalies playing 25 or more games on the team allowing the fewest goals. Because his name is synonymous with excellence in a supporting role, making this new award for the best backup goaltender in the NHL his namesake was an obvious decision.
Remarkably, Larocque was so poor growing up in Hull, QC, that he didn’t begin playing hockey till he was 12, and chose goal because he couldn’t skate at the time. His mother, despite not speaking more than a word of English, nicknamed him “Bunny” for his love of carrots as a child. The name, obviously, stuck.
Sadly, Larocque passed away at age 40 after a brief battle with melanoma, survived by his wife Hélène and three children, Philippe, Mathieu, and Stephane (himself a New York Islanders draft pick in 1993). Hélène remains a Habs fan to this day, and is especially proud of her grandchildren (two of whom carry on the family’s deep hockey tradition, one of whom is a top triathlete in her age group).
It has been our utmost honour to receive the blessing and support of Hélène in presenting this award. It got emotional as she shared stories about Michel’s career but she still graciously agreed to announce the winner of the inaugural Bunny Larocque Trophy in the video below, followed by the winner’s response:
Scott Darling, now of the Carolina Hurricanes, is the inaugural winner of the Bunny Larocque Trophy as the top NHL backup in 2016-17 after another great season with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I’m flattered to be the inaugural Bunny Larocque winner,” Darling said after talking with Hélène. “It’s a tremendous honour. When I looked up Bunny’s career, I can’t think of a backup goalie who has done a fraction of what he did, with all the accolades. It’s a pretty big honour to be mentioned in the same sentence as a guy who has done all of that.”
Darling, who was traded from Chicago to Carolina on April 28, became aware of the new award through social media when it was first announced, and came away from his conversation with Hélène with a new coaching option.
“She was great, she offered to be my goalie coach down the road,” Darling said. “I saw what InGoal started on Twitter to come up with it and I thought it was pretty cool.”
Darling, 28, was 18-5-5 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in 32 games (27 starts) this season as the backup to Corey Crawford. Darling is 39-17-9 with a 2.37 GAA, .923 save percentage and four shutouts in 75 NHL games (64 starts), all with Chicago, and played in five Stanley Cup Playoff games in 2015, backstopping the Blackhawks past the Nashville Predators in the First Round en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
The Chicago native signed a four-year contract with Carolina shortly after being traded as the Hurricanes new No.1, so this should be his last shot to win a Bunny.
“Let’s hope so,” Daring said with a smile.
Darling narrowly edged out former Blackhawks playing partner and current New York Rangers backup Annti Raanta in voting the inaugural Bunny Larocque Trophy, with San Jose Sharks backup Aaron Dell finishing third. Washington Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer was fourth, and Juuse Saros finished fifth in voting. Anders Nillson of the Buffalo Sabres, Keith Kincaid of the New Jersey Devils, and Curtis McElhinney, who split the season between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs, also received votes. The criteria for the award included:
– Goaltenders must have started (not merely played in) between 15 and 30 games. Below this, and the significance of their contribution is hard to measure. Above it, the goaltender is moving into tandem territory, sharing starts rather than truly backing up.
– Goaltenders must be true backups, not career starters who fall into the appropriate range of games started because of injury.
– Goaltenders will be judged by the significance of their positive impact on the team. Did they make a real difference with their play?
InGoal has pledged to continue to work with NHL goalies and goalie coaches to try and refine our criteria in order to find the right balance between raw performance in a limited role while also trying to properly measure the difficulty of playing infrequently, perhaps even weighting consecutive starts to count less than starts with longer gaps between them.
In the meantime, did we get it right? Have your say in the comments below.