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Growing up just a few blocks away in Nepean, the mutual respect between Darren Pang and Fred Brathwaite dates back over 40 years.

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So it makes sense that the two, who thrived against all odds amid a land of giant goalkeepers, enter the Nepean Sports Wall of Fame together.

Pang, 57, has set the bar high for Brathwaite.

Growing up on Glencoe Street in Arlington Woods, Pang weighed 5-5 and 135 pounds when he helped lead the Ottawa 67’s to the Memorial Cup in 1984. He played 81 games with the Chicago Blackhawks over the course of his six-year career. in the NHL, AHL and IHL.

Brathwaite, 48, followed in his own goalie skates, living just a 15-minute walk away on Meadowbank Drive in Briargreen. Like Pang, he also attended Sir Robert Borden High School and was a star with the Nepean Raiders.

“He was pretty much my idol, him and Grant Fuhr, and I’ve always admired him,” said the 5-7 Brathwaite, who has come a similar path in battling critics who said he didn’t would never get there because of its size. . “I mean, there was (Steve) Yzerman in Nepean too, but I was a goalie and my older brother (Rod) and he were friends and I watched him all the time.

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Brathwaite’s 19-year professional career spans 254 NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets, several stints with the Canadian National Team and six more. years spent in Russia and Germany. When Fuhr’s No.31 was not available in Edmonton, Brathwaite adopted No.40 as a tribute to Pang.

“Freddy has had a great career and working together is really special,” Pang says. “He’s a great guy, an amazing human being, everyone loves Freddy. There is something about our resilience. I remember when I first saw Freddy play. I always thought he played bigger than he was. When we are at our size, we have to be more patient. You couldn’t afford to go down too early.

Indeed, reaching the NHL without the size on your side is a colossal battle, more and more difficult over time.

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Of the 60 NHL goaltenders at the start of the week, only three were under 6-0 – 5-11 Anton Khudobin in Dallas, 5-11 Jaroslav Halak in Vancouver, and 5-11 Juuse Saros in Nashville – and 46 are standing. at least 6-2.

Darren Pang, March 2009.
Darren Pang, March 2009. Ottawa 67

The Ottawa Senators’ current pipeline of goaltenders and prospects includes 6-7 Mads Sogaard, 6-4 Matt Murray, 6-4 Kevin Mandolese, 6-2 Anton Forsberg, 6-2 Leevi Merilainen, 6-2 Filip Gustavsson.

In 2019, when Gustavsson walked through a locker room that also included 6-6 Anders Nilsson and 6-5 Marcus Hogberg, he said: “I’m almost like a dwarf.”

Of course for Pang there was a pride in being able to succeed in this world. It is widely believed that Roy Worters, a 5-3 goaltender who played for the New York Americans, Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1920s and 1930s, is the only smaller goaltender to have played in the the NHL.

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“(In the future), I don’t think there will be anyone as small as me,” says Pang, who now lives in St. Louis, working as a TV color analyst for the Blues. and on US national broadcasts with TNT. .

Pang looks back fondly on his sports days in Nepean, including his years playing lacrosse with the Nepean Knights.

His entry into floor hockey was at the Bell and Merivale arenas.

Pang was playing as a tyke on the first day the splashy new Nepean Sportsplex opened in 1973, interesting enough in that the building houses the Wall of Fame club where Pang and Brathwaite are now enshrined.

Over the years, his Nepean Raiders minor hockey teammates included Dan Quinn, Doug Smith, Jeff York and, later, a star named Yzerman.

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“Everyone knew where Nepean was,” Pang says. “By now, when you tell hockey folks about the various tournaments you played in as a child, everyone knew the Nepean Raiders. “

He was part of the summer skates with Mike Bullard, Claude Julien, Moe Lemay, Jeff Vaive and his fellow goalie Jim Ralph.

Pang was not drafted and he says he would never have had any luck against the pros without the connections and connections between legendary 67’s coach and general manager Brian Kilrea, top agent Larry Kelly, Blackhawks general manager Bob Pulford and Blackhawks goaltending coach Wayne Thomas.

“My mindset was to play in the NHL,” says Pang, who played 70 games with the Chicago in the 1987-88 and 1988-89 seasons. “I think the Blackhawks thought I would be a good minor league goalie for two or five years, but Thomas (supported me). “

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Then came Brathwaite, who was counted over and over again. He thanks former Raiders coach Mike Goddard for trying his luck with him, calling him to play a major midget when he was a Bantam.

“As a kid playing at the Sportsplex was almost like playing in the NHL, with all the seats,” he says. “Getting in there was a big deal. I remember having my fries and my malt and looking at this wall of fame. “

He went on to play for Smiths Falls in the Central Junior Hockey League and was a star in the OHL with Oshawa, London and Detroit.

Still, others often told him that his NHL dream was too big.

“I just liked going to the rink having fun, wanting to take it to the next level,” he says.

“I’ve never been drafted into the NHL, a 10 e or 11 e choice of round in the OHL. I wanted to prove to people that I could do it, but I had a few breaks to get into the NHL. “

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Coincidentally, it was an injury to his friend Tyler Moss, another Nepean goaltender that went to Sir Robert Borden, that allowed him to gain a foothold as Calgary’s number one goaltender at the end of the 1990s. His last professional year was with Mannheim in 2011-12.

Now goaltending coach for the Henderson Silver Knights, an AHL affiliate for the Vegas Golden Knights, Brathwaite pokes fun at what will likely be his last appearance in uniform, dressing up as a 48-year-old replacement last season in the event emergency.

With the emergence of the butterfly technique, where big goalies can give up earlier because they fill a large part of the net, the position has changed, but he hopes there will always be a place for talented goalkeepers from all sizes.

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“I don’t think I would have had the same opportunity as in the early 90s,” he says. “I’m a little biased towards the little goalies. If there is a big guy and he moves like a little guy, I totally agree, but I don’t like when a smaller guy is pushed aside when they are hoping for a bigger guy is playing well, when there is a smaller guy who is already playing well.

If there is any regret for Pang and Brathwaite to be honored at their home in Nepean, it is that Covid-19 prevented it from being an in-person ceremony.

“It’s a shame we weren’t able to be there,” Pang said.

Brathwaite says he would have loved to have had a chance for his parents, Sinclair and Verstine, and his fiancee, Shannon Belanger, to figure it all out.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he says. “There has never been anything like this for me before. I was delighted when I heard about it.

kwarren@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

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