Press play on a highlight reel of some of the most memorable and iconic moments in Vancouver Canucks history and inevitably certain players keep appearing over and over. One of those is Kirk McLean.
Think about it.
The sliding two-pad stack save on Robert Reichel in overtime of Game 7 versus Calgary. A Stanley Cup final goaltending clinic for the ages stopping 52 New York shots to steal Game 1. Perhaps the most famous Canucks photo of all-time, an exhausted Trevor Linden embracing Kirk after a Game 6 Cup Final win to force Game 7.
There were many reasons for the Canucks’ first real sustained period of success in the 1990s, but one of the biggest was ‘Captain’ Kirk, one of the greatest goaltenders in club history.
Raised in the Willowdale neighbourhood of Toronto, Kirk was a natural athlete who excelled at both hockey and soccer, playing the latter at a high level as a talented midfielder until age 19. Drawn to the crease at a young age, he patterned his play after legends Jacques Plante and Bernie Parent.
“I was fascinated by this goaltending position and I patterned myself after them,” he remembered.
After starring with the Oshawa Generals, he was selected by New Jersey in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. By 1987, the Devils had an abundance of promising young goaltenders and in his first trade new Canucks GM Pat Quinn shrewdly snagged a future Canuck cornerstone in Kirk.
“I knew nothing about Vancouver other than when my Dad used to listen to the Leafs play the Canucks on the radio at 10 o’clock at night with Foster Hewitt calling the games,” he recalled. “It was quite eye-opening, coming in at night and seeing the mountains and the layout—this is cool!“
For the next 11 seasons Vancouver was home. With his characteristic stand-up style, league-leading puck-handling skills, and cobra-quick glove hand, Kirk provided the Canucks with some of the best goaltending in the NHL and in the process became one of the most popular athletes in recent BC history. By the time of his departure in 1998, he was the Canucks’ all-time leader in virtually all goaltending statistics: 516 regular season games played, 211 wins, 20 shutouts, and a 3.28 goals against average. He added 34 wins and 6 shutouts in the playoffs.
With some of the best goaltending this province has ever seen, Kirk led Vancouver to two Smythe Division titles and recorded all 15 Canuck wins on the team’s run to the Western Conference Championship and Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final. He was twice selected to the NHL All-Star Game in 1990 and 1992, winning the goaltenders’ Skills Competition in the first. A two-time Vezina Trophy finalist and a 1992 2nd Team NHL all-star, he is also a two-time winner of the Cyclone Taylor Trophy as Canucks MVP and a three-time winner of the Molson Cup for most three-star selections.
In 2010, he became just the second player inducted in the Canucks’ Ring of Honour at Rogers Arena.
One of the most beloved and revered Canucks of all time, Kirk remains one of the most active Canucks Alumni ambassadors out in the community seemingly on a weekly basis supporting events and charities.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.