The first question that most people ask me when I tell them that I collect cards of Craig Billington is...."Why?"
"Why do you collect him? He's terrible!"
"Who the hell's that?"
"Wasn't he only in Boston for a year or so?"
"Let my know if you need cards of any REAL players." You get the idea.
Frankly, I tell these people that they just don't get it. They don't understand why I admire Billington. It wasn't just for his performance on the ice (although I think his hockey abilities are vastly underrated by nearly every so-called "expert" I've talked to.)
Craig's perseverance through some incredibly difficult situations is what first caused me to follow him. He was a young, promising goalie who had just established himself as a solid NHL player with New Jersey.
Then he was traded to the worst team in the league, and perhaps one of the worst in NHL history, the 93/94 Ottawa Senators.
Not only that, but he had to carry the main workload in net. It's tough enough to play goal in the NHL, with pucks whizzing by your head at 100 MPH.
It's tougher to do it for 63 games with a defense in front of you that resembles the French army facing the Blitzkrieg in WW2 ("Please sir, kindly go around to the left.")
Ever had a bad day at work? When nothing goes right, when people yell at you, when you try your best, yet you still can't turn things around?
Craig had 63 of those days in one year. Not only that, but there were about 15,000 critics at each one, advising him to look for another line of work.
Not to mention the media, who decided that Craig was the reason the team did so poorly.
Craig's attitude was simple: I'll do my best, and I won't try to fight it, because I'll wind up in therapy if I do.
When Biller was traded to my hometown Bruins, he had been through the battles. He had seen much. He was ready to do anything his new team asked of him.
What they would up asking him to do was to be the temporary no.1 while they actively sought for a "real" no.1 goalie.
The Bruins could no longer count on Blaine Lacher, so they turned to Craig. All Biller did was stand on his head for the team, while many of his teammates were taking the first few months of the season off.
This would be like being named acting director of a work department, busting your hump to get things in order, and then watching management hire some guy from outside to take your spot, because they felt you weren't "management material."
When the Bruins finally acquired Bill Ranford, Craig said he'd gladly accept his new role of backup, and that he'd help in any way possible. Even though he had played very well to that point in the season, Biller didn't complain.
When Ranford made every start in net for TEN WEEKS, Craig never complained. He was at every extra practice, every team meeting, everything that was asked.
When the Bruins passed over Craig in favor of rookie Robbie Tallas to start a critical game against the Islanders when Ranford was injured, he didn't sulk. He instead took Tallas aside and gave him pointers about the Islanders skaters and their shooting tendencies. Tallas and the Bruins won the game 4-3, assist to Billington.
When Ranford was hurt after the first game of the playoffs, Craig stepped in and made the start with no complaints, despite not having seen any action in over a month.
To me, Craig seemed to be the perfect role model for kids who look up to athletes. Despite what Charles Barkley says, athletes are role models. The way they act influences the kids who watch them.
If my kids emulated the way Craig acted both on and off the ice, I would be thrilled. They would learn how to be a team player, and how to contribute in any way possible, no matter what their vocation was.
Craig's with the Colorado Avalanche this year. He's backing up superstar Patrick Roy. When he went to Colorado, he was thrilled. "I'll do anything they ask of me. 15 games, 20 games, whatever."
If Colorado wins the Cup this year, guess who I'll be happiest for? You got it, Craig Billington.
Craig, from this Bruins fan, Thank you.