First Nations Stanley Cup champion remembered after sudden death

Wednesday, March 20th, 2024 10:37am


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Chris Simon achieved Stanley Cup success as part of the 1996 Colorado Avalanche squad. He died March 18 at the age of 52.


“I don't ever want to just be a fighter. I think it would be a boring life just to come out and fight every night… The first few years, I was in the fighting department, but now I'm getting a chance to play a lot more.” — Colorado Avalanche player Chris Simon in an interview with Windspeaker, 1996
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Chris Simon was known as one of the toughest players ever in the National Hockey League.

Simon racked up more than 2,000 penalty minutes—and eight suspensions—during his 15 seasons in the league.

But Simon, who died on March 18 at the age of 52, is being remembered for plenty of other skills he possessed as well as being a gentle giant off the ice.

For Simon, who was a member of Michipicoten First Nation in northern Ontario, a highlight of his career was winning the Stanley Cup in 1996 as a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

“Chris was a great guy, a beloved teammate and an important part of our first championship season,” said Joe Sakic in a statement. Sakic is the current Avalanche president who was Simon’s Colorado teammate. “He was a really good hockey player who could score goals, was a big presence in the dressing room and was the first person to stand up and defend his teammates. Off the ice he was an unbelievable guy and a caring father, son, brother and friend. He will be sorely missed.”

Simon had spent the first three seasons of his pro career with the Quebec Nordiques. He was utilized sparingly and often called upon to fight an opponent.

He welcomed a trade to the Avalanche in 1995.

“I would never accept just being a one-dimensional player,” Simon told Windspeaker in an interview during the 1995/96 campaign. “I don't ever want to just be a fighter. I think it would be a boring life just to come out and fight every night. You have to earn your respect and earn your place out on the ice. The first few years, I was in the fighting department, but now I'm getting a chance to play a lot more.”

Simon had scored a total of eight goals during his three seasons with the Nordiques, but he displayed that he also had an offensive touch, collecting 34 points (16 goals and 18 assists) in 64 regular season contests in his one and only season with the Avalanche. Simon also amassed 250 penalty minutes that year.

Simon helped the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup by appearing in 12 playoff contests, earning three points in the process.

Simon ended up playing a total of 857 NHL games. Besides the Nordiques and Avalanche, he also had stints with the Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Calgary Flames, New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild.

Simon finished off his pro career by playing five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, which primarily features franchises in Russia.

Simon, a left winger who was an imposing 6-foot-3 and weighed about 225 pounds during his playing days, also had success in the junior ranks.

He spent his first three Ontario Hockey League (OHL) seasons with the Ottawa 67’s. He was traded to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in his final junior season. He helped the Greyhounds win the OHL title in 1992.

“Chris was a skillful and imposing player with the 67’s and Greyhounds,” said OHL commissioner David Branch. “Off the ice Chris was very caring for others. He was a special person, and he’ll be deeply missed.”

Former NHLer Reggie Leach was among those who had witnessed the softer side of Simon.

“He was a great role model for our First Nation youth,” Leach said. “He was very interested in our youth all of the time.”

Leach added whenever Simon attended the Little NHL tournament, the largest Indigenous youth hockey event in Ontario, he would take the time to visit participating players in their dressing rooms.

“We’re all going to miss him,” Leach said.

Ontario Regional Chair Glen Hare heard the news of Simon’s death while he was at a Chiefs of Ontario wellness conference in Toronto.

“Here’s a man who represented First Nations,” Hare said, adding Simon was idolized around the world.

Hare also said that Simon was “our enforcer.”

Simon's death by suicide was confirmed by his family. His former agent Paul Theofanous provided a statement on behalf of the family that said Simon had "struggled immensely from CTE which unfortunately resulted in his death."

CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a brain disorder likely caused by repeated head injuries.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.