Over their 44-year history, the Capitals have had a number of high profile names don the team sweater, and many of those had success with the team or became household names at other points in their NHL careers. Many of these players have been key offensive contributors that made their mark on the Caps in their tenure with the club. One such player was Hockey Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli, and in this latest Capitals Alumni Profile, NoVa Caps looks back on his Capitals career.
Early Life and Career
Dino Ciccarelli was born on February 8, 1960, in Sarnia, Ontario. He grew up playing minor league hockey for his hometown club and when he was 15-years old, he made Sarnia’s Junior “B” hockey team and led them in scoring with 45 goals and 43 assists for 88 points in just 40 games. He is one of only two Sarnia Jr. ‘B’ graduates to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the other being Phil Esposito.
Ciccarelli then joined the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) as a 16-year-old. In his first season with the Knights, he scored 39 goals and added 43 assists for 82 points in 66 games played, which was good enough for fifth on the team in scoring. The next year (1977-78), he did even better with 72 goals and 70 assists for 142 points in just 68 games. His 142 points was the third-highest total in the OHL that season, and as a result, was awarded the Jim Mahon Memorial Trophy, which was given to the highest scoring right winger in the OHL.
Unfortunately, Ciccarelli’s run of success hit a snag when, during practice, he crashed into the boards, and badly broke his femur, which resulted in him having his leg reconstructed and a steel rod incorporated as part of the process. The rod was removed after a year. The injury limited his production in the 1978-79 season to just eight goals and 11 assists in 30 games. Between the injury and the fact that he was only 5’8”, he went undrafted in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. However, the Minnesota North Stars signed him as a free agent in September of 1979, though he returned to the Knights for one final year, scoring 50 goals and adding 53 assists for 103 points. After the season, London retired his uniform number (No.8).
Minnesota North Stars
Ciccarelli played six games for the North Stars’ minor league affiliate in the Central Hockey League (CHL), the Oklahoma City Stars, at the end of the 1979-80 season, scoring three goals and adding two assists. He returned to the Oklahoma Stars to start the 1980-81 season, scoring 32 goals and recording 25 assists for 57 points in just 48 games played. The North Stars then called him up to the NHL where he took the league by storm. In just 32 games, he scored 18 goals and added 12 assists for 30 points. He also performed exceptionally well in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that season as well, with 14 goals and seven assists for 21 points in 19 games. He was a major contributor to the North Stars in their march to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The 1981-82 season was his first full season in the NHL, during which he scored 55 goals and had 51 assists for 106 points overall. While his rookie year with the North Stars turned out to be his best year, he remained a productive goal-scorer throughout his career. Except for 1984-85, when he only scored 15 goals in just 51 games, he generally scored between 35 and 50 goals for the North Stars. His second-best season came during 1986-87, when he scored 52 goals and had 51 assists for 103 points overall. In addition to being a consistent goal scorer, he had also established a reputation for being a gritty, in-your face forward who scored most of his goals from the lip of the crease and absorbed a lot of punishment from defensemen in the process.
In March 1989, during his ninth season with the North Stars, he and defenseman Bob Rouse were traded to the Capitals in exchange for winger Mike Gartner and offensive defenseman, Larry Murphy. At the time that Ciccarelli was traded, his 651 points were the fourth-most in North Stars history. At the time of the trade, Gartner had been the Caps’ All-Time leading scorer, but the Capitals management was not happy with his playoff performance of the previous season, in which he scored just three goals and four assists. The Caps continually had problems advancing out of their division and most recently had lost the Patrick Division Finals in Round 2. Since Gartner had gotten off to a slower than normal start due to injuries, management had no reason to believe he’d be any better, and as a result, the trade was made. The Caps were banking on Ciccarelli to produce more offense in the playoffs. Back in 1987-88, when Ciccarelli was holding out for money, the North Stars management referred to Gartner as a comparable player who was making less money than he was.
Career With the Washington Capitals
The 1988-89 deadline trade appeared to be successful for the Capitals, at least for the regular season. Ciccarelli scored 12 goals and had three assists in just 11 games for the Capitals. This cemented another season in his career in which he scored over 40 goals, although with two different teams. Although he performed well individually in the playoffs, with three goals and three assists in six games, the team’s fortunes in the playoffs did not improve. The Caps had finished first in the Patrick Division and met the Philadelphia Flyers who finished fourth in the division. The Flyers won the series in six games.
In his first full season with the Capitals, Ciccarelli scored 41 goals and had 38 assists for 79 points overall. He led the team in goals and in total points and was second in assists only to Geoff Courtnall. The Caps finished in third place in the Patrick Division and met the New Jersey Devils and advanced to the Patrick Division Finals by winning the series in six games. Ciccarelli had eight goals and three assists in that series and was the team’s leading scorer, including a hat trick in that series, in a game the Caps won 5-4 in overtime.
They met the New York Rangers in Round 2 (the Patrick Division Finals), with the Rangers winning the first game of the series, 7-3. The Caps won the second game, 6-3. However, it was a costly win for the Caps as Ciccarelli injured his knee. Ciccarelli had been crunched into the boards by Kris King and was making an open ice hit against him in retaliation. The collision knocked King to the ice and Ciccarelli limping off the ice afterwards. It ended up being Ciccarelli’s last game of the season. The Caps ended up sweeping the rest of that series against the Rangers, winning the series in five games. The series was notable for John Druce scoring an eye-popping total of nine goals, including a hat trick in the game in which Ciccarelli was injured. Due to beating the Rangers in that series, the Caps advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in their history. Unfortunately, they were swept by a much better Boston Bruins team and being without Ciccarelli made the job even more difficult.
The next season, 1990-91, brought more misfortune for Ciccarelli. He fractured his right thumb in late October and missed 26 games. He ended up with his lowest total in goals since 1984-85, scoring only 21 goals with 18 assists in just 54 games. In the playoffs, the team advanced to the second round, only to lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ciccarelli had five goals and four assists through 11 playoff games that season.
He rebounded in the 1991-92 season, scoring 38 goals and adding 38 assists. In this particular year, he scored five goals and had five assists against the Penguins, who ended up beating the Caps in Round 1. The 1991-92 season ended up being his last with the Capitals. On June 20, 1992, he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Kevin Miller, brother of former Capital, Kelly Miller. In slightly over three seasons with the Caps, he played in 223 games, scoring 112 goals and adding 97 assists for 209 points overall.
Ciccarelli played with the Red Wings for four seasons. He scored 41 goals and had 56 assists in his first year with them. During his time with the Red Wings, they won the President’s Trophy twice, in 1994-95 and 1995-96. In 1995, the Red Wings advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, which was Ciccarelli’s second appearance there, but they lost to the New Jersey Devils in six games. Ciccarelli scored nine goals and had two assists in the playoffs. In 1996, they lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the Conference Finals. He missed out on the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup championship teams as he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning after the 1995-96 season for a fourth-round draft pick. He scored 35 goals for Tampa Bay in 1996-97 but was traded in the middle of the 1997-98 season to the Florida Panthers. The 1998-99 season was his last season in the NHL, in which he played just 14 games due to a back injury. He ended his NHL career with 608 goals, 592 assists, and an even 1,200 points, overall, in 1,232 games. At the time of his retirement, he was ninth on the All-Time list for goals scored. For the playoffs, he played in 141 games and scored 73 goals and had 45 assists for 118 points.
After his NHL career, he founded Ciccarelli’s Sports Bars, a family restaurant/sports bar chain in Michigan, specifically in Shelby Township, Auburn Hills, and Detroit.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010. Despite never being drafted, he enjoyed a spectacular career.
Check out NoVa Caps’ other Capitals Alumni Profiles HERE.
Statistics obtained from NHL.com, Hockey Reference, and HockeyDB.
By Diane Doyle