John Druce: A Deserving Inductee to the Peterborough & District Sports Hall of Fame
John Druce is a familiar name in Peterborough. He’s known for having a substantial career in the NHL, for being a television hockey analyst, as a coach in the OJHL, as part owner of the downtown restaurant Johnny Vinos, and as a member of the Pedal for Hope team. Most recently, he can add inductee to the Peterborough & District Sports Hall of Fame to his resume, joining Petes alumni Paul and Doug Evans, Cory Stillman, and others in this honour.
Druce is a Peterborough native who received his first Petes jersey at the peewee level.
“I was so proud to have the maroon and white, it basically prepared me for the rest of my life.”
John was drafted to the OHL Petes in 1983 and played two full seasons for his hometown team from 1983-86.
While playing hockey in The Patch, John spent time on a checking line with notoriously tough Pete Rob Murray, among one of the franchise’s most legendary rosters that included Kay Whitmore, Kris King, and Shawn Evans.
“My first year with the Petes, we had nine players drafted to the NHL. I mean that alone in itself is a huge feat. We achieved a lot, we ended up losing that series. We overachieved that year, but it was pretty special.”
John defined his junior team as one whose grit reigned supreme in the OHL.
“We were a team you couldn’t push us down, we didn’t know the word quit. That run, the way we pulled together.”
In his development as a player and into adulthood the former right winger leaned on head coach Dick Todd, as well as his uncle, in directing his future.
Dick was just a big part just teaching me how to play my game within the whole picture. There was a night in Hamilton where as a winger, I remember coming back to the bench, the winger on my line had missed his man and I had gone to cover the point and all of a sudden my guy was open. They scored a goal and I got back to the bench and that’s when the light went on.
Druce, concluded stating,
Dick was a huge proponent of everyone just learning to play the game, not only within the team’s system but as individuals as well. That’s probably one of the biggest things for me that season: that’s my job, do your job, take care of your job, everyone else does their job, and we work together; that was huge for my future.
He followed up explaining that the balance between Todd and Twohey’s support was vital to his growth.
John was selected 40th overall by the Washington Capitals in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, spending four seasons in the AHL before joining the NHL full time. He spent three full seasons with the Caps before joining the Winnipeg Jets in 1992, then the Los Angeles Kings in 1993 for three seasons, ending his time in the NHLafter three seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1998.
Of course, Druce is renowned for his 1989-90 playoff series with the Caps, when he scored 14 goals in 15 games, maintaining a shooting percentage of 31.8%. However, his memories of professional hockey go well beyond this record breaking run. John had the honour of playing with some of the greatest names to ever play the game, including Paul Coffey, Ron Hextall, Ron Hawerchuk, Eric Desjardins, and Wayne Gretzky.
“I remember my first game with Los Angeles and thinking, ‘I can’t believe I am sitting beside Wayne Gretzky, I can’t believe I am playing with Wayne Gretzky.’ Those are the type of things, I think you have to enjoy those moments,” explained John.
Wayne was probably better off the ice than he was on the ice. He treated me so well. There would be no hesitation. He would be like, ‘What are you doing today? We are going golfing,’ or we would be on the road and he would say, ‘Hey we are going out,’ you know, that sort of thing. Gretz was such an amazing guy.
Throughout his career, John prided himself on his two-way game and particularly admired and modeled that of fellow Petes alumnus Bob Gainey. A “real solid, hard nosed two way player,” is the role he sought out and fulfilled.
The former Pete retired from playing hockey altogether in 1999, and shortly after pursued a career in broadcasting with Sportsnet, providing colour commentary for the OHL, AHL, and NHL.
“It was like being with a hockey team again, the whole production team you had to work together, you have templates and systems and things to follow to do your job,” stated Druce.
After five years in television and upon the resurgence of his daughter Courtney’s illness, Druce returned to Peterborough and joined Freedom 55 Financial.
“Life throws you some huge curve balls, so I mean when Courtney did first get sick when she was first diagnosed with leukemia, that obviously was a shock in itself,” explained John.
At 25, Courtney faced her fourth bout of cancer after facing the disease already at 15, 18, and 20 years old. John’s daughter documented her final journey with cancer in her popular blog appropriately named Sassy Blonde- Cancer Be Gone.
“Initially, Courtney didn’t want to be in public, she wanted to get through it, get on with her life and get moving on. That was Courtney, and she battled and fought for it. She’s an unbelievable writer and got across her message in a real way,” described Druce.
Her posts intersect at laughter, sincerity and hope, providing an honest glimpse into all sides of treatment and remission. Much of the blog features the fundraising initiatives Courtney and her father teamed up on, including the Petes’ Pink in the Rink game night. Courtney passed in April, 2016 just before her 28th birthday.
“She would emcee events for Pedal for Hope and she would be this person who could walk in a room and light it up with her smile and laugh,” stated John.
In 2005, the Cops for Cancer Peterborough Chapter evolved into the Pedal for Hope Cycling Team – a fundraising endeavour Druce has been a part of since the beginning. The team cycles throughout Central Ontario, visiting schools and giving presentations educating students about children living with cancer. In exchange, the school helps to contribute to their fundraising efforts. To date, the Pedal for Hope Cycling Team has raised over five million dollars for pediatric cancer.
This year marked the third annual Courtney Druce Memorial Golf Tournament presented by the Pedal For Hope Team. The tournament serves in one part to raise money for pediatric cancer research and one part to honour the children who lost their battle with cancer, a wish specifically made by Courtney.
In addition to his charity work, Druce spent his last four years coaching in the OJHL. He joined the Cobourg Cougars during their 2015-16 season as an assistant coach and earned an RBC Cup as head coach in the following season. In January, 2018 John stepped into the role of head coach of the Wellington Dukes and has recently stepped down from the position, “to explore other opportunities in hockey.”
On April 4, it was announced that Druce would be included in the 2019 class of inductees to the Peterborough & District Sports Hall of Fame.
The process to be inducted into the PDSHOF is absent of any influence from members of their governing body and is decided by a separate twelve person selection committee following the review of nominations decided by members of the community.
At the PDSHOF induction dinner on June 7, each new member had an opportunity to share some words of reflection upon their own career. It was here that Druce’s humility came to light, each word throughout his speech dedicated to the gratitude he had for the relationships that contributed to his success and development. He thanked his mother who raised him on her own, his uncle who stepped in throughout his childhood, Dick Todd, his partner Claudette, and of course, Courtney.
Upon speaking with John, one can’t help but immediately recognize his humility. His hockey-centric career includes many milestones to celebrate, yet he is quicker to recognize the people that have gotten him there. John’s appreciation for his community and various teams – both on and off the ice – isn’t unique, but his sincere delivery of it certainly is. The hardships Druce has faced in his personal life are unthinkable, yet he has used them as continuous fuel to help others. John’s career accomplishments and multi-level work in hockey make him an obvious choice for the Peterborough & District Sports Hall of Fame, but his ongoing philanthropic work at the local level is what will indefinitely carry the Druce legacy of spreading hope.