He was the Bruins first round draft pick in the NHL Entry Draft of 1981, he was the future, joining Barry Pederson and Steve Kasper as the young fresh faces ready to accept the mantle from Wayne Cashman, Terry O’Reilly, and Mike Milbury. He was gifted, blessed with a goal scorer’s touch, a playmaker’s vision, excellent skating ability, and a winning smile; as the 14th pick in the draft he scored 14 goals and added 19 assists in his rookie season, he had arrived. Normand Leveille had become a cult hero in Boston almost immediately, and it was easy to see why; his promise on the ice endeared him to the Hub’s puck heads, but that smile…no one it seemed had as much fun playing hockey for the Bruins as Norm. As the 82-83 season began, young Leveille notched 9 points in 9 games, and then tragedy struck. In the 9th game of the season, in Vancouver to play the Canucks, Leveille was felled by a congenital condition which caused a massive brain aneurysm and left him fighting for his life.
As a young B’s fan we had a rule in our house, on a “school night” we would watch the first period of the game on TV-38, and then head off to bed, only to switch on the radio to WBZ to listen to Bob Wilson with the call of the last two periods. That night was different, it was a Saturday, and I was excited to stay up late and watch the whole game as the Bruins had gotten off to a great start, having lost only 1 game so far. All these years later I still can’t put into words how confusing and crushing it was to watch that game unfold. It was clearly not like the instant information age of today, but I mostly remember in the days and weeks that followed praying for “Normie” as he remained in a coma. The idea that the 19 year-old would never play hockey again was a fleeting afterthought, as I was crushed by the realization that the young star was fighting for his life. But fight he did, and today I still can not watch the video of Norm taking his final skate at the old Garden without again breaking into tears.
Normand continues his fight, and generosity of spirit by extending a hand to others in need, with the foundation of Centre Normand Leveille in 1995. “At Centre Normand-Léveillé, anyone living with a physical, intellectual or sensory (takes) part in various social and recreational activities appropriate to their age and abilities. (http://www.centre-normand-leveille.ca/). Norm remains active in the Bruins’ Alumni, and although he only played briefly for the Bruins, he remains one of my favorite B’s and is a shining example of perseverance, generosity, and fierce determination. He is vocal about the need for the NHL as a league to step up and protect its players. While he was born with his condition, many believe that the punishing hits of the previous games may have contributed to its early onset and devastating result.
Leveille’s final game as a Bruin was October 23, 1982, against the Vancouver Canucks, and I can think of no more fitting tribute to Normand than to have him begin the flag salute for the Bruins’ return to the Cup Final in Boston. Norm is a Bruins’ legend, not because of the tragedy that ended his career, but because of how he has risen above the challenge, and continues to live his life as an example of perseverance. He is and always will be a an example of what it means to be a Boston Bruin.
About the Author: NHL Blogger, a fan of the Boston Bruins for 40 years, mom to the famous/notorious Bruins dog blogger, The Pup. The Pup is a savvy hockey dog in search of cookies (the jar is on the top shelf).