When Steve Passmore, the native of Thunder Bay Ontario, was drafted he was considered a longshot prospect at the time. He was selected in the ninth round by the Quebec Nordiques, 196th overall, in the 1992 entry draft. His size and lack of technique had been his downfall throughut his junior career. Despite his lack of size and technique, however, Passmore played spectacular and was named a first team All-Star in the WHL the next two seasons (1992-93, 1993-94). In the 1993-94 campaign he led his Kamloops Blazers team to the Memorial Cup. Before ever playing in an NHL game Passmore was involved in a trade deadline deal on March 21st, 1994 which saw Brad Werenka go to Quebec from Edmonton. Passmore was now Edmonton Oiler property, but still the consensus was he would need grooming in the AHL.
When the Edmonton Oilers did not draft Jamie Storr with their fourth pick overall in 1994 it was believed that Passmore and Fred Braithwaite would be challenging for backup duties. Passmore never stuck and goalies such as Braithwaite and Joaquin Gage all got the opportunity ahead of him. Bill Ranford, the Oilers goalie at the time, had an awful season that year (1994-95) and the Oilers had question marks surrounding their goaltending. However in the off-season, due to contract squabbles, Shayne Corson was sent packing to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Curtis Joseph and an unknown Mike Grier. The acquisition of Joseph gave the Oilers two top flight goaltenders. It was widely believed that Ranford would be dealt before the season had started. However Joseph could not come to terms with the Oilers and Ranford was kept on board as the starter, again Gage and Braithwate split the backup duty while Passmore was stuck in Cape Breton. Joseph later signed and Ranford was in turn dealt to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Mariusz Czerkawski, Sean Brown and a 1st round draft pick (Mathieu Descouteaux). Even with Braithwaite and Gage struggling as backups, Passmore never got a chance to strut his stuff in the NHL.
The 1995-96 season was non-existent for Passmore, he appeared in 2 games that year and completed only one for Cape Breton. It was during this season that Passmore contracted a mysterious blood disorder. It caused him to cramp up during play, at times he would do the splits and he would have to get the trainers to help him get out of the position. He almost quit the game, and if it weren’t for his aunt and sister, Passmore may not even be alive today. They were the two people that saved him from himself. Steve was at the brink of suicide when his aunt and sister came to the rescue. A cure was eventually found for the disorder, and it turned out Passmore contracted this disorder from the drinking water in his home-town. After finding the cure Passmore was set to play once again.
The 1996-97 season was another tumultuous one for Passmore. Braithwaite was let go by the Oilers after many poor starts in a backup role and Joquin Gage also proving that he did not have what it took to be an NHL goaltender, the Oilers were prompted into trading for Detroit goaltender Bob Essensa, who was at the time burried in the Detroit system. Essensa was slated as the backup, and Joseph the starter, goalies such as Passmore and Skudra never got a shot that year either. It was even worse for Passmore though, the Cape Breton Oilers (the team that Passmore had played the last two seasons with) re-located to Hamilton. Passmore was yet again forced to pack up and move. During the season he was even sent down to Raleigh of the ECHL for two games but later returned to the Bulldogs to fight for the starting job along with Gage, Skudra and Mike Minard. Passmore won the job and ended up leading the Bulldogs to the Memorial Cup Final that season. To cap of the first successful season for Passmore since junior he won the Fred Hunt Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship.
In 1997-98 the Oilers signed Jean-Francois L’Abbe, almost a stab in the back for Passmore. L’Abbe had been the goaltender of the year for the Hershey Bears and was the winning goaltender of that Memorial Cup Final. Passmore did not respond well, L’Abbe ended up being the outright starter and Passmore was re-located to the San Antoio Dragons of the IHL for 14 games. He later found his way back to Hamilton but sat on the bench and watched as L’Abbe won the Memorial Cup for the Bulldogs. Passmore had been overlooked yet again.
In the 1998 off-season it appeared as though Passmore may finally get his chance. Curtis Joseph became an unrestricted free agent, he was eventually signed by Toronto, and J.F. L’Abbe was signed by the New York Rangers. But yet another goaltending transaction for the Oilers took place by the Oilers acquiring Eric Fichaud and sending out Mike Watt in exchange. With only Passmore, Essensa, Fichaud and Tim Thomas vying for both jobs, a glimmer of hope shone. However Passmore had just an awful pre-season, posting the following numbers – 2 games played, 46 minutes played, 0 wins 1 loss 0 ties, an embarrassing 7.83 GAA and a pathetic .739 SV%. Passmore had finally been given the chance, but he blew it. Fichaud was rusty after missing most of last season with a career threatening shoulder injury, yet Passmore did not take advantage of the inadequacies of Fichaud. Fichaud proved that maybe he wasn’t the goalie that most thought he was, Glen Sather figured that he could not have Fichaud playing half the games for Edmonton this season so he traded him to Nashville along with Drake Berehowsky and Greg DeVries in exchange for Jim Dowd and Mikhail Shtalenkov.
Passmore found himself in the minors once more. He was now 25 years of age and in his sixth straight year, since being drafted, of not playing one single NHL game. It seemed as though Passmore was out of the picture as far as the Oilers were concerned. However Passmore went down to Hamilton with a surprisingly good attitude. It was as if he felt he had no pressure on him anymore. He worked hard with the Bulldogs and refined his goaltending style. He used to guess a lot to make a save, but after his refinement he took advantage of his outstanding agility and reflexes. He stayed in position more, instead of flopping around, and he also started to play the angles a lot better and wasn’t overly aggressive. He was stellar and gave shooters fits while posting a .930 Save Percentage, good for second in the league (behind Martin Biron of Rochester).
Even though Shtalenkov and Essensa were inconsistent throughout the season, it looked as if Passmore was once again going to be overlooked. He made the Canadain All-Star team and even though the Oilers duo in net struggled terribly Passmore had yet to get a call. A refreshing site at the All-Star game was Steve sitting on the bench and eating popcorn while showing off for the cameras. His renewed enthusiasm for the game was great to see, coming from a guy who just years ago almost quit the game. He was destined to get a call-up though, with expansion rolling around the Oilers needed to see if Passmore was indeed the real deal.
It was a very important game for the Oilers, they had just finished up a short road trip and Gretzky was in town. Essensa was the starter after Shtalenkov blew a 40 footer from Steve Duchesne the game before. The game went to overtime and saw Essensa let in a questionable goal off of the stick of Eric Lacroix. It was probably at that instant in which the Oilers managment decided to call up Passmore. The next day the Oilers re-called Dan Lacouture, Chris Ferraro and Steve Passmore.
The date was February 23rd, one day before the Oilers big game with Anaheim. Ron Low had stated that Passmore was not to play, however Glen Sather told Low to play him. Sather needed to see if Passmore could play. His play in the minors is what has kept Sather from pulling a deal on a trade for a goaltender. Sather also needed to see him play due to contract and expansion reasons. So the day that Passmore had been awaiting for his whole life had finally come. He was going to start against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
Gameday rolled around, this was Passmore’s shot, he could not screw it up this time. Did he feel pressure? Well that was a question that a reporter asked him before the game. He replied “Not yet.” and as he was answering his voice cracked. Passmore, a usually talkative person responded to interviewers with short answers, a true telling sign of his nervousness.
As Passmore led the Oilers onto the ice, his nervousness must have culiminated. When he was announced as the starting goalie the fans gave a hearty cheer, although it had taken him this long to make it too the NHL, he was already a crowd favorite. Passmore was being thrown to the dogs so to speak, Anaheim’s starting lineup consisted of Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne, Mary McInnis, Frederik Olausson and Ruslan Salei, the players had combined for a total of 91 goals and 241 points. To make matters worse Passmore had to sit there and think about his first shot on goal for four minutes and fifteen seconds, it took Anaheim that long to get a shot on goal. Passmore looked shaky but it was his first NHL career stop. It came courtesy of Travis Green, as he took a slapshot outside the faceoff circle to the right of Passmore, he made an easy save but gave up a big rebound. The crowd gave him a huge cheer when he made the save.
After the first and second periods Passmore had yet to make a difficult save, and the Oilers were effectivly shutting down the ducks, the shots were 26 to 14 in favor of Edmonton. Going into the third period Passmore had a shutout going. Selanne and Kariya put an end to that however, as Selanne was left alone at the top of the faceoff circle he let a one-timer go that blew past Steve, and gave Anaheim a 1-0 lead with 8:48 left on the clock. Rem Murray got it back for the Oilers, and it looked as though Passmore may still have a chance to win the game. Then with 5:04 remaining Paul Kariya took a drop pass from Rucchin and absolutley wired one top shelf on Passmore. Anaheim won 2-1 and Pasmore made 22 stops.
He looked shaky throughout the game and gave up huge rebounds but still had a decent game. His quickness was unbelivable. He scrambled very well, and comparisons to Curtis Joseph were not out of line. They play a very similar style, the only difference is height and weight. When asked after the game if he was happy with his peformance he answered “If two players were to score on me, Selanne and Kariya would be the two that I would choose”.
Passmore needed redemption, although he did not play poorly he did not play well either. He got that chance on Saturday February 27th against the Carolina Hurricanes. What made this game even more special was that it was broadcast on Hockey Night in Canada, something every boy dreams of. He impressed by making 15 saves in the first period, including two heroic feats. One save off of Kapanen while he was falling, and the other he dove cross crease to snatch a goal away from Martin Gelinas. It was 2-1 for the Oilers heading into the last minute of play and Carolina pulled their goalie, with 24 seconds left on the clock Francis had the puck behind the net, he centered it out front and it careemed off Passmore’s stick and between his legs. An unlucky bounce, but Passmore took it hard. He hung his head on the crossbar, dejected and devastated. In the ovetime frame he robbed Francis with a huge blocker stop to preserve the tie for the Oilers. Passmore was named the first star and as he skated out on the ice the fans gave a spine-tingling ovation. A fan favorite he had turned out to be.
Passmore had traveled through 6 different cities (Victoria, Kamloops, Cape Breton, Hamilton, Raleigh, and San Antonio) and played in four different leagues (WHL, IHL, ECHL, and AHL) before finally getting a chance in Edmonton. If adversity builds character then Passmore has lots of it, you can see him singing along with the songs that play in between play stoppages, a real refreshing sign. He may make fans in Edmonton forget all about Curtis Joseph, his quickness is astonishing and he will get his chance. However he still is searching for his first NHL win. All the luck to him.
Year Team League GP GAA W L T SO
1990-91 Victoria WHL 35 6.20 3 25 1 0
1991-92 Victoria WHL 71 4.92 15 50 5 0
1992-93 Victoria WHL 43 3.75 14 24 2 1
Kamloops WHL 25 2.80 19 6 0 1
1993-94 Kamloops WHL 36 2.74 22 9 2 1
1994-95 Cape Breton AHL 25 3.83 8 13 3 0
1995-96 Cape Breton AHL 2 1.33 1 0 0 0
1996-97 Hamilton AHL 27 2.68 12 12 3 1
Raleigh ECHL 2 6.56 1 1 0 0
1997-98 Hamilton AHL 27 3.15 11 10 6 2
San Antonio IHL 14 4.56 3 8 2 0
1998-99 Hamilton AHL 45 2.24 21 16 6 3
Edmonton NHL 2 2.00 0 1 1 0
Quebec’s 9th pick in the 1992 Entry Draft(196th Overall).
Traded to Edmonton by Quebec for Brad Werenka, March 21, 1994.
Won Fred Hunt Memorial Trophy (Sportsmanship-AHL) (1997)
WHL West First All-Star Team (1993, 1994)