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Remembering John Kordic, 20 Years Later
Longtime Capitals fans may remember one of the fiercest players ever to suit up in Washington, a virtual pitbull of a man whose brief stint was memorable but clouded by off-ice issues.
Edmonton native John Kordic only played seven games for the Washington Capitals. In those seven games, he racked up 101 penalty minutes, nine fights, and two suspensions.
Released by the team the following summer, Kordic died a year later in a drug-fueled rage.
Kordic’s time in Washington began when General Manager David Poile wanted to toughen up the fifth-place Capitals, who were the second least penalized team in the NHL at the time. The right winger arrived in a trade from Toronto, where he had once played with other Caps alumni such as Al Iafrate and Craig Laughlin. Kordic had worn out his welcome in Toronto after conflicts with teammates and coaches. Well aware of the issues, Poile held a team meeting to discuss Kordic’s arrival. “He had a lot of problems, whether they be people problems, communication problems or off-ice problems,” Poile told The Washington Post after acquiring Kordic.
Coach Terry Murray even told reporters that he went over “guidelines” for Kordic on how to fit in. “I’m grateful to Washington for giving me another chance. I’m not going to let them down, or let my teammates down. Most of all, I won’t let myself down,” Kordic said.
With Kordic in the lineup, the Capitals were 5-1-1. In a fight against Pittsburgh’s Jay Caufield, Kordic showboated in a manner which made Aaron Asham’s sleepy-head motion last season look tame.
Kordic missed a practice about three weeks after his arrival. The team suspended him for a game, and acknowledged the problem was related to alcohol and depression. Despite this, the team did not give up on him.
“At first the guys were iffy on whether we should have gotten him, but he’s done his job adequately and the guys came around,” current Comcast SportsNet commentator Alan May said in 1991. “As a teammate, we liked him and he’s still our teammate.”
May also said at the time: “He provided a lot of enthusiasm in the dressing room… A lot of guys on this team are real quiet. He was always talking and having fun. He talks on the ice and in practice. He knew exactly what his job is and doesn’t gripe about it or ice time.”
The Capitals sent Kordic to a treatment center, where he spent nine days before reinstating him. Kordic didn’t take the support for granted. “They and the team worried about me as a person – John Kordic the human being and not John Kordic the hockey player. That meant a lot to me.”
After his return, Kordic received a one-game suspension by the NHL for an obscene gesture he made during a loss to New Jersey. Soon after, Kordic relapsed, then went AWOL from the team.
The Capitals paid for Kordic to go to rehab, but he’d never play for them again.
The following season, Kordic sobered up and made it to the AHL’s Cape Breton Oilers. Eventually he returned to the NHL with the Quebec Nordiques, where he played with former Cap Mikhail Tatarinov. During a game against Washington, Kordic dropped the gloves with pal Iafrate, and was spotted joking with him about it after the game. Kordic played 18 games for the Nordiques, ending up with 115 penalty minutes. At one point, Tatarinov described Kordic as being ‘happy.’
On August 8, 1992, Kordic checked into a Quebec motel. A few hours later, the staff called the police after several disruptions. There he battled nine officers, who eventually subdued him in a room full of syringes and anabolic steroids. He died of heart and lung failure on his way to the hospital. The 6-foot-2-inch Kordic weighed 238-pounds at the time of his death, 30 pounds heavier than his listed playing weight, likely a result of steroid use.
For more on Kordic, check Joe LaPointe’s 1992 article about Kordic in the New York Times, titled He Skated on the Ice, Then Fell Through It, and the poorly-titled but well-written Death of a Goon from Sports Illustrated.
“It is demeaning for a human being to sit on a bench for most of a game and be thrown out there only to fight like a mad dog. He always wanted to play the game of hockey, but everywhere he went he was considered just a goon.” – Don Cherry, of Kordic
Thanks to the Washington Capitals for providing the photos.