One of hockey’s most heartbreaking tales involves the premature end to the career of Normand Leveille – a left winger who was showing potential for the Boston Bruins a little over 35 years ago.
Leveille was the 14th overall pick in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft and was selected immediately before a future Hall of Famer in Al MacInnis. Coming off a breakthrough campaign where he scored 55 goals and racked up 101 points with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, he was a QMJHL Second Team All-Star and had no problems in cracking the opening night lineup for the Boston Bruins.
By his fourth NHL game, he finally made the score sheet as he not only opened the scoring in an 8-5 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on October 14, 1981, but also scored the winning goal against Murray Bannerman. It was the first of six multi-point games during his rookie campaign. Two nights later, he also potted the difference maker when clashing with the ill-fated Colorado Rockies.
Over the course of the regular schedule, he missed 14 outings – mostly due to a knee injury he suffered while facing the Hartford Whalers on November 1, 1981. Returning in early December, he posted five points over his first five games back in the lineup.
As his first NHL season wound down, Leveille’s production tailed off a bit and he sat in the press box over two rounds. Once October hit and hockey was back, he took his game to a new level and looked great with eight points over his first eight games – including a two-goal effort at home against the Vancouver Canucks on October 14, 1982.
Just nine days later, his promising career came to an unexpected end.
As the Bruins paid a visit to Vancouver as part of a long seven-game road swing, the score was tied at one after the first period when Leveille was rushed to hospital after he mentioned that he was experiencing some dizziness. Doctors performed a seven-hour operation to deal with a brain aneurysm – but it was determined to be congenital rather than related to something that happened on the ice.
While the doctors were able to save his life, there was no way that he was going to play again. At the age of 19, he has a long road to recovery ahead. He spent three weeks in a coma and eventually regained the ability to walk. All told, he skated in just 75 games and put up 17 goals and 42 points over that time.
Leveille was on the mend, his first hockey card hit the market in packs on 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee, a card that is inexpensive today. That was the first of two straight years where there was a hockey card set produced only for the Canadian market as Topps had gone on a temporary hiatus (but did produce a sticker album for American collectors).
The crowd at Boston Garden was in for a big surprise on February 11, 1984 as Leveille made a surprise appearance and stepped onto the ice. A little over a decade later, he was back again for the closing of the hallowed barn and he skated out with the help of former teammate Raymond Bourque.
Starting in the 2010-11 season, Panini America paid tribute to Leveille’s short career with several cards – including a broad range of certified autographs and pieces of his Bruins jersey. The vast majority of autos are limited to 99 copies or less and are consistently strong sellers. There is even a Shirt Off My Back dual memorabilia card with him and Bourque from 2011-12 Panini Certified that also has a scarce signed version.
With a limited cardboard legacy and a story that is both tragic and inspirational, Normand Leveille’s cards are a must-have for hockey fans. His tale is an important part of franchise lore and it is made even more special by the fact that he devotes so much time to helping others as well.