For horror fans, Cujo is the story of a rabid dog made famous by Stephen King. For hockey fans – especially those partial to the Toronto Maple Leafs – Cujo is Curtis Joseph, one of the best goalies to ever suit up in the blue and white. With 454 career wins – good for fifth on the National Hockey League’s all-time list – he was a competitor every bit as fierce as the eponymous canine that graced his mask over 18 seasons.
Less well known about the soft-spoken netminder is that he was a painfully shy kid who grew up north of Toronto, living with his volatile adoptive mom and her husband in a men’s mental health group home. Joseph’s mother, who “smoked and drank big time,” was responsible for distributing the meds and often helped herself to the facility’s stash. He and his older brother frequently found themselves “covered in purple fingerprint bruises” from rough discipline – it was Joseph’s own version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Hockey was an escape from this environment and from his mom.
That a maltreated kid like Joseph (born Curtis Munro) ever made the NHL – he took up organized hockey as a teen, was never drafted, and started late by regular standards – is astounding. He hated being scored on, even in practice. After a year at the University of Wisconsin, Joseph signed with the St. Louis Blues as a free agent, was a star for the Edmonton Oilers, took the Leafs to the Stanley Cup semifinals twice in four seasons, and won a gold medal as a backup to Martin Brodeur at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Joseph studied players so thoroughly he could tell who was skating with the puck just from the tape job on their sticks.
As a kid with a dysfunctional family life, the young Joseph was in awe of his teammates and their seemingly normal families, in which people sat down to dinner and spoke to one another without yelling or making threats. Once he became involved with the famous Notre Dame Hounds hockey program out of Saskatchewan, then later at Wisconsin and in the NHL, Joseph found a family in his teammates and coaches.
Written in collaboration with veteran sports writer Kirstie McLellan Day, Cujo is a revelatory look at the goaltender’s life and career. Fans looking for amusing anecdotes about “Twister” and “Chaser” (Blues enforcers Tony Twist and Kelly Chase), “Robs” (Leafs sniper and fitness nut Gary Roberts), “Heals” (Leafs goalie and bagpipe player Glenn Healy), and Joseph’s BFF Tyler Stewart, drummer for the Barenaked Ladies, will not come away disappointed.