"KILLER"... an interview with Dennis Derosiers
As a fan, when I attended my first Gears game my dad pointed out one individual player. "Ya' see that big guy there?" he said. I looked at the player and saw this guy who, from my scrawny perspective, looked as if he'd been raised by wolves in the deep woods of northern Ontario, fed raw bear meat and chopped his way through the wilderness to civilization with a hockey stick. My dad told me, "They say the players call him Killer." I swallowed my mouthful of popcorn and mumbled "I can see that."
That Gears player was Dennis Derosiers, and although the "Killer" moniker circled through the fans for most of that first season it was easily blotted out by his actual hockey nick-name. The name that both his team-mates and his fans affectionately call him by to this day... "Rosie."
Kirkland Lake, Ontario is a small mining town located about 200 miles northeast of Sault Saint Marie. Most geography teachers will tell you that the town is famous for its gold mines, but in fact there is something that anyone who knows hockey will tell you that Kirkland Lake is far more well known for producing... hockey players. Looking through the record books you will find tons of Canada's finest and toughest hockey players have been released onto civilization from Kirkland Lake. It was from that town that Dennis Derosiers was delivered onto the sport of professional hockey. On March 23, 2011 Rosie was kind enough to grant Saginaw Gears Dot Com an interview. Frankly doing the interview was a remarkable and fun experience. I could bring up the most obscure event that I had witnessed and he would immediately remember the event, in great detail, and add an entire back-story that went far beyond my own recall. We talked a lot about his days playing on the team and Rosie gave me so many stories, and so much information that a lot of it will go into individual stories that will appear later on this web site. Thus, this interview will be more of a Cliff Notes version of what Rosie and I talked about. Frankly, he had me laughing so damned hard that I could hardly take notes. It is important to point out, however, that in his professional hockey career no one actually tagged Dennis with the nick-name "Killer." The details of that will come to light during the interview....
SGDC: Rosie, you were in the EHL playing for the Clinton Comets in the 1970-71 and 1971-72 season. At the same time that Don Perry was coaching for the EHL's New Haven Blades. Did that have anything to do with your being asked to come and play for the Gears?
Rosie: Oh that had everything to do with it. Don knew me, he knew my style of play and that was what he wanted on the new team.
SGDC: So, Perry was your connection into Saginaw?
Rosie: Well, Wren Blair was also the General Manager of the Clinton Comets and that helped too.
SGDC: Did you know that when you first started playin' in Saginaw, the word circulated around the fans and among the boosters that the other players called you "Killer?"
Rosie: Whoa! You knocked me off my seat with that one! Is that for real?
SGDC: Yep. That was one of the first things I was told when I went to the early Gears games.
Rosie: Man, you really caught me off guard with that one. I'll tell ya' why, no one on the team ever called me killer. In fact no one in my professional career ever called me that. But, that name goes all the way back to when I played in the Midgets! That's what they called me then. Boy- that takes me back! I'm amazed you came up with that one.
SGDC: Don't be too amazed- it was actually just coincidence rather than research.
Rosie: Well then it's an amazing coincidence.
SGDC: Speaking of Midgets and Juniors and those sort of leagues I've always been amazed at the difference in attitude between the vast majority of US kids playing in those leagues and the Canadian kids. The Canadian kids always have this look of fire and desperation in their eyes about the game while US kids, like I was, are just sort of out there for the sport. I've never been hit as hard as I was hit by a Canadian.
Rosie: Ya' know, that reminds me of a story. I was playin' in the juniors and we were up against some American college team. They had this one guy who was sort of dumpy and not a very good skater. So I picked up the puck and went to run it up the ice and there's this guy. I could've just run it around him, but I said to myself "I'll just go right through him and make him look bad." That's the kind of attitude I had in those days. So, I lined this guy up and I hit him square on. It felt like I hit a brick wall! He didn't budge an inch and I just splatted up against him and melted like a cartoon character. It was like the guy had rocks in his pads and pockets. I learned a lesson that night; don't underestimate anyone.
SGDC: So then you came to Saginaw. What did you think of the place?
Rosie: Oh Saginaw was a great place to come and play. The fans really warmed up to us quickly. We were treated like rock stars. You'd go the store or someplace and you find yourself signing autographs. They (the Gears management) had us going to car dealerships and sitting to sign autographs for kids- it was great, especially for a guy from Kirkland Lake. The fans were mostly blue collar working class folks and they were real loyal. There were lots of great places to go and hang out in Saginaw too. I remember Larry's bar was one that we all went to a lot.
SGDC: You got to play in three Turner Cup finals three times in the 70s, what was that like?
Rosie: That was great. The first time against Des Moines we were just lucky to be there, so it wasn't that bad to lose. The next year against Toledo it was different. We had a great team and we were sure we'd go all the way...
SGDC (interrupting): As I recall in the 1975 playoffs you guys went down 3 games to 0 to Muskegon and then came back, won 4 straight and advanced.
Rosie: Yep. We had the right attitude, the right frame of mind and just took it one game at a time. Anyhow, the Toledo series, in the finals, went 7 games and we lost in game 7 in Saginaw.
SGDC: Yeah- I was an usher in the orange coat and stationed at the press box door at the time.
Rosie: We actually lost it on a penalty. It was a bad call I thought. Gordie (Malinoski) stuck his butt out and hit a guy and Sam Sisco called it a trip. Every now and then I see Sam and I remind him of it.
SGDC:That was a heartbreaker, but you guys made up for it in the 1976-77 season.
Rosie: That year we knew all along that we had the team that could do it. Toledo thought that they were gonna repeat the 75 series, but we knew better. They kept winning in their building, but we kept beating them here.
SGDC: That building of theirs was a real barn. I was there for 2 of those 3 games in that series- it was a real barn.
Rosie: I liked it there. It was a smaller ice surface, it was easier to get into a good scoring position- I liked it. When you went there you knew that you were either gonna be fighting or hit hard... and I'm not talkin' about the game, I'm talkin' about walkin' from the ice to the room.
Rosie: In those days just to play in that league you had to be tough.
SGDC: In the 1981-82 season you left the Gears, how did that come about?
Rosie: The Gears left ME, I didn't leave them. They weren't playin' me, they just weren't playin' me. Starting back in the 79-80 season they just weren't using me. I had a bar back then so I figured I'll just run my bar, so what. Then Ted Garvin called from Flint and asked if I'd like to go there and play and I said "sure." That was pretty much it.
SGDC: What was the name of your bar?
Rosie: The Sports Page Lounge. It was a pain in the ass too. It's a lot easier to be on the other side of the bar.
SGDC: And after one half season and one full season with the Generals, Flint was where your coaching career began.
Rosie: Yeah. I was really enjoying myself in Flint. First I played that half of a season and then a full second season, but I was out for 7 or 8 weeks with a broken cheek bone. After the end of the season I started considering hangin' 'em up. They asked me if I had any interest in coaching, which I did. But my only experience had been a season coaching Bridgeport High School. They (Flint management) asked me to come and have dinner with Frank Gallagher. He really raked me over the coals for about 5 hours or so and in the process they told me that Ted Garven wasn't coming back as their coach. That night I drove home, got in around 2:30 in the morning and my phone rang- they said I got the job.
SGDC: You actually ended up with 13 seasons as a professional player and 19 seasons as a professional coach.
Rosie: That sounds about right I had two seasons with Flint and then the team moved to Saginaw and I had two seasons there with the Generals and one with the Hawks.
SGDC: After that season with the Hawks you sort of dropped off the map for a season- what happened?
Rosie: I was the General Manager for the Fort Wayne Komets for a season.
SGDC: When was that?
SGDC: How'd that come about?
Rosie: The Komets owner had a rookie coach, Al Sims, and they wanted someone there who already knew about coaching. So they hired me as G.M. and I also acted as assistant coach. So sometimes I was Sims' boss and sometimes he was my boss.
SGDC: And from there you went to Cincinnati.
Rosie: Actually I was hired to coach in Nashville. I was really lookin' forward to it- had my cowboy boots all shined up and my hat- I had my heart all set on coachin' in Nashville. The guy who owned the Nashville team (the Knights) also owned the Cincinnati team. They were having some discussions with the building management there and they asked me to come out and get into it. I knew they were gonna ask me to coach there and I didn't want any part of it. Well, I got there and sure enough Doug Kirchhofer, who owned both the Nashville team and the Cincinnati teams, asked me to coach there. I said "no way" because I really wanted to go to Nashville. But Kirchhofer told me that Cincinnati would be a much better place for me- and he was right. I spent 5 of the best years of my life there. I still have friends in Cincinnati. Most people think of that city as just a place you drive through on your way to Florida, but it's really one of the best kept secrets in the Midwest. We were filling that building every night for hockey- great hockey town, great hockey fans- probably the best I've seen since we started the Gears in Saginaw.
SGDC: You came back to Saginaw to and joined the Wheels for the 1995-96 season.
Rosie: Yep, Tom Barrett was the coach and I was sort of the half-assed assistant coach. It was a real bad situation, the team wasn't run well, half the time we didn't have sticks, it was bad. Anyhow about half way through the season the team got a new owner and first thing he did was fire Barrett and then he asks me to coach. He said he wouldn't give me a contract because he "didn't trust anyone in hockey."
SGDC: Did ya' punch him or just stuff him into his waste basket?
Rosie: Ya' know that's what I thought right away, but in that micro second I came to another conclusion. I told him that having no contract was fine, but he should remember that the door swings both ways. As the season went on things got worse under this new owner. Then Kirchhofer called me up and asked how I'd like to go to Birmingham and coach there? I told him "Kirch, your timing is impeccable."
SGDC: So, you left the Wheels and coached the last 22 games for the Birmingham Bulls that season, and then coached there another 4 seasons- why'd ya' leave?
Rosie: Same old story, ownership change, their way of doing thins wasn't mine, so it was time to go.
SGDC: anyone who know hockey knows that story. So then it was two seasons with the Kazoo Wings and finally the Saginaw Spirit.
Rosie: Right. I knew Dick Garber pretty well and he and Wren had been talking about bringing a Junior team into Saginaw. We just connected. But I found out that coaching a Junior team just wasn't for me.
SGDC: I can understand that. Still the Spirit are a great team- I had season tickets for their first season.
Rosie: Oh yeah, the Spirit are a great team, they put on a great show and have developed a great fan-base.
SGDC: And that does it for your coaching days eh?
Rosie: Lookin' back at coachin' over those years I really don't know how I did it. When you're a winning coach you don't sleep a lot, when you're a losing coach you don't sleep at all. There's a lot of pressure and I couldn't take that these days especially with that aneurysm thing I had that nearly did me in.
SGDC: Yeah, back in 2007- we were all pullin' for you there. How are doin' these days?
Rosie: Oh I'm just fine. I have a lot of trouble with my short term memory, but that's about it. Now I just carry a little notebook and I write things down so I don't forget them- works just fine. Considering what it could have been, I'll take that.
SGDC: So now you're doing color on the radio broadcasts for the Saginaw Spirit on 100.5 FM. I tune in and listen to the games on my computer.
Rosie: Yeah, it's great for me. I get to travel with the team, throw in my 2 cents worth on the radio and I don't have any of the pressure. When the game's done I just go to my room and get some sleep.
SGDC: Well Rosie, we've come full circle here. You have given me so much information and so many stories that I'm afraid the web site could turn into the Dennis Desrosiers site if I'm not careful.
Rosie: Oh please, DON'T do that!
SGDC: It's been great talking to you Rosie and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to Saginaw Gears Dot Com.
Rosie: Anytime. I just love talkin' about those days with the Gears.
Posted by Wes Oleszewski at 5:00 PM