'It made me who I was': How growing up adopted fuelled Curtis Joseph's NHL career

It wasn't until Curtis Joseph was a grown man playing in the NHL that he met his biological mother. When he did, he knew exactly what he wanted to say: he thanked her for having him.

Retired NHL goaltender 'Cujo' opens up about difficult childhood

Former goaltender Curtis Joseph spent 19 seasons in the NHL, playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. (Submitted by HarperCollins Canada Ltd.)
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From a young age, Curtis Joseph knew that he was adopted.

But it wasn't until he was a grown man playing in the NHL that the former goaltender — known as Cujo — finally met his biological mother.

When he did, he knew exactly what he wanted to say: he thanked her for having him.

"She wanted somebody to give me the life that she ... felt that she couldn't give me at 16 years old," Joseph told The Current's Michelle Shephard.

He remembers her being shy. And if she was anything like him, she may have also felt a bit of guilt, he said.

Joseph, who grew up in an institution for mentally ill patients run by his adoptive parents, delves into how his childhood paved the way for his hockey career in his new autobiography Cujo: The Untold Story of My Life On and Off the Ice.

Joseph, pictured above in 2009, writes about his childhood in his new memoir. (Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

Growing up adopted wasn't easy for Joseph, but he said he wouldn't change a thing.

"It made me who I was," he said of his mother's decision to give him up. "It made me hungry. It made me pursue what I wanted to pursue. And so she made the greatest decision, and I always thank her for that."

Seeing the 'glass half-full'

As a kid, Joseph said he was always good at sports. But he loved hockey.

A young Curtis Joseph. As a child, he loved sports — particularly hockey. (Submitted by HarperCollins Canada Ltd.)

He would watch games start to finish and play road hockey three times a day, he said. He eventually went on to play junior and university hockey before breaking into the NHL, where he played 19 seasons.

Before retiring, he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.

"Nobody squashed my dreams. That was the good thing," Joseph said, referring to his upbringing.

"I didn't have any lessons in life, or parenting, but on the other hand — glass half-full kind of guy — I didn't have anybody tell me I couldn't do it. And that's why I made it."

It was a mix of encouragement from his family and feedback from people who heard his story at speaking engagements that inspired Joseph to put his experiences on paper.

"Occasionally, you know, there'd be a lineup afterwards, and kids would come up to me and go: 'I'm adopted, too,'" he said.

Joseph said he would tell those kids to pursue their dreams and do their best. Sometimes they would tell Joseph they became a goalie because of him.

"[My son] would tell me, he said, 'Dad, dad, if you can help one kid make it to the NHL, or you know, help his life, then you've done your job,'" Joseph said.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page.


Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by The Current's John Chipman.

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