Viewed 2336 times
It is a popular practice for local newspapers to feature photos of the first baby born in the community’s hospital on January 1st each year, often along with the child’s happy parents. Merchants in the town frequently will donate gifts to the family—powder, a year’s supply of diapers, a bottle warmer, or bath station.
Some famous people have had the distinction of seeing the first light on the initial day of the calendar year: Paul Revere, Pope Alexander VI, Edmund Burke, J. Edgar Hoover, Xavier Cugat, Barry Goldwater, and Hank Greenberg, just to name a few.
At last count, 30 NHLers have helped their moms and dads ring in the New Year in this special fashion.
Chronologically, Vic Hoffinger is the first of this lineup of the ice game’s celebrities to fall into this limited category. The twentieth century was only into its second year when he was born in Selz, in the Russian Empire (now in Ukraine). While he was still young his family immigrated to Saskatchewan, where he took an interest in his new country’s national sport. After apprenticing with the Saskatoon Empires of the Provincial Senior loop, he joined the professional Sheiks of the Prairie League, the year it was organized. He had two tries at the Big Time with Chicago in 1927-28 and 1928-29, but managed only a single assist in twenty-eight National Hockey League games. He became a career minor leaguer, first skating with Kitchener in the Canadian Pro Hockey circuit. He continued in this fraternity when it became the International League, sporting the colours of Hamilton, Syracuse, Detroit, London, and Cleveland. He concluded his pay-for-play stint with Oklahoma City of the American Hockey Association in 1935.
When Elwin “Doc” Romnes joined the fledgling Windy City sextet, he was one of just two American-born skaters in the NHL (“Taffy” Abel was the other). A skilled, though smallish forward, he combined talent an gentlemanly play, making him a natural to be selected as a Lady Byng Trophy winner, an honour that came his way in 1936. That season he managed 38 scoring points, but spent only six minutes in the sin bin. In fact, over 403 games, he was assessed only 46 minutes in penalties.
It was somewhat ironical that two seasons later, out of the blue the White Bear Lake native blew his cool attacking big Red Horner with a vicious slash aimed at his head. But the incident becomes less of a mystery when the story behind the story is known. In the previous playoff match, the big carrot-topped rearguard had almost singlehandedly beat up on the Hawk crew. Included in his one-man wrecking crew venture was the breaking of Romnes beak. He threatened during that match to the effect that he would “knock his head off”.
That warning was fulfilled in that, when they were on the ice for the first time as opponents, the slow-skating pivot brought his shelalah down on the top of Horner’s knock, sending him to the locker room on a stretcher. “Doc” was constantly reminded of Red’s misdeed by the football helmet equipped with a faceguard to protect his busted proboscis. Strangely enough, the two became teammates when Romnes was traded to the Leafs.
To sure the most intriguing biography of a player who first saw the light of day on the first day of the year, belongs to Jack Leswick, the eldest of three hockey-playing brothers who made it to the Big Time. His NHL career spanned but one season—not because of his lack of talent, but because of his untimely death. He donned the Black & White togs of the Blackhawks in the fall of 1933, just in time to become a Stanley Cup winner the next spring. A sniper in the minors, he managed but one tally and seven helpers over the 37 games he skated for the Windy City sextet.
Following his first and only campaign in the world’s premier shinny fraternity, he toured Ontario, and, apparently headed home to his native Saskatchewan, when he suddenly disappeared. On August 6th, his body was dragged form the Assiniboine River and an investigation entered into his mysterious passing. While police were prone to call it suicide, the fact is that his car was missing, and the gold watch awarded to him by the Chicago team (which he wore constantly) was also gone. The final conclusion was that he was a victim of a hold up. A sad conclusion to a promising future in the world’s fastest game.
The next hockey New Year’s baby came squalling into the world in the person of Murray Armstrong, who was born in Manor, Saskatchewan in 1916. Times were tough for his large family, whose father was a blacksmith. And, for a few raised in Canada’s poorer families, hockey was a source of bread and butter, courtesy those who were blessed with extraordinary talents along that line. Armstrong was still eligible to play junior hockey when he was summoned to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1937. His career with the Blue and White was short-lived, and he ended up with the New York Americans, where his hockey savvy really took root. Following a seven-year stint in the world’s premier hockey circuit, he returned to his native Regina where he settled down in his men’s clothing business. But his coaching skills began to take root as he tutored the local
Junior Pats, taking them to the Memorial Cup finals four times. In 1956 he was engaged as mentor for the University of Denver. In twenty-one seasons, his Pioneers carted away the National Collegiate Athletic Association title five times. In 1977 he was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy, which honours contribution to hockey in the USA.
Calum MacKay was, as the old “Out Our Way” comic strip used to say, “born thirty years too soon”. He had the misfortune of cracking the lineup of the talent-packed Habitants in 1949-50. As a forward he had to contend with players like “Rocket” Richard, Jean Beliveau, Elmer Lach, and Bernie Geoffrion for a spot on the powerful roster. The raven-haired left-winger was nicknamed “Baldy”, as a result of an over-zealous barber, who virtually scalped him when he was a teenager. He stuck with the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge until the 1954-55 schedule, during which he had a respectable 35 points. But the following campaign he was demoted to the QHL Royals. He never made to elite hockey circles again.
Three Stanfield brothers have their names etched in the record books of the NHL. Fred, the middle son, who logged one thousand games in the Big Time, was part of that controversial trade which sent him, Phil Esposito, and Ken Hodge Sr. from Chicago to Boston for Gilles Marotte, Pit Martin, and Jack Norris. Brother Jack, the eldest, managed by one NHL game, while Jim, who was a New Year’s baby, played parts of three campaigns with Los Angeles between 1969 and 1972. His “line score” records 0 goals, 1 assist, and 0 Penalties In Minutes. It is believed that had it not been for a bad case of the flu he may have stuck with the parent club in 1972. He was a clever goal-scorer, and made his mark with the San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League. It was while with that club he had the unusual privilege of having Jack as a teammate. He once tallied forty-five markers with the Spokane Flyers.
Phil Roberto must have felt he was the second coming of Calum MacKay, because, although his debut with the Canadiens came two decades later, pucksters trying to crack that line-up in 1969 faced the same barrier. Jean Beliveau. Yvan Cournoyer, Henri Richard, Bobby Rousseau, Peter Mahovlich, and Ralph Backstrom were stalwarts on the forward lines of the Mount Royal city. He had a encouraging start, when according to coach Al McNeil, his “readiness for the Big Time” allowed them to trade Mickey Redmond. And, while he managed to stick with the club until 1971, thereby earning a place on a Stanley Cup championship team, he was traded to St. Louis a year later.
He just never seemed to live up to his potential, which was reflected in another move in 1975, this time to Detroit. His tendency to put on weight, mainly because of his love for his nationality’s favourite—spaghetti—as well his all-to-frequent trips to the penalty box, made him expendable. However, a near tragic accident also entered the picture of his decline. In fact, his career appeared to be over, when he raised his arm to protect his face when a glass door fell on him, cutting him severely. He made a comeback, but moved from one lesser club, Kansas City, Colorado (Rockies), and Cleveland to another.
They called Gerry Hart “the spear carrier”. This tag reflected his boisterous and hardworking approach to the game as a rearguard. Comparatively small for a defenseman, he made up for his lack of size by giving his all every moment he was on the ice. Columnist Bill Libby wrote of him: “…he defends determinedly, digs in the corners for the puck, makes the heavy hit, and gets the puck to the stars!” Born into a miner’s home in Flin Flon, Manitoba, in 1948, the mental image of his father burned out before he was old enough to retire, only spurred him on in hockey. He admitted that once the puck dropped he concentrated on nothing else but the game.
Strangely enough, Hart took lessons in gourmet cooking, a seemingly contrast for one who was so macho in his approach to the sport. He specialized in “Italian and Continental” meals. When the last whistle blew at the end of the season, he used to board his boat and spend the summer fishing. Al Arbour, his coach, once declared: “He never gets tired of the grind; he seems to thrive on it!” Yet none of this ever went to his head. When Bob Nystrom first went to the New York Islanders’ camp, the blonde bachelor took him aside and gave him this simple advice: “Always give one hundred and fifty percent.” He practiced what he preached.
Dave Hunter was born on January 1, 1958. When he was 27 he spent his birthday in jail—one of the few NHLers to go to prison. He was extremely fortunate that his sentence of four months for impaired driving, as well as driving without a license, was reduced to twenty-eight days at the time. While it seems like a harsh judgment, it must be remembered this was his third conviction for drunk driving. The mildest mannered of the three Hunter brothers (the others were Dale and Mark), one hundred minutes in the sin bin per year was still not uncommon. In 1986 he was suspended six games for his stick work on Phil Sykes of the Los Angeles Kings. He was known as “Casper the not-so-friendly ghost” because of his uncanny ability the shadow the game’s most prolific marksmen. He often resorted to clutch and grab tactics in the process. In a three-game series with the Canadiens in 1981, he drove Guy Lafleur to distraction. “The Flower”, who was proficient at darting about, just couldn’t shake him. Finally the speedy forward lost his cool and put his mitts on his annoying opponent. But he never backed down, keeping Lafleur off the score sheet twice in a row.
Hulking Bobby Holik, born in Czechoslovakia in 1971, has been called a “one man pest control!” Tommy Albelin, who was his teammate with the Devils, once commented: “Nobody wants to play against Holik! He shows no mercy to anyone—he’ll run over you if you’re in his way!” He defected to North America in 1986, becoming an American citizen ten years later. Known for defensive play, which has prompted some opponents to complain, “he covers you like a cheap suit”, he also managed to light the red goal lights often. After sixteen seasons in the NHL he averaged around 20 goals per year, totaling more than three hundred markers in his career.
Although never a student in his native country, he became a culture junky. He enjoyed visiting museums and art galleries wherever he put his wheels down.
Viewed 2336 times
Second Thoughts on Penalties
Posted April 14, 2019
His Night to Howell
Posted March 30, 2019
Posted March 18, 2019
Humour - A Way to Catch Your Balance
Posted March 03, 2019
The Revival of Hockey's Lost Art of Stickhandling - Part 2
Posted February 15, 2019
The Revival of Hockey's Lost Art of Stickhandling - Part 1
Posted February 01, 2019
The Rise and Fall of Sweater Number 9
Posted January 23, 2019
Penalty-Free NHL Games
Posted January 09, 2019
The Greatest of These is Charity
Posted December 22, 2018
Minor League 'Davids' Defeating Major League 'Goliaths'
Posted December 07, 2018
The Shadow Knows
Posted November 25, 2018
Lying Down on the Job
Posted November 04, 2018
The Perils and Pleasures of Water
Posted October 19, 2018
Hockey's Cinderella Teams
Posted October 07, 2018
Posted May 19, 2018
Hockey's Classic Embarrassing Moments
Posted May 10, 2018
Playing in a Fog
Posted April 21, 2018
Posted April 08, 2018
First Game, First Shift, First Goal!
Posted March 26, 2018
Always a Bridgroom
Posted March 12, 2018
The Year the Canadiens Almost Died
Posted February 24, 2018
Tangled With the Law and the Lawless - Part 2
Posted February 17, 2018
Tangled With the Law and the Lawless
Posted January 28, 2018
Lucky Black Cats and Number 13
Posted January 17, 2018
Concussions in Hockey Nothing New
Posted December 30, 2017
The Best Christmas I Remember
Posted December 18, 2017
Filling the Gap
Posted December 01, 2017
Off Duty Injuries; mishaps away from the rink
Posted November 13, 2017
The Most Cruel Bird of All
Posted October 26, 2017
Las Vegas — NHL's 31st Team — Knights or Knaves?
Posted October 13, 2017
Playing Under the Influence - of Pain
Posted May 29, 2017
In Tune Pucksters
Posted May 14, 2017
Laughter - The Best Medicine
Posted April 29, 2017
The Last Straw
Posted April 15, 2017
Whose Side Are You On Anyway?
Posted March 30, 2017
Ferreting Out Phantom Hockey Stars
Posted March 17, 2017
A Woman's Place...is On the Ice (Part 2)
Posted March 08, 2017
A Woman's Place...is On the Ice (Part 1)
Posted February 19, 2017
Tales From the Sin Bin!
Posted February 04, 2017
Happy 100th Birthday N.H.L
Posted January 25, 2017
New Year's Resolutions that Might Have Been
Posted January 06, 2017
It Happened on December 25th
Posted December 21, 2016
The Best of Hockey's One-Liners
Posted December 10, 2016
The Price of Stardom
Posted November 18, 2016
Is There a Doctor in the House?
Posted November 03, 2016
Auston Matthews: Liberator or Lemon?
Posted October 14, 2016
Hockey's Multi-Generation Families
Posted June 16, 2016
Picture Perfect - A Dozen Classic Hockey Photos
Posted June 08, 2016
Anatomy of the Penalty Shot
Posted May 17, 2016
Hockey's Honourary Indian Chiefs
Posted May 04, 2016
Posted April 17, 2016
Records That Will Never Be Broken
Posted March 31, 2016
Right Church — Wrong Pew
Posted March 23, 2016
Does "Captain" Mean Much Anymore?
Posted March 02, 2016
Posted February 21, 2016
Now That's Not Pun-ny!
Posted February 07, 2016
A Century of Leap Year Landmarks - Part 2
Posted January 26, 2016
A Century of Leap Year Landmarks - Part 1
Posted January 06, 2016
Posted December 29, 2015
Practice Can Be Precarious
Posted December 11, 2015
How Much is a Body Worth?
Posted November 25, 2015
Brooklyn Bridge is Falling Down...
Posted November 15, 2015
Did You Have a Good Summer? (Part Two)
Posted November 01, 2015
Did You Have a Good Summer? (Part One)
Posted October 16, 2015
From Champs to Chumps
Posted June 07, 2015
CLEAN PLAY……CLEAN PLAYERS….TRUE SPORTS
Posted May 11, 2015
Putting the Bite on the Opposition
Posted April 24, 2015
One Eyed Wonders
Posted April 12, 2015
Captain Cage Cop
Posted March 26, 2015
Trade Deadline Deals — Blockbuster or Bluster?
Posted March 17, 2015
Fun In the Snow
Posted February 27, 2015
Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated
Posted February 16, 2015
It's not what they said - it's what they meant!
Posted January 31, 2015
Posted January 18, 2015
Strange Gifts - Christmas or Otherwise
Posted December 20, 2014
Two Dozen + 1 Wacky Wonders
Posted December 06, 2014
The Last of a Long Line of...
Posted November 24, 2014
A Compendium of Referee Non-Calls
Posted November 09, 2014
40th Anniversary of the 1974 Summit Series
Posted October 25, 2014
The Many Faces of Training Camp
Posted October 13, 2014
The Rise and Fall of Playoff Heroes
Posted May 30, 2014
Boston Bruins Celebrate 90 Years
Posted May 17, 2014
A Curse Upon Ye!
Posted May 01, 2014
For the Birds
Posted April 20, 2014
They Were Not Fooled By Their Birthdates
Posted April 08, 2014
Bitten By The Hand That Feeds
Posted March 22, 2014
Tongue in Check
Posted March 08, 2014
A Few L.A.F.F.S. to Relieve your S.A.D.
Posted February 21, 2014
The Ultimate Valentine - A Kiss
Posted February 08, 2014
Hats Off to Hockey
Posted January 25, 2014
Posted January 11, 2014
New Year's Revelations
Posted December 30, 2013
Posted December 23, 2013
Esposito vs Esposito - Smith vs Smith
Posted November 30, 2013
Just Dying to Play Hockey
Posted November 17, 2013
What's In 50 Years
Posted November 02, 2013
The Ongoing Resolve - NHL Season is Too Long!
Posted October 20, 2013