Viewed 4724 times
A few years ago Bill Keane’s Family Circus comic strip depicted Dolly sitting on her dad’s lap while he read the Christmas story to her. Her comment was: “Betchca Jesus missed out on a ton of presents ’cause His birthday and Christmas were on the very same day!”
Someone has tackled the mammoth task of listing all the famous people in recorded history who were born on December 25th, and have concluded there have been 232. Included in that number are Sir Isaac Newton, Louis Chevrolet (after whom the car is named), Anwar Sadat, Clara Barton, Conrad Hilton (of hotel fame), and actor Humphrey Bogart.
As near as can be determined, over the course of the 98 years the NHL has been in operation, only an even dozen pucksters have shared that distinctive date of birth. How many of them feel, or felt, as Dolly did is not known—but at least two did—as their profiles will reveal.
Strangely enough, it wasn’t until 1944 that a major league shinny competitor could boast of this rarity. Steve Wojciechowski, who hailed from Fort William, Ontario, was born in 1922. It will be no surprise to hear that when he arrived on the big league scene, he was applauded by broadcasters and sports writers for shortening his moniker, changing it to Wochy. A precedent had already been set by his hometown peers several years before, when his older brothers played the game locally. They had abbreviated their sixteen-cylinder handle for their own convenience. A better-than-average Junior player, he made his Big Time debut with the Red Wings, and had an impressive rookie season. He finished 20th in league scoring, with 19 goals and 20 assists in 49 games. But, typically, in the “Original 6” era, even good players ended up in the minors after a decent campaign. He returned for a handful of contests two seasons later; but spent 10 years of his career in the AHL.
In 2009 he hit the headlines in Sault St. Marie, where at age 86 he was in the spotlight signing autographs for fans. He revealed that even then, many moons after retiring, he still got copies of his photo from several places, asking for his signature. He signed every one and mailed them back.
Much the same scenario existed when the next Christmas baby was introduced into the NHL. Fred Sasakamoose, a native Canadian from the Sandy Lake Reserve in Saskatchewan joined the Blackhawks during the 1953-54 campaign. Not only was he the best-known full-blooded Indian to reach shinny’s lofty heights, but his name also caused pronunciation exasperation. He joined Chicago in Toronto for his first game, and during the pre-game warm-up, the incomparable Foster Hewitt beckoned him over the boards.
“Do you pronounce your name Saskatchewanmoose, or Saskatoonmoose?”, he inquired. Few ever got it right—and his ID still appears in print often misspelled. Perhaps, in that light, it is fortunate that he remained only 11 games in the Windy City before being shipped to the minors. It was not because of his lack of talent. Former Red Wing, Metro Prystai said: “He had a hard, accurate slap shot, and he has tremendous wrists. And he could skate. He had the best reflexes I ever saw—even better than Gordie Howe”.
Once featured in a volume about Native Canadian athletes, he was dubbed “The Reluctant Blackhawk”. His wife hated cities, and he refused to leave her home alone while he pursued his career at that major league level. He was content to confine himself to the old WHL or Senior hockey during the few years he continued in the game.
Larry Cahan pulled on the Blue and White of the Maple Leafs the same season as “Chief Running Water”. Spending a year and a half with Toronto he was taken by the Rangers in the Intra-League draft. Big for his day, Joe Pelletier describes his approach to the game as “rock ‘em, sock ‘em.” “Enforcer” was not a term used in the “Original 6” era, but, along with his defensive duties, he admitted that he used to “fight at the drop of a hat” in his early career. He was a tough customer, and one writer called him “the Ranger’s heavyweight champion”.
One of his first bouts was with none other than “Mr. Hockey”, Gordie Howe. Reports implied that, with both all bloodied and bruised, it might be termed a draw. When Ulf Sterner came from his native country for a try-out with the Blueshirts, he bluntly told the Fort William native: “If you played in Sweden they would put you in jail!”
The 1967 expansion rescued him from the minors, when he was taken by the Oakland Seals. He then moved to Los Angeles for three seasons, and one more (plus three games) in the WHA’s Chicago Cougars, before retiring.
He candidly admitted he often felt cheated: “Instead of getting two presents on my birthday and Christmas, I got one.”
No Mom or Dad ever accented a son’s birth date more markedly than Noel Picard’s parents. “Noel”, of course, is the French equivalent of “Christmas”. It seemed he was destined to spend his shinny tenure in the minors after playing 16 games with Montreal in 1964-65. But the St. Louis Blues saw potential in the steady rearguard and drafted him from the 1967 expansion pool of players. His booming shot from the point during the man-advantage was his main forte.
Though not a “star”, he is remembered for three things in hockey circles. First, his sense of humour which was enhanced by his accent. It made him popular in the dressing room, and on TV when he was a colour commentator. One day he was standing on the golf course and said: Do you tink with a wood tree (3) I could get to dere from where I am?”
His courage was also an outstanding personality trait. In 1971 he was horseback riding near St. Louis, when the animal reared and fell on him. His foot was so badly mangled that the attending physician said he would never play hockey again. But he did—16 more matches with the Blues, and 41 with the Atlanta Flames.
Of course he is immortalized (and maybe demoralized) by that famous photo which catches Bobby Orr flying through the air, courtesy Monsieur Picard, after scoring the 1970 Stanley Cup winning tally.
Two Detroit area boys were playing ball hockey on the street. As was often the case each guy picked the name of a Red Wing player whom he was seeking to emulate. Not surprisingly, an early choice was, “I’m Gordie Howe!” However, it was much to the chagrin of a father who overheard it. The boy was named Gerry—Sid Abel’s son.
A Motor City newspaper headline in March 1967 hailed the fact that “Howe and Abel are together again. But this time it is Gerry Abel, son of the Red Wing’s manager!” Mr. Hockey was in his 21st season at the time, and in contrast old “Boot Nose’s” offspring was making his NHL debut. He was called up from the farm to fill in for the injured Paul Henderson, and it was projected he would play not more than one or two games. It turned out to be just one—and his “line score” was 0-0-0-0. He never made it to the top again.
Brian Stapleton is barely a blip on the NHL’s historical screen. He too pulled on a big league jersey but once—with the Washington Capitals during the 1975-76 season. A graduate of Brown University, he was called up from Fort Wayne of the IHL for a three-game trial—but participated in only one—with identical stats as Abel. He played two more season in the IHL.
Edmonton-born Dave Kryskow didn’t start playing hockey until he was 12 years old, and was 19 before he advanced to the Junior ranks. But his second and last season in the WCHL saw him bulge the twine 42 times, impressive enough for him the catch the eye of Chicago’s prairie-based scouts. He apprenticed with the Central League Blackhawks, was just one point behind the club’s leading scorer, and was voted to the First All Star team in his second campaign with the club.
During a look-see with the parent Hawks during the playoffs in the spring of 1973, he scored twice for the big club, which opened the door for him to become a permanent fixture in the Windy City the next fall. But when the NHL expanded in 1974, he was left unprotected and snatched up by Washington—their first non-goalie claimed in the draft. He scored in the Cap’s first game, and also scored the sextet’s initial short-handed marker. After a short stay in Detroit, and a full schedule in Atlanta, he jumped to the WHA.
When asked if being born on Christmas Day affected his life in any special way, he maintained that he never felt gypped because the two traditional gift-giving days coincided. Presents never were an issue in his Catholic Christian family. “Jesus being the reason for the season”, held priority, coupled with thankfulness for health, happiness, and home. That was enough—and still is, he claimed.
Dmitri Mironov, along with Vitali Prokhorov, are the only two non-North Americans to share in this unusual distinction. Because of the dominance of the philosophy of Communism in their native USSR, Christ’s birthday had little special meaning to them. In fact Mironov declined comment when approached about the subject.
But his dream to play in what was formerly called the Russian Elite League was realized in 1985 when he was just 20 years old. When he was chosen to represent his country in the 1998 Olympics he was top producer for his team. But because of the collapse of the Russian economy, by then his annual salary of 2.500 rubles translated into about $27.00 monthly.
So he jumped at the chance to pull on NHL livery. He commenced his nine-year stint with Toronto, moved to Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Detroit, and finally Washington. “Tree”, as he was known to his teammates (“Dima” to his Soviet buddies) logged 556 contests in the world’s premier circuit before returning to Europe.
Fellow countryman, Vitali Prokhorov, is hardly a household name on shinny circles. However, based on his performance in the 1991 Canada Cup and 1992 Winter Olympics, he was drafted by the St. Louis Blues. He hit the Big Time with a flurry scoring a hat trick on Halloween Night in 1992—not a bad start for the smallish forward. But injuries took their toll. Less than two months later he incurred a season-ending hurt. A broken toe slowed his return the following year, even though he totaled 15 goals in the remaining 55 games of the schedule. But the arrival of “Iron Mike” Keenan spelled “finis” to his NHL career. He used him for only two matches in ’94-’95, and released him at season’s end.
Jim Dowd was one of those rare Americans who played for the NHL team in his home area. He was the first New Jersey-ite to don the colours of the Devils. His parents had moved from the Southern United States before he was born, settling in Brick Township. This gave the future puckster a better-than-average chance to learn the game, since there were two ice rinks there.
He was a high school sensation setting scoring records; then carried this superiority onto the college scene, winning the Hobey Baker Award as the best U.S. college player in 1990-91. When he moved to the NHL, the row became harder to hoe. His service with the Devils was spasmodic at best, logging a drastically limited number of games the first four tries. But he stayed with the big club long enough in 1994-95 to get his handle engraved on Lord Stanley’s silver chalice. His Mon and Dad’s philosophy of “whatever you do, put a real effort into it” kept him from becoming discouraged.
Eventually it paid off. He was swapped to Vancouver halfway through his fifth season, moved onto the Islanders, Calgary and Edmonton, before getting his break with the expansion Minnesota Wild in 2000-2001. He assisted on the new franchise’s first ever tally, and on their first power play marker. He never regained the touch he had before turning pro, but totaled 728 games before retiring, adding stints with Montreal, Chicago, Colorado, New Jersey (again) and Philadelphia.
He last made headlines due to an unfortunate incident. While coaching a high school team, one of the player’s parents charged him with assault, claiming he kicked their son in the back while the teen sat on the bench. Admitting he did lose his tamper with the kid, he nevertheless maintained he barely touched him. The case was dismissed, but the damage was done—he was let go by the team.
But the erstwhile former pivot had a positive attitude toward the duplicity of the two special days in his life. “It’s just one big celebration!”, he said. “There were Christmas presents first thing in the morning—then about four in the afternoon, out came the birthday gifts. I’m the kind of guy who sees a glass half full, not half empty!”
Joel Savage was often in the spotlight during his days with the WHL Victoria Cougars. In 1987-88 he potted 37 goals and was voted to the West Second All Star squad. One opposition coach referred to him as “the heart and soul of that club.” As a result he was listed as an “Elite Prospect” as the 1988 draft approached, and was picked 13th overall by Gerry Meehan for his Sabres. But he actually only wore Buffalo’s colours for three games. Over the course of 19 campaigns he skated for 13 different organizations, including four different minor pro sextets, Canada’s National teams, and five different European squads. He just never lived up to the prognostications penned about him.
Probably the most talented of all the December 25th crew was Stu Barnes whose career in the NHL spanned 1136 games, and who racked up a total of 597 regular-season points. A Junior sensation with the Tri-City Americans, he earned MVP honours before moving directly to the NHL without apprenticing in the minors. He was thought of so highly in his home town of Spruce Grove, Alberta, that an arena is named after him. The Winnipeg Jets also held him in high regard, and drafted him fourth overall in 1989. But, as is sometimes the case, his transition to big league shinny was not a smooth one. He skated in only parts of three seasons with the Manitoba fraternity before being traded to Florida. He finally clicked when his next stop took him to Pittsburgh. He was a 30-goal scorer in 1997-98. Always a rough and tumble guy—especially for one considered “small” for the Big Time—he was suspended four games while in the Steel City for a slash which broke Bruin’s captain Joe Thornton’s left arm.
With Buffalo, he never repeated his impressive points totals, but was a 1999 playoff hero, depositing the puck behind the opposing team’s goalie seven times, leading the Sabres into the Stanley Cup Final against Dallas. He was also named captain of the team, revealing management’s confidence in his leadership qualities.
Ironically he rounded out his tenure in the NHL with a five-year stint in Dallas, donning an Assistant Coach’s mantel after his retirement.
His comment about his unusual birthdate was: “As a boy I was somewhat selfish and wanted my birthday separate from Christmas so I could get two sets of presents. But as I grew older I really began to like the fact that Christmas was an especially big celebration. My parents always said that I was the best present Santa ever brought them, and my kids really enjoy the fact that their dad blows out candles on Christmas.”
December 25th is listed as one of the bad days on which to be born. September 11, which, because of 9/11, is a sad day, is another. April 1st is one more—because one gets pranks more than presents. February 29th gets a thumbs down due to the fact that one only gets remembered every four years—and a person can be only 14 and yet have wrinkles.
Still there is a positive spin by others who claim that Christmas is a great day to come into this world—because you get twice the gifts. The NHL managed to get a dozen which left their mark on its lengthy history.
Viewed 4724 times
That Decisive Seventh Game
Posted May 26, 2019
You Gotta Have Hart!
Posted May 13, 2019
He Shoots! He Scores! Hockey's Clarion Call
Posted April 25, 2019
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
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
Hockey's New Years Babies
Posted January 03, 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