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March 08, 2007

Doctor Hockey

Hockey players spend so much time in dentist chairs and medical rooms, you'd think a few would take more than a passing interest in the medical profession. It turns out a few have. By my count 15 NHLers were practicing physicians or became so in retirement. Two others were Olympic gold medal champions, and one other pre-dated the NHL.

Most hockey fans of the 1980s know that Edmonton Oilers defenseman Randy Gregg was also a full fledged doctor. His NHL career almost came by accident. He began attending the University of Alberta at age 16, and three years later entered into medical school. He tried out for the U of A Golden Bears hockey team strictly for personal enjoyment of the game. Though his studies never suffered, it became evident he was prodigious on the ice as well as off. The lure of firstly the Olympics and secondly the chance to play in the NHL with his hometown Oilers put his medical career on hold.

Around the same time another standout defenseman was trying to balance NHL hockey and his medical career. Fred Arthur drafted 8th overall by the Hartford Whalers in 1980, selected before the likes of Brent Sutter, Jari Kurri, Bernie Nicholls, and Andy Moog. The 6'5" 210lb blue liner established himself as a physical, puck moving back liner with the Cornwall Royals, a sure fire NHL defender.

But at the same time he excelled at school, taking particular interest in English Literature and Calculus. His love for education would override his love for hockey. On October 20th, 1982, Arthur, now a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, retired from the game after just 80 games, 1 goal and 9 points. He chose to pursue medical school rather accept the Flyers demotion to the minor leagues, passing on an $80,000 a year salary in the process. Arthur was quite open at the time about how he did not enjoy the pro hockey or junior hockey lifestyle, and that he worried that thigh and eye injuries in his only NHL season were only the beginning of a career of pain.

Bill Baker was a member of the 1980 "Miracle On Ice" Team USA Olympic team that captured gold. The defenseman went on to play 143 NHL games with Montreal, Colorado, St. Louis and New York Rangers. He returned to the University of Minnesota, where he was once the star hockey player, and completed his dental residency in 1993. He now works as an oral surgeon and maxillofacial specialist.

"CGory2" informed me about Pat Graham, a player I admitedly never heard of. He played 103 games with Pittsburgh and Toronto in the early 1980s, but he never fulfilled his potential due to chronic back pain. His many hours in the chiropractor's office sparked an interest in the field. He opened his own practice in Toronto, and became a consulting chiropractor for the Toronto Blue Jays.

These four are the only two modern cases of NHLers being or becoming doctors, though one good source tells me Al Simmons, a 1970s Bruins farmhand who played 11 games in the NHL, later became a dentist. I'm still trying to verify that.

1940s Leafs players Bobby Copp and Phil Samis, who played in 40 and 7 games respectively, went on to careers as dentists, as did Jerry Wilson who played 3 games with Montreal in 1957-58. Bill Carse played 3 seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1940s, but later moved to Honolulu to practice.

There a number of early day hockey players who were medical professionals. They include Rod Smylie (Toronto St. Pats), Duke McCurry (Pittsburgh Pirates), Stan Brown (Detroit Cougars/New York Rangers) Lou Hudson and Joe Sullivan (1928 Olympic gold medal winning team from Canada), Bill Carson (Toronto Maple Leafs/Boston Bruins), Doc Stewart (Boston Bruins), and pre-NHL star Gordon Roberts, among others. There is no better resource to learn about these hockey playing doctors and dentists than James Milks' Lost Hockey.com website.

By the way: This whole thread on hockey playing doctors started while researching the career of Elwyn Romnes, one of the NHL's earliest American born stars. It turns out the man known far better by his nickname "Doc" has no ties to the medical field at all.

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