February 03, 2016

Steve Kraftcheck

Defensemen are always in demand. Especially right shooting rearguards.

Which makes the case of Steve Kraftcheck all the more curious.

None other than Don Cherry "one of the smartest defensemen I've ever seen."

Kraftcheck was a junior scoring star who quickly carried that over into the minor leagues. As a result he found himself promoted to the National Hockey League nearly as quickly.

After two and a half seasons in the minors, Kraftcheck played 22 games plus six more in the playoffs with Boston in 1951, though a knee injury hampered him. His only lasting footnote with the Bruins is the fact that he is one of only six players in franchise history to wear number four before Bobby Orr arrived.

In 1951-52 Kraftcheck was moved from Boston to Detroit (with whom he never played) to the New York Rangers. He would spend two seasons toiling with the Rangers, though missed the end of his last season with an ankle injury.

Then Kraftcheck was demoted to American Hockey League, never, aside from an eight game with Toronto many years later, to return. This despite Kraftcheck establishing himself as the highest scoring defenseman in AHL history with 67 goals and 453 points - a mark that would last for four decades. He would be an all star multiple times, win the inaugural AHL's top defenseman award, and be inducted into the American Hockey League Hall of Fame.

The AHL Hall of Fame website describes Kraftcheck as "one of the smartest and steadiest defensemen in American Hockey League history." They also praised his "hard-hitting, rough-and-tumble style as a perfect fit for the blue-collar Barons."

Things were a little different back then. The NHL only had six teams, which meant there was only 30 or secured defense jobs in the league. And the American Hockey League teams were better able to retain players back then, often locking them in contractually for years.

That's what the Cleveland Barons did with Kraftcheck in 1953, trading none other than AHL goaltending legend Johnny Bower to New York in return. Kraftcheck quickly became a fan favorite with Barons fans. He would later be a popular player in Rochester, as well.

Though his 1959 Parkhurst hockey card took the time and space to point out that he was an excellent car mechanic in the off-season, Kraftcheck did briefly try his hand at coaching after retiring as a player. Montreal's famed manager Sam Pollock once said "would I ever to love to have (Kraftcheck)" as coach of his farm team, but obviously nothing ever materialized with that.

Instead Kraftcheck later found regular employment as a public safety officer at Bryant College, in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

Steve Kraftcheck passed away in 1997 in Rhode Island. He was posthumously inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2008.

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