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September 02, 2016

Eric Vail

Atlanta has a bit of mixed history in hockey, having lost two unsuccessful franchises.

While more modern Georgian hockey fans recall the days of Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley flying high for the Thrashers, another generation of fans will recall the 1970s Flames.

And one the biggest hockey stars in that era was Eric Vail

Vail played eight seasons in Atlanta and packed his bags for Alberta when the franchise relocated to Calgary. When he left the franchise he was the all time leading scorer in both career points and goals

He may be best remembered for his rookie season when he led all rookies with 39 goals and won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in 1975. The left winger was compared to Steve Shutt at the time.

Vail, who was a strapping winger nicknamed the Big Train, was also remembered for playing on the Downtown Connectors line with slick center Tom Lysiak and fellow big man Willi Plett.

Or he may be remembered for being the first Atlanta player to be named to the NHL All Star game in 1977.

Or for clubbing Soviet defenseman Sergei Bobinov over the head with his stick, resulting in a 10 minute penalty. This was at the 1977 World Championships. Canada was playing a tight game with the Soviets up until that point, with the score 2-1. The Soviets scored four times on that power play and won the game 8-1

Unfortunately Eric Vail is also remembered for a career plagued by injuries. Twice in the 1973-74 season he accidentally collided with teammate Pat Quinn. Once he fractured a vertebrae, the other time he separated his shoulder. He also broke his wrist and his collarbone.

Though he burst on to the NHL scene, there was always a sense that he never fulfilled all of his promise.

It certainly did not help that he and coach Al MacNeil did not get along too well. The free-spirited Vail tended to enjoy a few extra beverages and it was affecting his training. Vail, who had torn his stomach muscles that season, demanded a trade.

Eventually Vail was moved to the Red Wings, but things did not work out at all in Detroit. He played just 52 games, scoring 24 points, before finishing his career in the minor leagues.

In 591 regular season games played, 216 goals scored, 260 assists and 476 total points. He ended his career with 281 penalty minutes.

Vail returned to Atlanta after retiring from hockey, and worked as a sports bar manager after running into financial difficulty with his own restaurant he had purchased with his hockey savings.

He was also a youth and adult amateur coach in the area. When the Thrashers returned NHL hockey to the city in 2000 he was hired to work in the Fan Development and Community Issues department. He also worked on the in-arena broadcasts for awhile.

Eric was also known as an avid golfer during and after his hockey playing days. His son Scott became a professional caddie on the PGA Tour

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