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Hockey's Immortals

If I gave you the next minute to name the greatest hockey players who played before World War II, who would the average hockey fan of today be able to name?

Eddie Shore. Maybe Howie Morenz? Cyclone Taylor? Georges Vezina, if only because of the trophy that bears his name.

If you read this blog, you are undoubtedly interested in hockey history. So there is a greater chance you will name a few more than the average hockey fan. King Clancy, Frank Nighbor, Joe Malone, Frank Boucher and the Cook brothers, Bill and Bun.

But the average hockey fan today has never heard of Busher Jackson or Newsy Lalonde, Nels Stewart or Charlie Conacher, Aurel Joliat or Hooley Smith.

These are just names off the top of my head. There are many more, but most fans won't know these names.

It makes me wonder - 100 years from now, how many fans will remember the more modern players that we all grew up with?

Sure, multimedia will better archive the contributions of such players. Still, will Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Orr, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin be the only players remembered from our eras?

Think about this - Who immediately comes to mind as the best players between World War II and NHL expansion in 1967, hockey's celebrated golden era? Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Jean Beliveau, Ted Lindsay and long time goalies like Glenn Hall, Terry Sawchuk, Johnny Bower and Jacques Plante.  It seems to me hockey fans are already losing the memories of the likes of Stan Mikita, Doug Harvey, Red Kelly. Pierre Pilote, Andy Bathgate, Dickie Moore and Norm Ullman. Tim Horton is known for coffee and donuts.

Even the players I grew up with are already being forgotten on the macro level. People are already forgetting about Dale Hawerchuk and Denis Savard and Tom Barrasso and Bobby Smith, at least outside of where they played.

The Hockey Hall of Fame exists to remember the all time greats, but hockey's true immortals is a really short list. That list, based mostly on perception more than anything, are truly the Greatest Hockey Legends.


Nate said…
I loved this piece. It’s unfortunate that all things must fade. My father, brother and I are die hard hockey guys. My brother and I also collect cards. He, however, focuses on the players we watched in the 1980s and 1990s and the new generation. I have a love of the game’s history. I grew up hearing stories from my father of Richard, Mikita, Hull, Mahovlich, Bower, Plante, Beliveau... on and on. And I remember my first visit to the Hall of Fame and seeing this history in the flesh when I was 11. Now keep in mind I’m 33, my brother is 31. I recently acquired a great Woody Dumart 1951 Parkie. I know who Dumart is, along with Schmidt and Bauer, they were the infamous Boston Kraut Line pre and post war. So, I was excited to add his card to my collection. My brother, on the other hand, was like “who in gods name is that?” I’m teaching him slowly about prewar players like Primeau, Conacher, Jackson, Shore, Schmidt, Tiny Thompson and such. But that’s like ancient hockey history for even people two generations behind us. It’s very tough to get people interested in something they have no tangible or emotional connection to. I hope to pass my love of the game’s history on to my kids one day, so it can never truly die. I wish I had more time to devote to talking and writing about it for others because I can do it all day.

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