Aug. 8 is a bittersweet day in National Hockey League history as the hockey world lost one of its greatest players on this date. There were also a pair of Hall of Famers born, including a legend in Montreal.
Chicago Loses a Legend
Stan Mikita, the Chicago Blackhawks’ all-time leading scorer, died at 78 on Aug. 8, 2018. His career was known for both longevity and innovation. He debuted for the Blackhawks during the 1958-59 season and remained a fixture in their lineup until 1980.
Mikita was undersized at just 5-foot-9 and 169 pounds and did not have a big personality like his teammate Bobby Hull. However, he still became one of the game’s best offensive players. He scored at least 30 goals nine different times. He won the Art Ross Trophy, for leading the league in scoring, in four out of five seasons between 1964 and 1968. He won back-to-back Hart Trophies, as the NHL’s most valuable player, in 1967 and 1968.
In fact, he won the Art Ross, Hart and Lady Bing Trophies in each of those seasons, the only player ever to accomplish that feat. The Lady Bing is given out each season to the most gentlemanly player, and Mikita winning this award was quite the turnaround. He racked up 300 combined penalty minutes during 1963-64 and 1964-65 seasons. He cleaned up his act and only accrued 26 combined penalty minutes during his two Lady Bing winning seasons.
Mikita became one of the first players in the league to wear a helmet full time. He also, along with Hull, made innovations by playing around with the curve on their stick blades. This allowed them to get the puck off the ice more and become even deadlier snipers.
When he retired in 1980, Mikita was the third leading scorer in NHL history. He still leads the Blackhawks with 926 assists, 1,467 points, and 1,396 games played. His 541 careers goal are second only to Hull.
Simmer Signs with Kings
On Aug. 8, 1977, the Los Angeles Kings signed free-agent forward Charlie Simmer. At the time, this move wasn’t a big splash. Simmer had played in just 80 NHL games over the past three seasons with the California Seals and Cleveland Barons. He only appeared in three games for the Kings in 1977-78 and didn’t earn a spot in the lineup until midway through the following season.
Simmer broke out during the 1979-80 season when he scored 56 goals, a number he matched in 1980-81. He was the first left wing in league history to post back-to-back seasons of at least 100 points. He formed the “Triple Crown Line” with Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor, and the trio had a ton of success.
The Kings traded Simmer to the Boston Bruins early in the 1984-85 season for a first-round draft pick, used to select Dan Gratton. In 384 games with Los Angeles, he scored 222 goals and 466 points.
New Captains Named
The Atlanta Flames named Keith McCreary captain on Aug. 8, 1972. He was the first captain in franchise history, as this announcement came two months before the Flames played their first game in the league. McCreary wore the “C” on his sweater for three seasons before retiring in 1975, and the captaincy was given to Pat Quinn.
Wendel Clark became the 15th team captain in Toronto Maple Leafs’ history on Aug. 8, 1991.
He took over for Rob Ramage after being claimed by the Minnesota North Stars at the Dispersal Draft. He remained captain through the 1993-94 season. Doug Gilmour took over as captain after Clark was traded to the Quebec Nordiques for Mats Sundin.
Odds & Ends
Free-agent goaltender Rogie Vachon signed with the Detroit Red Wings on Aug. 8, 1978. He had spent the previous seven seasons with the Kings. The rights to center Dale McCourt was transferred to the Kings as compensation. After a litigation hearing, the Kings traded McCourt back to the Red Wings for Andre St. Laurent, and two first-round draft picks. One of those picks was used to select defenseman Larry Murphy.
Vachon played two seasons for some rather bad Red Wings teams. The future Hall of Famer appeared in 109 games and went 30-57-19 with a .868 save percentage (SV%) and 3.75 goals-against average (GAA). He was traded to the Boston Bruins in 1980 for fellow netminder Gilles Gilbert.
On Aug. 8, 1984, the Red Wings acquired Tiger Williams from the Vancouver Canucks, in exchange for center Rob McClanahan. Williams played 55 games with the Red Wings before being traded to the Kings for future considerations. He is best remembered for racking 3,971 penalty minutes during his career, the most in NHL history.
The Maple Leafs signed veteran goaltender Glenn Healy on Aug. 8, 1997. He spent the previous four seasons with the New York Rangers and was part of the 1994 team that won the Stanley Cup. Healy served as backup to Felix Potvin and Curtis Joseph before retiring in 2001. He appeared in 65 games for the Maple Leafs, going 23-30-5 with a .887 SV% and 2.91 GAA.
Happy Birthday to You
A group of 21 players born on Aug. 8 has played in at least one NHL game. The first player born of this lot was Bobby Kirk in 1909. He played in 39 games for the Rangers during the 1937-38 season. The most recent is Calgary Flames’ goalie Artyom Zagidulin, born on Aug. 8, 1995.
There are two Hockey Hall of Famers born on this date. Defenseman Bill Gadsby was born in Calgary, AB, on Aug. 8, 1927. He made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks in 1946. He would play in 1,248 games over 20 seasons with the Blackhawks, Rangers, and Red Wings. The eight-time All-Star played in the Stanley Cup Final three times but never got his name on the greatest trophy in sports.
Goaltender Ken Dryden was born 20 years later, on Aug. 8, 1947, in Hamilton, ON. He is originally drafted by the Bruins but is traded to the Montreal Canadiens in 1964. He only plays eight seasons in the NHL and won the Stanley Cup in six of them. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the most valuable player of the 1971 playoffs. He became the starter in the postseason after just six games of experience. He won the Calder Trophy for being the top rookie of the 1971-72 season.
Dryden led the Canadiens to four straight Stanley Cup championships between 1976 and 1979. He retired after following the 1979 title run. He finished his remarkable career with a record of 258-57-74 with a .922 SV%, 2.24 GAA, and 46 shutouts.
Other notable players born on this date include Cody Franson (34), Landon Ferraro (30), Dominik Simon (27), and the late Greg Polis.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.