The history of Ohio-born players in the NHL dates back to New Year’s Day, 1931, when Cecil Dillon took the ice for the New York Rangers against the Boston Bruins. Since then, another 29 Ohio-born hockey players have appeared in at least a few NHL games. They range from Carter Camper (3 games), Rick Hayward (4), Timothy Gettinger (6), and John Albert (9) to Dave Ellett (1,129), Bryan Smolinski (1,056), and Curt Fraser (704).
A number of players born in Ohio are still active in the NHL, and at least one is biding his time in the AHL, waiting for another shot at The Show. I’m thinking of Kole Sherwood, who’s played five games for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Many NHL players were born in Ohio simply because their fathers were playing for Ohio-based hockey teams at the time of their birth. Some grew up primarily in Canada. Others have deeper ties to the United States and Ohio in particular. These players received preferential treatment while preparing this list.
Six current NHLers are originally from Ohio, and one, Jack Roslovic, plays in his home state with the Blue Jackets. Did any of them make my All-Time Ohio-Born Lineup? Read on to find out!
G – Pat Jablonski
Toledo-born Pat Jablonski played 128 NHL games with the St. Louis Blues (two stints), Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal Canadiens, Phoenix Coyotes, and Carolina Hurricanes. His career spanned the 1989-90 season through his final five NHL games in 1997-98. He was a seventh-round draft pick (#135 overall) of the Blues in 1985, and his career numbers are suitable for a seventh-rounder: 3.74 goals against average, .879 save percentage, and a record of 28–62–18.
Check back in a couple of years, and Jablonski may be relegated to the Taxi Squad. Rookie Alexander Nedeljkovic of the Hurricanes is showing great promise this season.
D – Dave Ellett
Dave Ellett was born in Cleveland; however, he spent much of his youth in Canada. His Ohio roots include not only his birth but also a pair of years at Bowling Green State University. A fourth-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets (#75 overall, 1982), he spent two post-draft years at Bowling Green before turning pro. Never playing a game in the minors or overseas, he totaled 1,129 NHL games with 153 goals, 568 points, and 985 penalty minutes. In addition to the Jets, he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils, and Boston Bruins.
D – Moe Mantha, Jr.
Moe Mantha, Jr. was born in Lakewood, Ohio, in 1961 while his father (Moe, Sr.) played for the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League. While he spent much of his youth in Canada, he represented the United States at the World Championships in 1981, 1985, and 1991, and at the 1992 Winter Olympics. In addition to his days as a player, Mantha had a two-decade-plus coaching career in minor and junior hockey.
Winnipeg drafted him in 1980 (second round, #23 overall). In the NHL, Mantha totaled 656 games (and 370 points) with the Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota North Stars, and Philadelphia Flyers.
F – Bryan Smolinski
Another native of Toledo, center Bryan Smolinski attended Michigan State University (four years) and played over 1,000 games in the NHL. A first-round draft pick of the Bruins (#21 overall, 1990), he spent the 1992-93 to 1994-95 seasons with the club. He also played for the Penguins, New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks, Vancouver Canucks, and Canadiens. (Eight different teams, just in case you weren’t counting.)
He scored 274 goals and 651 points in 1,065 regular-season games. Five times he broke the 50-point mark, and his high was 64 points in 1995-96 (his only season with Pittsburgh). Interestingly, in 1993-94, he had 31 more penalty minutes than points, and three seasons later, he had 31 more points than penalty minutes.
F – J.T. Miller
The only current NHLer in this lineup, Jonathan Tanner (J.T.) Miller was born in East Palestine, Ohio, along the Pennsylvania border. (Draw a line on a map between Youngstown and Pittsburgh to find it. Or just use the map app on your phone.) Not only was he born in the United States, but he also spent three years in the U.S. National Development system, playing on the U-17 and U-18 teams before playing his draft season on the USNTDP. His efforts with Team USA produced a pair of gold medals.
Miller was selected in the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (#15 overall) by the Rangers. He played with the team from 2012-13 until 2017-18. He was traded with Ryan McDonagh to the Lightning in February 2018 and to Vancouver the following season (2018-19). As my colleague Landon Kapusianyk writes, Miller is currently “stepping up” for the Canucks.
F – Brian Holzinger
Like Ellett, Brian Holzinger was born in the Cleveland area (Parma, OH) and attended Bowling Green (four years). On March 7, 1991, the Buffalo Sabres acquired the #124 overall draft pick (a sixth-rounder) from the Washington Capitals and used that pick to select Holzinger. He played for the Sabres from 1994-95 until he was traded March 9, 1999, two weeks before the trade deadline, to Tampa Bay.
March continued to be “Moving Month” for Holzinger, as he went from the Lightning to the Penguins on March 11, 2003, and from the Penguins to the Blue Jackets on March 9, 2004. He totaled 547 regular season games (238 points) and an additional 52 playoff games (29 points) in the NHL.
A number of other Ohio-born hockey players made their marks in the NHL:
Curt Fraser, Left Wing (1978-79 to 1989-90)
Fraser was born in Cincinnati but raised in Canada (which is why he drops to the Taxi Squad). Over 12 seasons, he played 704 games with the Canucks (who drafted him 22nd overall in 1978), the Chicago Black Hawks (and Blackhawks), and the North Stars. He scored 193 goals and 432 points while collecting 1,306 penalty minutes.
Cecil Dillon, Right Wing (1930-31 to 1939-40)
Another born-in-Ohio-but-raised-in-Canada NHLer, Dillon spent the first 10 of his 11 seasons in the league with the Rangers. He finished his career with the Detroit Red Wings. He is one of only a half-dozen players (including Wayne Gretzky, Bill Cook, and Andy Bathgate) to lead the Rangers in scoring three straight seasons.
Ab DeMarco, Jr., Defenseman (1969-70 to 1978-79)
Albert Thomas “Ab” DeMarco, Jr. was born in Cleveland (Feb. 27, 1949) while his father played for the Cleveland Barons of the AHL, but he grew up primarily in Canada. He represented Canada at the 1969 World Championships. Undrafted, he was signed by the Rangers (the team with which his father spent the majority of his own NHL career).
Ab, Jr. played a total of 344 regular season (124 points) and 25 playoff games (three points) in the NHL. From his first NHL appearance in 1969-70 through his final three games with Boston in 1978-79, he never appeared in more than 61 games in a season and hit the 20-point mark only once.
The Ohio Double-Dippers
Roslovic and Holzinger are not the only players both to be born in Ohio and to play for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Center Dan Fritsche, born in Parma, played 147 games for the Blue Jackets between 2003-04 and 2007-08, scoring 63 points. Forward Mike Rupp, a native of Cleveland, played 39 games for the Blue Jackets in 2005-06. Brett Harkins, another forward for Columbus, played 25 of his 78 NHL games with the Blue Jackets. Ben Simon scored zero points in his 13 games with the Blue Jackets. And youngster Sherwood played a pair of games for the Blue Jackets in 2018-19 and three more in 2019-20. He’s currently with the team’s AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters.
Statistics from NHL.com, QuantHockey.,com, Hockey-Reference.com, and HockeyDB.com.
Pete Bauer is both a hockey fan and player. As a columnist for The Hockey Writers.com, he covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, NCAA hockey, and NHL trends, statistics, and history. He’s considered the go-to guy for info on the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHL Players’ Association and other hockey-related legal mumbo-jumbo. He’s a frequent guest on a variety of podcasts. You’ll find all of his THW columns here. Pete is also the author of over a dozen books on photography, digital imaging, and graphics, including “Photoshop CC for Dummies.”