This date saw the first-ever meeting between the two highest scorers in National Hockey League history. Nov. 17 has been a memorable date in both Chicago and Boston and has a handful of franchise firsts throughout the decade.
Mr. Hockey vs the Great One
Arguably the two greatest players in hockey history, Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky, played each other for the very first time on this date. These two legends were on the opposite ends of the ice, on Nov. 17, 1979, when the Hartford Whalers hosted the Edmonton Oilers.
The 51-year-old Howe had an assist in the Whalers’ 4-0 victory. This was one of four games between these two teams during the 1979-80 season. Hartford won two of the games with the Oilers getting one win and teams settling for one tie. Howe’s only point head-to-head against Gretzky came in this first game. Gretzky had a goal and an assist in the four-game series. Howe retired following the season so these were the only games in which they played against each.
A Very Important Date in Chicago
The Chicago Blackhawks took the ice for the very first time, on Nov. 17, 1926, when they hosted the Toronto St. Patricks. Fans filled up the old Chicago Coliseum to watch their new team win its NHL debut 4-1. George Hay scored the first goal in franchise history, while future coaching icon Dick Irvin scored less than a minute later. Goaltender Hugh Lehman led the way between the pipes.
On Nov. 17, 1965, the Blackhawks became just the second team in NHL history to win each of their first five road games of the season. Hall of Famer Stan Mikita scored a pair of goals and assisted on two others as they beat the New York Rangers 5-3, at Madison Square Garden. Currently, there are 23 teams who have won their first five road games to start a season. The record is 10, held by the 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres.
Bean Town Memories
Tiny Thompson became the first goaltender in franchise history to record 150 wins as a member of the Boston Bruins, on Nov. 17, 1934, in a 1-0 win against the visiting St. Louis Eagles. This was also the 44th shutout of his career. Thompson is still the Bruins’ all-time leader with 74 shutouts and is second in wins with 252.
Exactly 20 years later, on Nov. 17, 1954, Milt Schmidt with 50 seconds left in the third period, to help the Bruins to a 2-2 tie with the Rangers. This was the 229th goal of his career and it tied him with Dit Clapper for the most in team history.
Bobby Orr set another of his many league records, on Nov. 17, 1973, when he picked up four assists in an 8-0 win over the visiting Detroit Red Wings. This gave him 456 assists in his career, passing Doug Harvey for the most ever by a defenseman. It took him just 458 games to reach this milestone.
On that same night, Phil Esposito scored his 20th goal of the season in just Boston’s 18th game. At the time, this was the fastest any player in league history had scored 20 goals.
After beating the Washington Capitals 8-1 in their first-ever meeting the previous night, the Pittsburgh Penguins traveled to Landover, Maryland, on Nov. 17, 1974, for their first game at the Capital Centre. Jean Pronovost had a goal and two assists while goaltender Garry Inness made 26 saves in a 6-0 shutout win for the Penguins,
Billy Smith became the first goaltender to record 100 wins as a member of the New York Islanders, on Nov. 17, 1978, in a 4-2 victory at the Capitals. Since then, a total of five goalies have won at least 100 games in an Islanders’ uniform. Smith’s 304 wins are the most in franchise history.
A decade later, on Nov. 17, 1988, Pat Verbeek became the first player to score 150 goals with the New Jersey Devils in a 5-3 loss to the Calgary Flames. He is still seventh all-time in franchise history with 170 goals. Since this date, 11 more players have scored 150 or more goals for the Devils.
Arturs Irbe made 39 saves to record the first shutout in the San Jose Sharks team history, on Nov. 17, 1992, a 6-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings. It took the Sharks 99 games to keep an opponent off the scoreboard. This was also the first shutout for Irbe, who retired in 2003 with 33 of them.
Odds & Ends
After starting as the Cougars, then changing their name to the Falcons, Detroit’s NHL team became known as Red Wings for the 1932-33 season. On Nov. 17, 1932, they traveled to Montreal for their first game against the Canadiens. There was a problem as the Red Wings’ sweaters were the identical color as the ones the home team wore. They were forced to put white pullovers on to avoid confusion. The Canadiens won 1-0 behind George Hainsworth’s 68th career shutout.
On Nov. 17, 1984, the Islanders beat up on the Rangers 10-4. Mike Bossy scored the 32nd hat trick of his career, tying Esposito for the most in NHL history, while Brian Trottier added four assists.
Heading into their game on Nov. 17, 1988, the St. Louis Blues had not won a game in the Spectrum, against the Philadelphia Flyers, in over 16 years. They had gone 31-0-3 in their previous 34 trips to the City of Brotherly Love. Bernie Federko led the charge to snap this streak with two goals in a 3-1 Blues’ victory.
The Hockey Hall of Fame inducted a very impressive class, on Nov. 17, 1997, including Mario Lemieux, Trottier and Glen Sather. The standard three-year waiting period was waived for Lemieux who retired earlier in the year. He returned to the Penguins in 2000 to join Gordie Howe and Guy Lafleur as the only three players to skate in an NHL game after their Hall of Fame induction.
The Phoenix Coyotes claimed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov off of waiver from the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 17, 2007. He made his team debut later that night and made 28 saves in a 1-0 victory at the Los Angeles Kings.
Brendan Shanahan announced his retirement, on Nov. 17, 2009, after 21 seasons in the NHL. He scored 656 goals and 1,354 points in 1,524 games. He was originally drafted by the Devils with the second overall pick of the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. He was a member of three Stanley Cup championships with the Red Wings in 1997, 1998 and 2002. In addition to his time with the Devils and Red Wings he also played for the Blues, Whalers and Rangers.
Happy Birthday to You
Just 10 current and former NHL players have been born on Nov. 17. The most notable of this small group are Dennis Maruk (65), Chris Tamer (50) and the recently extended Roope Hintz (24).
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.