This has been a very busy date in the history of the National Hockey League. Its greatest player ever made his debut on a new team, three expansion franchises took to the ice for the first time, and numerous players found the scoresheet for the first time in their careers. Also, the world’s largest crowd for a hockey game gathered in Michigan.
The Great One Debuts in Hollywood
For quite possibly the first time, the hottest ticket in Los Angeles was for the Kings game on Oct. 6, 1988. This was the night Wayne Gretzky made his debut with the team after being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers two months earlier.
Just over 16,000 fans pack into the Forum to see Gretzky and the Kings take on the Detroit Red Wings. The Great One surely did not disappoint as he scored on his very first shot before picking up three assists in an 8-2 blowout victory.
Gretzky went on to score 54 goals and 168 points, in 78 games, during the 1988-89 season. He won the Hart Trophy for being the league’s most valuable player, according to the writers. It was the ninth and final Hart Trophy of his legendary career. He won eight in a row with the Oilers between 1980 and 1987.
A Night Full of Firsts
Roland Eriksson made his NHL debut on Oct. 6, 1976, for the Minnesota North Stars. He tied an NHL record for a league debut by picking up four assists in a 6-5 loss at the New York Rangers. This matched the 1953 performance by Dutch Reibel of the Red Wings. Eriksson finished his rookie season with 25 goals and 69 points.
On Oct. 6, 1981, Joe Mullen picked up an assist in the St. Louis Blues’ 6-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. This was his first of 1,063 career NHL points. In 1981-82, he scored 25 times, the first of 12 seasons with at least 25 goals.
Marian Stastny joined his brothers Peter and Anton on Oct. 6, 1982, with the Quebec Nordiques. All three brothers played a role in a 6-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Peter led the way with his fifth career hat trick, Anton had a goal and an assist, and Marian put up two helpers in his first NHL game. For the Sabres, rookies Dave Andreychuk, Paul Cyr, and Hannu Virta all scored their first career goals in the league.
Mike Keenan earned his first coaching victory in the NHL on Oct. 6, 1984. He led the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals on home ice. The Flyers started the season with five straight wins before Keenan found the loss column for the first time.
On Oct. 6, 1988, Brian Sutter made his NHL coaching debut, an 8-3 Blues win over the North Stars in Minnesota. He went on to win 451 games in 13 total seasons with the Blues, Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, and Chicago Blackhawks.
On that same night, Trevor Linden made his NHL debut with the Vancouver Canucks. He did not find the scoresheet during a 2-2 tie with the Winnipeg Jets.
Eric Lindros scored his first NHL goal, on Oct. 6, 1992, during the Flyers’ 3-3 tie with the rival Penguins. Mario Lemieux scored in this game, starting a team-record 12-game scoring streak to start the 1992-93 season.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored the first goal of his NHL career on Oct. 6, 2001. However, the big night was spoiled as the Atlanta Thrashers were beaten 4-3 by the Bruins in overtime.
A Trio of Teams Debut
The Florida Panthers took to the ice for the first time on Oct. 6, 1993, in a 4-4 tie with the Blackhawks at the old Chicago Stadium. Scott Mellanby scored the first goal in franchise history. Roger Neilson made NHL history by becoming the first head coach of six different teams. This came exactly four years after he was the first coach of five teams in his debut with the Rangers.
On Oct. 6, 2000, Marian Gaborik scored his first career NHL goal as the Minnesota Wild made their league debut. His tally was the only goal in the Wild’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
The Vegas Golden Knights became the first expansion team to win their first game since the Ottawa Senators in 1992, by beating the Dallas Stars 2-1 on Oct. 6. 2017. James Neal had the first and second goals in franchise history, with both coming in the third period. The Golden Knights went on to have the most successful debut season ever with a 51-24-7 record and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
Plante Shines in Memorable Nights
The Montreal Canadiens had two historic nights on this date, five years apart, and Jacques Plante picked up a shutout on both of them. On Oct. 6, 1955, Toe Blake made his coaching debut as the Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-0. Plante made 23 saves to earn the 11th shutout of his career. Blake went on to win 500 games over the next 13 seasons and eight Stanley Cups, including one in each of his five first seasons.
The Canadiens retired Maurice Richard’s No. 9 on Oct. 6, 1960, in a ceremony before their season-opening game versus the Maple Leafs. At the time, he joined the late Howie Morenz as the only two players to have their number retired in Habs’ history. The goodwill carried over to the game as Plante got his 48th career shutout in a 5-0 victory.
A Big Date for the Blackhawks
Steve Larmer scored the first goal of his NHL career, on Oct. 6, 1982, in the Blackhawks’ 3-3 tie with the Maple Leafs. He also assisted on the other two Chicago goals, all coming in the first period. This was the first of 884 straight games for Larmer, the third-longest “iron man” streak in NHL history.
Another all-time great in Blackhawks’ history, Jeremy Roenick, made his NHL debut on Oct. 6, 1988. He did not pick up a point in a 2-2 tie versus the Rangers.
Exactly eight years after scoring his first goal, on Oct. 6, 1990, Larmer became just the fourth player in team history to score 300 goals in a Blackhawks’ sweater. His two goals and an assist came in a 5-2 victory over the rival Blues in St. Louis. He scored 406 goals with Chicago, which is the third-most in team history behind Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
Odds & Ends
Mike Bossy scored the 25th hat trick of his career and had an assist on Oct. 6, 1983, in a 7-4 win at the Canadiens. Bryan Trottier had a goal and three assists on the night as well.
On this same night, Peter McNab scored a goal in the Bruins’ 9-3 victory over the Nordiques. He became just the seventh player in franchise history to score 250 goals for the team.
The Oilers named Kelly Buchberger team captain on Oct. 6, 1996. He was the ninth captain in team history since they joined the NHL in 1979. He wore the “C” on his sweater for the next four seasons before being selected by the Thrashers in the 1999 NHL Expansion Draft and became their captain.
On Oct. 6, 2001, goaltender Roman Turek recorded his second consecutive shutout, and 17th of his career, in the Flames’ 4-0 win against the visiting Blackhawks. The victory made the Flames just the fifth team in NHL history to open a season with consecutive shutouts.
On that same night, the Oilers retired Jari Kurri’s No. 17. In his 10 seasons in Edmonton, he scored 474 and 1,043 points in 754 games. He was a member of all five of the franchise’s five Stanley Cup championships.
Also, on Oct. 6, 2001, Michigan State hosted Michigan for an outdoor game at Spartan Stadium. A total of 74,544 fans packed Michigan State’s football stadium for the tilt between the bitter rivals. The massive crowd set the world record, at the time, for the largest ever at a hockey game. The game ended in a 3-3 tie with Mike Cammalleri scoring two goals for Michigan and Duncan Keith lighting the lamp for Michigan State.
Happy Birthday to You
Oct. 6 is the birth date of 25 current and former NHL players. The first player born on this date to play in the league was goaltender Joe Miller, born in 1900, who played in 130 games for the three teams between 1928 and 1931. The most recent debut came in 2020 when Martin Fehervary, who turns 22 today, skated for the Washington Capitals.
Daniel Briere, born on Oct. 6, 1977, had the most successful career of this group. He leads all birthday boys with 973 games, 307 goals, 389 assists, and 696 points.
Other notable players born on this date include Kenny Jonsson (47), Ville Leino (38), Tyler Ennis (32), Nazem Kadri (31), Marcus Johansson (31), Josh Archibald (29), Nail Yakupov (28), Ryan Pulock (27), and Jake Guentzel (27).
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.