Today in Hockey History: Sept. 12

On this date, one of the greatest NHL defensemen ever made history, even though his playing days were over. Also, a very popular and successful captain announced his retirement while a regrettable contract was signed on Long Island. The THW time machine is ready to take you back through the decades to relive all the best moments, so let’s hop aboard.

Orr Makes More History

Even though his playing career had ended the previous year, Bobby Orr made even more hockey history on Sept. 12, 1979. The Hockey Hall of Fame waived its three-year waiting period to include Orr with the 1979 class. At just 31-years-old, he is the youngest player ever to be enshrined. He was the highest-scoring defenseman in NHL history, at the time, with 915 points. He has since been passed up by 10 players.

Joining Orr in the 1979 class were forward Henri Richard, defenseman Harry Howell, and builder Gordon Juckes.

Bobby Orr
Orr was the youngest player welcomed into the Hall of Fame. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Richard was one of many iconic Montreal Canadiens players over the years. In his 20 seasons with the club, he scored 358 goals and 1,046 points in 1,258 games. The four-time All-Star won a remarkable 11 Stanley Cups during his career.

Howell played in 1,411 games over 21 seasons for the New York Rangers, Oakland Seals, and Los Angeles Kings. He spent the final three seasons of his professional career playing in the World Hockey Association (WHA). He won the Norris Trophy, for being the NHL’s top defenseman, in 1967 with the Rangers. Ironically, he was the last person to win the award before Orr won it in eight straight seasons.

Juckes was a longtime executive for the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). He played a key role in putting together the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union. He also helped establish the IIHF U20 World Championship, which has become the top international tournament for hockey prospects around the globe.

Two More Classes Inducted

The 1979 class was one of three to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on this date. On Sept. 12, 1985, Gerry Cheevers, Bert Olmstead, and Jean Ratelle made it in as players while John Mariucci and Rudy Pilous entered as builders.

Cheevers played in 418 games during his 13 seasons in the NHL. After two games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he spent the rest of his NHL career with the Boston Bruins. His 12 seasons with the Bruins were broken up by a four-year run with the Cleveland Crusaders in the WHA. He went 226-103-76 with a .901 save percentage (SV%), 2.89 goals-against average, and 26 shutouts with the Bruins.

Olmstead, a left wing, scored 181 goals and 602 points during his 14-season NHL career. After spending his first two-plus seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, he was traded to the Canadiens, winning four Stanley Cups. He finished with four seasons in Toronto, capping off his career with a fifth championship in 1961-62, his last season in the league.

Ratelle is one of the best scorers in Rangers’ history. He scored 336 goals and 817 points in 861 career games in New York. He was traded to the Bruins as part of the deal that brought Phil Esposito to the Rangers. Ratelle played 419 games for Boston, scoring 155 goals and 450 points.

French Canadian hockey players
Ratelle was one of the best players in Rangers history. (THW Archives)

Mariucci coached the University of Minnesota in the 1950s and 1960s before working for the Minnesota North Stars from their inception in 1967 until he died in 1997. Pilous won the Stanley Cup as the head coach of the 1960-61 Blackhawks before becoming the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets in the WHA, where he won three championships (Avco World Trophy).

Nine years later, on Sept. 12, 1994, the Hall of Fame opened its doors to defenseman Lionel Conacher, forward Harry Watson, and builder Brian O’Neill.

Conacher won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks in 1934 and the Montreal Maroons in 1935. He played 498 total NHL games over 12 seasons which saw him suit up for the New York Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates. His brothers Charlie and Roy are also in the Hall of Fame.

Watson scored 236 goals and 443 points in 809 career games with Brooklyn Americans, Red Wings, Maple Leafs and Blackhawks. He won five Stanley Cups in his 14-season career; one with the Red Wings in 1943 and then four with the Maple Leafs between 1947 and 1951.

O’Neill was the league executive who oversaw the first expansion draft in 1967 and each one after that until he took over as executive vice-president after NHL president Clarence Campbell stepped down in 1977. He worked for the league until his retirement in 1992.

Messier Says Goodbye

One of the most popular and successful players of his era, Mark Messier, announced his retirement on Sept. 12, 2005, after 25 seasons in the NHL. The Edmonton Oilers originally drafted him in the third round (48th overall) of the 1979 NHL Amateur Draft.

Messier’s third season in the league, 1981-82, saw him bust out for 50 goals after scoring 35 in his first two seasons combined. This started a run where he scored at least 33 goals in nine of the next 11 seasons.

Mark Messier of the Edmonton Oilers
Messier won five Cups in Edmonton. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

He won six Stanley Cups during his Hall of Fame career, five with the Oilers and one with the Rangers in 1994. Messier won the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the most valuable player of Edmonton’s 1984 championship run. He won two Hart Trophies for being the league’s most valuable player. The first one came following the 1989-90 season with the Oilers before he won it again in 1991-92, his first season in the Big Apple.

Messier scored 694 goals and 1,887 points in 1,756 games with the Oilers, Rangers, and Vancouver Canucks. At the time of his retirement, his former teammate in Edmonton, Wayne Gretzky, was the only player in league history to have more points than Messier, and Gordie Howe was the only one to play in more games.

Odds & Ends

On Sept. 12, 1940, the NHL Board of Governors eliminated the requirement that only jersey numbers 1-19 would be allowed to designate players in league games. Exactly one year later, the league established the “minor” and “major” penalty shots. The “minor” shot required a player to shoot from 28 feet away, while the “major” is what we are used to seeing today, where the player can shoot from anywhere he chooses.

The Rangers signed free-agent center Pierre Larouche on Sept. 12, 1983. He scored 53 goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 1975-76 seasons and 50 for the Canadiens in 1979-80. He played in parts of four seasons for the Rangers, scoring 123 goals and 243 points in 253 games.

The Penguins traded Marty McSorley to the Oilers, on Sept. 12, 1985, for goaltender Gilles Meloche. McSorley played in 160 games over the next three seasons, scoring 22 goals and 55 points while racking up 647 penalty minutes. He was part of back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1987 and 1988. Meloche spent the final three seasons of his career with the Penguins, picking up 34 wins in 104 appearances.

On Sept. 12, 2006, New York Islanders’ general manager Garth Snow signed goaltender Rick DiPietro to a record 15-year, $67.5 million contract. He suffered a concussion on March 13, 2007, and returned four games later. However, he suffered a second concussion in that game and missed the rest of the regular season.

During the 2007-08 season, DiPietro returned to form and played in his one and only All-Star Game. However, he injured his hip during the skills competition. He played through the pain until the Islanders were eliminated from playoff contention and shut it down. A whole series of injuries limited him to just 50 games over the next five seasons, with 26 of them coming in 2010-11. The Islanders bought out the final eight years of this contract on July 1, 2013.

The Ottawa Senators traded Dany Heatley to the San Jose Sharks on Sept. 12, 2009, for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo, and a second-round draft pick. Heatley had back-to-back 50-goal efforts in his first two seasons with the Senators. While he never hit those heights again, he still had a very productive run in San Jose. He scored 65 goals and 146 points in his two seasons for the Sharks before being traded to the Minnesota Wild, in 2011, for Martin Havlat.

On this date in 2022, the Canadiens named Nick Suzuki as their new captain, taking over from Shea Weber. In his first season wearing the ‘C’, the rising star scored a career-high 26 goals and 66 points.

Happy Birthday to You

There have been 18 players born on this date who have skated in at least one NHL game. The first to do so was Earl Miller, born on Sept. 12, 1905. He played in 110 games for the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs between 1928 and 1932. The most recent was Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jake Christiansen, 24 today, who has played in 32 games over the last two seasons.

Martin Lapointe, born on this date in 1973, played in 991 games, the most of this group. The best scorer was Mike Murphy, who is turning 73 today. He scored 238 goals and 556 points with the St. Louis Blues, Rangers and Kings.

Other notable players born on this date include Paul Ranger (39), Patrick Wiercioch (33), Connor Mackey (27), Jaret Anderson-Dolan (24), and the late Marcel Bonin and Josef Vasicek.

*Originally constructed by Greg Boysen

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