Today in Hockey History: Sept. 20

There have been some unique moments in NHL history that have occurred on this date. In California, two heated rivals closed out an old barn with a crazy preseason game while another franchise made its league debut. Plus, an all-time great was born in Quebec and three long-time NHLers hung up their skates.

Feisty Finale at the Forum

Due to the Staples Center not being ready until mid-October, the Los Angeles Kings had to play their 1999 preseason schedule at the Great Western Forum. On September 20, 1999, the Kings played their final game at the old building, hosting the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in a memorable preseason tilt.

The Kings beat up their local rivals 8-1 in a game that may have reminded those in attendance of the 1970s hockey comedy “Slap Shot.” Both head coaches dressed more of their enforcer-type players than they likely would have for a regular-season game. This led to a feisty affair between two teams that did not care for each other.

The first two periods were dominated by the Kings as they built a 7-0 lead heading into the final frame. The fuse that blew up the powder keg was lit when defenseman Jaroslav Modry took a run at Ducks’ superstar Teemu Selanne and left him bleeding on the ice. Stu Grimson retaliated by taking some liberties with Kings’ forward Ziggy Palffy. Emotions started to boil over after this, not just on the ice.

Anaheim head coach Craig Hartsburg started yelling at his counterpart, Andy Murray of the Kings, as they met between the benches and got in each other’s faces. The very next shift, the Kings went after Selanne again, leading to pure chaos.

Before the end of the period, there were six different fights. Selanne was booted from the game after swinging his stick at members of the Kings. Los Angeles defenseman Rob Blake was one of the multiple players ejected from the contest. In the end, 149 total penalty minutes were assessed in just the third period alone!

Canadiens & Devils Make Even Swap

On September 20, 1991, the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils made a four-player trade that eventually paid dividends for both sides. The Canadiens sent forwards Stephane Richer and Tom Chorske to the Devils for left wing Kirk Muller and goaltender Roland Melanson.

Stephane Richer New Jersey Devils
Richer played a key role in New Jersey. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)

Muller began his long relationship with the Canadiens, and they won the Stanley Cup together in 1993. He played 267 games for Montreal and even spent some time as captain. Richer and Chorske played a combined 604 games for the Devils, and both played a role in their 1995 Stanley Cup championship.

Hockey Returns to Ohio

The Columbus Blue Jackets played their first game in franchise history on Sept. 20, 2000, at the brand-new Nationwide Arena. This marked the first NHL hockey game in Ohio since the Cleveland Barons ceased operations in 1978.

Over 18,000 fans packed the arena to watch the Blue Jackets beat the Detroit Red Wings, 5-2, in a preseason contest. Head coach Dave King led them to a 28-39-9-6 record during their inaugural season. Geoff Sanderson was the leading scorer with 30 goals and 56 points. Espen Knutsen led the team with 42 assists.

A Trio of Retirements

On this day in 2021, Travis Zajac signed a one-day contract to retire as a member of the New Jersey Devils, a franchise he spent 15 seasons with. Selected 20th overall in the 2004 NHL Draft, he played 1,024 games in New Jersey and scored 202 goals and 550 points.

Then a year later in 2022, 45-year-old Zdeno Chara did the same with the Boston Bruins, a team he spent 14 seasons with and scored 148 goals and 481 points in 1,023 games. He also won a Stanley Cup with them as the captain in 2011 when he led the Bruins to a Game 7 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Over the course of his likely Hall-of-Fame career, he played for the Islanders, Bruins, Senators and Capitals and accumulated 209 goals and 680 points in 1,680 games. The “Big Z” will go down as the most successful 6-foot-9 defenseman of all time and will probably get his No. 33 retired in Boston very soon.

Zdeno Chara Boston Bruins
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Joining Chara in the retirement club on the same day was P.K. Subban. Selected 43rd overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2007, he finished his 13-year career with 115 goals and 467 points in 834 games. Famously part of the one-for-one trade for Shea Weber, he spent his time in the NHL with the Canadiens, Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils. An exciting and engaging personality on and off the ice, he won a Norris Trophy in 2012-13 and the King Clancy Trophy in 2021-22 and was a three-time All-Star.

Odds & Ends

On Sept. 20, 1991, the San Jose Sharks acquired forward Wayne Presley from the Chicago Blackhawks for a third-round pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. Presley scored eight goals and 22 points in 47 games before being traded to the Buffalo Sabers for forward Dave Snuggerud. The Blackhawks used the draft pick to select Bogdan Savenko, who never made it to the NHL.

The Toronto Maple Leafs signed a Gretzky on Sept. 20, 1995. No, it wasn’t Wayne, but rather his younger brother Brent. The youngest Gretzky sibling never played for the Maple Leafs. In fact, he played just 13 career NHL games, all for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He holds the record with Wayne for the most points by two brothers – 2,857 for Wayne and four by Brent. He is currently an officer for the Ontario Provincial Police.

The Washington Capitals signed goaltender Ron Tugnutt on Sept. 20, 1995. He never played a single game for the Capitals. He spent the entire 1995-96 season playing for the Portland Pirates in the American Hockey League (AHL). He played very well, helping the Pirates reach the Calder Cup Final. Tugnutt signed with the Ottawa Senators the following offseason.

Mark Giordano was named captain of the Calgary Flames on Sept. 20, 2013, replacing Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla.  He became the 20th captain in franchise history and the 16th since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in 1980.

Happy Birthday to You

A total of 20 current and former NHL players have been born on this date. The first to play in the league was Sam Godin, born on Sept. 20, 1909. He played 79 games for the original Senators and Canadiens between 1928 and 1934. The most recent was budding star defenseman Braden Schneider of the Rangers, who turns 22 today.

There is an impressive group of players celebrating birthdays today, but the best of them all is late Hall of Fame forward Guy Lafleur, who was born in Thurso, Quebec, on Sept. 20, 1951, and unfortunately passed away at the age of 70 on April 22, 2022. He was one of the Canadiens’ biggest stars during their dominant decade of the 1970s.

Guy Lafleur
Lafleur was one of the best players of the 1970s. (THW Archives)

Lafleur was taken with the first overall pick of the 1971 NHL Amateur Draft. He had his major breakout during the 1974-75 season with 53 goals and 119 points. He won the Art Ross Trophy, for leading the league in scoring, in each of the following three seasons with outputs of 125, 136, and 132 points.

Related: Guy Lafleur Gave Me a Lifetime of Memories

When he retired in 1985, he scored 518 goals and 1,246 points in 961 games for the Habs while winning five Stanley Cups. Three years later, he returned to the league and played with the New York Rangers during the 1988-89 season. He joined Gordie Howe and Mario Lemieux as the only players to skate in an NHL game after being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He played two more seasons with the Quebec Nordiques before retiring for good in 1991.

Other notable players celebrating birthdays today include Jan Hlavac (47), Sergei Bobrovsky (35), John Tavares (33), Ryan Hartman (29), Kevin Stenlund (27), and the late Ray Cullen.

*Originally constructed by Greg Boysen

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