Sept. 21 has been an intriguing day in National Hockey League history. One of its earliest superstars was born on this date. A goaltending legend made his first of two returns after retirement. Plus, the greatest player in league history scored his first goal in his new home and the first-ever game in China is played.
Plante Returns to the Crease
There have been numerous times throughout the decades where players announce their retirement only to return to the ice later. This was the case for Hall of Fame goaltender Jacques Plante.
Plante originally retired in 1965, at the age of 36, after two seasons with the New York Rangers. On Sept. 21, 1967, he was back in uniform, starting for the California Seals in a preseason game versus the Los Angeles Kings. The game, which was played in Port Huron, MI, ended in a 3-3 deadlock.
The six-time Stanley Cup winner never played in a regular-season game for the Seals, but he returned the following season for the St. Louis Blues. He and fellow goaltending legend, Glenn Hall, won the Vezina Trophy for the 1968-69 season, which, at the time was given to the goaltenders who gave up the fewest goals during the season.
Plante ended up playing in four more NHL seasons after this; one more with St. Louis, two with the Toronto Maple Leafs and one final season split between the Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. He retired a second time in 1973 but came back again to play 31 games for the Edmonton Oilers during the 1974-75 season when they were members of the World Hockey Association (WHA).
Another Great Class Inducted
The Hockey Hall of Fame opened its doors to seven new members on Sept. 21, 1992. Marcel Dionne, Woody Dumart, Bob Gainey and Lanny McDonald entered as players while Keith Allen, Bob Johnson and Frank Mathers were voted in as builders.
Dionne played in 1,348 games, over 18 NHL seasons, scoring 731 goals and 1,771 points. He had the most success during his 12 seasons with the Kings, after breaking into the league with the Detroit Red Wings. He won the Art Ross Trophy after scoring 53 goals and leading the league with 137 points during the 1979-80 season. He scored at least 36 goals in each of 11 full seasons with the Kings, including six with 50 or more. He was traded to the Rangers during the 1986-87 season and played with them until his retirement in 1989.
Dumart played in 774 games, over 16 seasons with the Bruins, where he scored 211 goals and 430 points. His best season came in 1946-47 when he scored 24 goals and 52 points in 60 games. He was part of the 1939 and 1941 Stanley Cup championships in Boston.
Gainey spent his entire 16-season career with the Montreal Canadiens. He scored 239 goals and 501 points in 1,160 career games. He was a member of five Stanley Cup championship teams and won the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the most valuable player of the 1979 postseason. He won the Selke Trophy, for being the best defensive forward in the league, four times. After his retirement in 1989, he had a successful coaching career with the Minnesota North Stars and Dallas Stars before becoming the general manager of the Canadiens in 2003.
McDonald scored 500 goals and 1,006 points in 1,111 career games with the Maple Leafs, Colorado Rockies and Calgary Flames. He was so popular in Toronto that when he was traded to the Rockies in 1979, fans protested the move outside of Maple Leafs Garden. His final act as captain of the Flames, in 1989, was accepting the Stanley Cup after scoring the Cup-clinching goal versus the Canadiens.
Allen was the first coach in Philadelphia Flyers’ franchise history and served as the team’s executive vice president from 1980 until his death in 2014. Johnson, known as “Badger Bob,” coached the University of Wisconsin from 1966 to 1982, winning three national championships. He took the Flames to the 1986 Stanley Cup Final and won a championship with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991, just five months before dying of brain cancer. Mathers is best known for his 35-year relationship with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL) as player, coach, general manager and president.
Odds & Ends
After scoring 20 goals and 42 points during the 1974-75 season, the Blues traded defenseman Larry Sacharuk, on Sept. 21, 1975, to the Rangers for Bob MacMillan. Sacharuk never repeated that success as he played in just 44 games over the next two seasons before a brief stint in WHA. MacMillan, a right wing, scored 46 goals and 129 points in 187 games for the Blues before being traded to the Atlanta Flames.
On Sept. 21, 1988, the Kings and Vancouver Canucks played a preseason game in Portland, OR. The Canucks earned a 4-3 overtime win but the game is memorable because Wayne Gretzky scored his first goal as a member of the Kings, although it never officially counted in the record books.
The Ottawa Senators traded defenseman Sami Salo to the Canucks, on Sept.21, 2002, for left win Peter Schaefer. Salo played 566 games for the Canucks over the next nine seasons. Shaefer spent the next four seasons in Ottawa, scoring 53 goals and 158 points.
The Kings and Canucks played another memorable preseason game on Sept. 21, 2017. The two rivals met in Shanghai in the first-ever NHL game played in China. Nearly 11,000 fans watch the Kings win 5-2, thanks to a pair of goals by Tanner Pearson.
Happy Birthday to You
A total of 19 current and former NHL players have been born on Sept. 21.
The first was also the best as Howie Morenz was born, in Mitchell, Ontario, on this date in 1902. He earned the nickname “The Stratford Streak” thanks to his elite speed while playing junior hockey in Stratford, Ontario.
Morenz made his NHL debut with the Canadiens during the 1923-24 season and quickly became a star in the league. He used his speed to excel at end-to-end rushes since the forward pass is against the rules for much of his career. After 253 goals and 401 points, in 430 games, Morenz is traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1934. After a brief stint with the Rangers, he returns to Montreal for the 1936-37 season.
On Jan. 28, 1937, Morenz’s career is ended when his leg is severely broken after he is hit while is skate is stuck in the boards. He never leaves the hospital and a blood clot eventually causes his death on March 8, 1937. He was part of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s first induction class in 1945.
Other notable players born on this date include Gord Dineen (58), Troy Loney (57), Bob Errey (56), Curtis Leschyshyn (51) and Nick Jensen (30).