Sept. 26 is the birth date of two current Hockey Hall of Famers as well as two brothers who will be joining them very soon. Also, the most infamous international series ever played was evened up in dramatic fashion. Finally, the last National Hockey League game was played in a historic building before its long-time tenants moved across the street.
Canada Evens Up Summit Series
Team Canada scored their second straight victory over the Soviet Union, in Moscow, with a 4-3 victory on Sept. 26, 1972.
Phil Esposito got Canada off to a fast start with a goal four minutes into the game. Alexander Yakushev took advantage of a misstep by Brad Park to tie up the game with a breakaway goal about six minutes later. Vladimir Petrov finished off a 2-on-1 rush, while on the power play, to give the Soviet Union a 2-1 lead late in the first period. Esposito tied the game, just over a minute later, by getting his shot through heavy traffic.
After a scoreless second period that saw the Soviets hold a 13-7 shot advantage, Rob Gilbert gave Canada a 3-2 early in the final frame. The USSR answered three minutes later when Yakushev lit the lamp for a second time while on the man advantage. The Soviet Union kept constant pressure on the Canadiens after tying the game, but goaltender Tony Esposito came up with multiple big saves to keep his team in the game.
Late in the period, there was more ugliness between the two countries following Bobby Clarke’s vicious slash in the previous game. Soviet captain Boris Mikhailov and Canadian defenseman Gary Bergman got tangled up along the boards and began to push and shove. Mikhailov used his skate blade to kick Bergman in the shin multiple times. Bergman responded by ramming Mikhailov’s head into the chicken wire atop the boards. Both benches jumped onto the ice during this incident, but cooler heads prevailed.
Canada gained a jump to their step once play resumed and less than 90 seconds later, Paul Henderson scored the game-winning goal for the second straight contest. Henderson entered the zone on his own facing both Soviet defenders and he caused them to get crossed up and skate right by them both on his way to the deciding tally.
The goal gave the Canadians back-to-back wins to even the series up at 3-3-1 with one final game left on the schedule.
Lafleur Makes His Return
On Sept. 26, 1988, the New York Rangers convinced former Montreal Canadiens star, Guy Lafleur, to come out of retirement and play in the 1988-89 season. This move came less than three weeks after Lafleur was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. When he took the ice, he became just the second player to ever skate in an NHL game after his induction into the Hall of Fame. Gordie Howe was the first player to do so in 1980 and Mario Lemieux joined the group in 2000.
Lafleur scored 18 goals and 45 points in his lone season with the Rangers. His comeback lasted two more seasons as he scored another 24 and 62 points with the Quebec Nordiques before retiring for good in 1991.
Boston Says Goodbye to the Garden
The Boston Bruins played their final game at the Boston Garden on Sept. 26, 1995. Appropriately enough, they hosted the Canadiens in a preseason game to say goodbye to the building that was their home since 1928.
In a very unique ceremony, Hockey Hall of Famers Johnny Bucyk, Esposito, Bobby Orr and Milt Schmidt all lowered their own retired numbers so they could make the trip to the Bruins’ new home across the street.
Possibly the most memorable moment came when Normand Leveille took a lap around the rink one last time. Leveille was forced to retire in 1982 because of a cerebral hemorrhage. His former teammates, Ray Bourque and Terry O’Reilly helped him skate around the ice while local favorite Rene Rancourt sang “Auld Lang Syne.”
Odds & Ends
The New York Americans were able to fill out their roster, on Sept 26, 1925, just prior to their first season in the league. They purchased all the contracts from the Hamilton Tigers for $75,000. At the same time, the Pittsburgh Pirates, also slated to begin play in the 1925-26 season, bought out the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets of the United States Amateur League.
The following year, during the NHL’s annual Board of Governors meeting, the league decided that the blue lines would be moved to 60 feet away from the goal lines. Previously, the blue lines were just 20 feet away from either side of the red line at center ice. This change widens the neutral zone and led to far fewer offside calls, thus giving the game a better pace and flow.
Sept. 26, 1931, was a busy day in the NHL. First, the Board of Governors increased the regular-season schedule from 44 games to 48. Secondly, they announced the suspension of operation for both the Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Quakers.
The players from those the Senators and Quakers were quickly put into a dispersal draft. Some of the more notable selections included Frank Finnigan and Syd Howe by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Harold Starr by the Montreal Maroons.
The Philadelphia Flyers signed free-agent defenseman Terry Murray on Sept. 26, 1975. He played in 115 games in two stints with the Flyers. He returned in 1994 as head coach and took them to the Stanley Cup Final in 1997.
The Rangers signed free-agent center Mike Ridley, on Sept. 26, 1985, out of the University of Manitoba. He scored 22 goals and 65 points for the Rangers during the 1985-86 season. He was traded to the Washington Capitals on Jan. 1, 1987, where he spent eight seasons. After stints with the Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks, he retired in 1997 with 292 goals and 758 points in 866 career games.
On Sept. 26, 2008, the Atlanta Thrashers signed veteran defenseman Mathieu Schneider after he spent the previous season with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. He played in 44 games for the Thrashers, scoring four goals and 15 points, before he was traded to the Canadiens for a pair of draft picks. One of those picks was used to select Jeremy Morin, who was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 as part of the package to acquire Dustin Byfuglien.
Happy Birthday to You
A total of 23 current and former NHL players have been born on this date. The first player to make his league debut was Raymie Skilton, who was born on Sept. 26, 1889. He played in just one game for the Montreal Wanderers in 1918. The most recent is Winnipeg Jets defenseman Joona Luoto, turning 23 today, who made his NHL this past season.
There were two Hall of Fame goaltenders born on this date. Clint Benedict, born on Sept. 26, 1892, appeared in 362 games between the pipes for the Senators and Maroons. He won 189 games between 1918 and 1930, winning three Stanley Cups along the way.
Frank Brimsek was born on this date in 1915. He made his NHL debut with the Bruins in 1939 and played in 514 games before retiring with the Blackhawks in 1950.
He won the 1939 Calder Trophy for being the best rookie in the league. He was a two-time winner of the Vezina Trophy, which was given to the goaltender who allowed the fewest goals. He helped the Bruins to Stanley Cup championships in 1939 and 1941.
Benedict and Brimsek will be joined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in the near future by Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The talented twin brothers were born in Sweden on Sept. 26, 1980. They spent their entire careers with the Canucks and rewrote the franchise record book. The Sedins combined for 2,636 games with 633goals and 2,111 points.
Other notable birthday boys today include Garry Howatt (68), Craig Janney (53), Paul Laus (50), Chris Kunitz (41), Brooks Orpik (40), John Scott (38), Nick Shore (28) and Karson Kuhlman (25).