Hockey is one of the roughest, fastest, and hardest hitting sports on the planet. Players dart around the ice at speeds approaching 30-mph engaging in thunderous collisions that rattle brains and break bones. The blood-thirsty crowds always rise to their feet in anticipation at the first sign of fisticuffs. It was like that even before hockey teams began to compete for the Stanley Cup.
The NHL formed in 1917 with four teams. Nearly one-hundred years later, the NHL boasts 30 teams and expansion is imminent. That’s not to say that the NHL hasn’t seen its fair share of failures. Several franchises have folded or had to relocate and it has endured many scandals. These ingredients have made for a rich history filled with interesting characters, epic rivalries, and incredible stories. Lots of incredible stories. Some so incredible that the legitimacy of those stories are in need of verification. Is it fact or is it an urban legend? These stories have been told and repeated so many times that they are taken as fact. Don’t believe it when someone claims that Wayne Gretzky holds the record for most goals in a single game. Or, that no women have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup. There are countless myths and misconceptions. Here are the Top 12 craziest NHL urban legends.
12 Ulf Samuelsson Ended Cam Neely’s career
Ulf Samuelsson is one of the most vilified players in league history. The Swedish defenseman was known for his dirty play and his cheap-shot artistry. His most memorable play was his vicious knee-on-knee hit of Boston Bruins star Cam Neely during game 3 of 1991 Conference Finals. This is largely blamed for ending Neely’s career, but it isn’t that simple.
Neely played a very physical style, but according to Cam’s own medical professionals, it was an unrelated degenerative hip issue that would eventually bring an end to the Boston star’s career. He would attempt a comeback in 1998, but it was not to be.
It is true that Cam was never the same after that fateful collision in 1991. Yes, Ulf Samuelsson’s dirty hit was a contributing factor but it was not the reason Neely had to pack it in at only 31 years of age. Of course, many fans will disagree.
11 Winning a Fight Boosts the Team’s Momentum
Fighting has been an unofficial part of hockey right from the start. Aside from the pure entertainment value, winning a fight is believed to build the team’s momentum and boost chances of scoring the next goal. While it sounds good in theory, this just isn’t true. Statistics for the 2012/13 season show that after fights in which there is a clear winner, the winning fighter’s team will score the next goal 50.4% of the time. Although those stats are from a single season, it's an interesting concept and one that helps to negate this urban legend. One thing that remains true is that hockey fights get the crowds on their feet.
10 Jacques Plante was the First Goalie to Wear a Mask
Montreal Canadiens goalie and Hall-of-Famer Jacques Plante played in a bygone era when goalies didn’t wear masks. As could be expected, this resulted in some very unpleasant and gruesome consequences. One such episode occurred in 1959 when Jacques Plante took a solid shot in the face. Plante’s face was split from the corner of his mouth to his nose. He was literally a bloody mess. He would leave to get stitches and when he returned he was wearing his now famous mask. It’s true that Plante pioneered a trend, as he continued to wear the mask and soon, all goalies wore face protection. Plante, however, was not the first goalie to wear a mask. That distinction goes to Clint Benedict who wore one, albeit for just a few games in 1930 after he had his nose and cheekbone smashed.
9 The Original Six Were the First Teams in the NHL
Sounds legit. It makes sense that the NHL started out with the Leafs, Canadiens, Bruins, Red Wings, Blackhawks and the Rangers. After all, the NHL has sold us on the Original Six rivalries for decades. Well, it’s baloney. The NHL had many different teams from its inception through to 1942-43 when the six aforementioned teams would make up the NHL until 1967. When the NHL formed, there were five“original” teams: The Toronto Arenas, Quebec Bulldogs, Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers and the Ottawa Senators. Boston added their franchise in 1924 while the Red Wings, Rangers, and Blackhawks were founded in 1926. Other teams would come and go over the next 16 years before the league was whittled down to “the Original Six” in 1942.
8 Wayne Gretzky Never Fought
The Great One holds 61 individual NHL records. Most goals in a season, most assists in a season, and most career points are just a drop in the bucket. Wayne Gretzky’s sharp instinct and super-human hockey intelligence made those around him much better. Just ask Bernie Nicholls. Many people say that Wayne Gretzky benefited from guys like Dave Semenko and Marty McSorley who would pummel anyone who messed with him. Some people go so far as to claim that Wayne Gretzky never fought at all, but believe it or not, he did. According to hockeyfights.com, The Great One dropped them on two occasions. His first fight happened on March 14th, 1980 when the “Not-so-Great One” Doug Lecuyer decided to take him on. The results of his first fight are pretty embarrassing but in his second fight on December 22nd, 1982, Wayne was manhandled by Minnesota’s Neal Broten.
7 The Gordie Howe Hat-trick
Before Wayne Gretzky came along, Gordie Howe was the one amassing records. That’s how he earned the title ‘Mr. Hockey.” Reputedly, Howe could have also been nicknamed “Mr. Elbows.” Today, when a hockey player scores a goal, gets an assist, and gets into a fight, it is referred to as a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick.” This title leads people to believe that Gordie Howe accomplished the feat multiple times. It is true that Mr. Hockey accomplished this feat, but the truth is that he only did it twice in his career. He scored, got an assist and fought Toronto’s Fernie Flaman on October 11th, 1953. On March 21st, 1954, he recorded his second and last Gordie Howe Hat-trick against those same Leafs. This time he fought Ted Kennedy. Maybe the feat should be called a Rick Tocchet Hat-trick? Tocchet accomplished the feat 18 times during his playing days.
6 A Team that Touches the Conference Championship Trophy Won’t Win the Stanley Cup
One of the first memorable occasions of a hockey player refusing to touch a conference championship trophy was when Eric Lindros wouldn’t even acknowledge the Prince of Wales Award in 1997. Did superstition pay off? No, “Big E” and the Flyers were swept by Detroit.
The belief is that players shouldn’t touch any trophy until the team wins the Stanley Cup. It’s widely seen as a jinx. Well, not every team buys into the myth for good reason. In Stanley Cup Finals played between a team that touched their conference trophy and one that didn’t, it shakes out pretty evenly. It makes no difference to the outcome but it makes for a nice tale.
5 The ‘H’ in the Montreal Canadiens logo stands for ‘Habitants’
The Montreal Canadiens jersey sports one of the most recognizable logos in sports. The letter ‘C’ with the inlaid ‘H’ has been around for 100 years. A common belief is that the ‘H’ stands for ‘habs’ or ‘habitants’. The myth was propagated in 1920 when the owner of Madison Square Garden, Tex Rickard, told reporters that the ‘H’ stood for ‘habitants’. People bought the explanation and it has been generally taken as fact since.
There’s just one problem. It’s not true. The ‘H’ actually stands for ‘Hockey’. The design evolved when the Montreal organization changed their name from Canadiens Athletic Club (CAC) to Le Club de hockey Canadien. The new logo was pretty much identical to the old one except the ‘H’ for ‘hockey’ replaced the ‘A’ for ‘athletic’ in the center of the ‘C’.
4 Helmets Prevent Concussions
The first player to wear a helmet was George Owen. While a few players began to don helmets throughout the 1930s, the headgear was rejected by the vast majority of players. It wasn’t until the 70s that players began using them in increasing numbers. Today, helmets are mandatory as hockey tries to improve safety. Many people think that helmets prevent concussions, but it isn’t so. The soft foam interior cushions the blow, but it has a negligible effect on reducing concussions. Dr. Stefan Duma, head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics states that concussions are brought about by linear and rotational acceleration. His studies found that many helmets are entirely ineffective against concussions and that the highest rating given to any helmet’s preventative capabilities was three stars out of five. It has been suggested that the best way to address concussions in hockey is to ban checking, reduce the speed and increase awareness. That’s a tall order.
3 Nobody Really Gets Hurt in Hockey Fights
Fighting is on the decline in the NHL as the once mighty enforcer is disappearing from the game. Some of the biggest fan favorites have been enforcers and their imminent extinction will sadden many. Nothing brings a crowd to its feet like a fight does. Many times, the combatants fiercely duke it out and then pat each other on the back after it’s over. It seems like harmless entertainment, but it’s a misconception that nobody gets seriously hurt in hockey fights. This belief couldn’t be further from the truth. Several players have had their careers end as a result of fighting. Richard Scott, Nick Kypreos, and George Parros are among just a few players to have had their careers ended during a fight. The effects of head trauma and CTE are serious concerns as the long-term consequences of fighting in hockey are studied.
2 The Miracle on Ice Won the US Men’s Team the Gold Medal
This urban legend has been around for many years and was further perpetuated in the movie “Miracle.” Most of us know the story of the “Miracle on Ice” which saw the US Men’s National Hockey defeat the heavily favored Russians in 1980. After Soviet star goalie Vladislav Tretiak gave up a goal with just a few seconds left in the first period, coach Viktor Tikhonov inexplicably pulled Tretiak from the game. It’s a move that Tikhonov would admit to regretting. The Americans would prevail in what would become the most important hockey game in American history. Lost in all the pandemonium is that the Miracle on Ice was not the gold medal game. The games worked differently then and four teams played two games and total points won gold. The US team actually won the gold after defeating Finland.
1 The Majority of NHL Players are Canadian
Before the 1980s, Canadians accounted for over 80% of the NHL’s players. American's made up 12% while the Swedes had the third largest representation at 3%. By 1990, the American presence had grown to just over 17% while the Canadian cast fell to 74%. Throughout the 90s and the millennium, the NHL saw a steady decline in Canadian players. By the 2014-15 season, Canadians made up 51.8% while American players made up nearly 25%. Swedish players again ranked third, this time with 7.6%. The 2015-16 season has seen Canadians making up less than 50% of the leagues total players for the first time in history. The numbers of Swedes in the NHL continues to grow as do the number of Russians, Czechs, and Finnish players. American players remain a steady force at about 25%. It is true that Canadians still account for the largest number of players in the league, but they no longer make up the majority of all players.