By The Capital Sports Report Staff
Almost 101 years ago to the day, the National Hockey League (NHL) was founded by several Canadian teams. For decades after, the number of teams in the league fluctuated. By 1942, six teams remained — the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Montréal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, and Boston Bruins. Those teams became known as the “Original Six,” despite the fact that they were not technically the first six teams in the NHL, and they remained the only six teams in the NHL until 1967, when the league expanded.
Although the U.S. can lay claim to four of the Original Six teams, hockey is still not as popular in the U.S. as it is in Canada, and its popularity will never quite match how Canadians feel about hockey. After all, Canadians are mad for their hockey. There’s even a long-running joke (and popular GIF) that Canadians are born with a hockey stick in hand. So it should come as no surprise that many of the best players in NHL history are from Canada. Even though many people share differing views on who should make the cut, there are several Canadian players who have had a lasting effect on the NHL. The following players — from the early days of the NHL, before the Original Six — have all helped the league become what it is today.
Before the Original Six came onto the scene, Morenz was, by far, one of the most talented and dynamic players in the league. Born in Ontario, he got his start playing center for the Canadiens. He was later sent to the Blackhawks, followed by the Rangers. Shortly after, Morenz then rejoined the Canadiens in 1936, where he suffered a career-ending leg injury on the ice. Months later, while recovering in the hospital, Morenz died from a coronary embolism at age 34.
In the course of his short NHL career, Morenz played a total of 550 games with 271 goals, 201 assists, and 476 points. On the ice, Morenz was known for his high-speed rushes and physical strength — he’d keep going, no matter how many times he rushed or got hit on the ice. He was one of the first players to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1945.
Born in Saskatchewan, Shore played for a few teams in Canada where he earned the nickname, “The Edmonton Express,” before joining the Bruins in 1926. During his career, he played one more game than Morenz (551), with a total of 105 goals, 179 assists, and 284 points. In 1947, he made the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Shore was a well-known rival of Morenz, and one of the best skaters and defensemen in the league. He was also known for being tough as nails on and off the ice, which would frequently
lead to fights with other players. Because of this, he has been credited as increasing the popularity of hockey in the U.S. Besides countless injuries (that often didn’t keep him from playing a game), it’s rumored that he had more than 1,000 stitches in his face during his career, and he had his partially-severed ear (a game injury) sewed on without an anesthetic. Despite his injuries and nature, he lived until the ripe age of 82.
At the start of his hockey career, Clancy played for the Ottawa Senators, his hometown team. He later joined the Maple Leafs, where he stayed until his retirement from the league. Clancy played 592 games during his career, with 137 goals, 150 assists, and 287 points. In 1936, he retired as the highest-scoring defenseman in the history of the NHL, and in 1958, he finally made the Hockey Hall of Fame. After a long career as a player and coach, Clancy died at the age of 84.
Like Morenz and Shore, Clancy was a fan-favorite who had no trouble drawing a crowd when he played. Also like Shore (his rival), Clancy had a reputation for being a tough guy who wouldn’t shy away from a fight — perhaps one of the reasons he is considered to be one of the best defensemen in early NHL history.
Players like Morenz, Shore, and Clancy all paved the way for the hockey greats of the last half of the century, from Gordie Howe, to Bobby Orr, to Wayne Gretzky, to Mario Lemieux. Their talent, attitude, and strength will never be forgotten as long as the NHL is around.
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