Jaroslav Bednar

A skilled center with decent size (6'0", 200lbs), Jaroslav Bednar was a star at home in Prague, Czech Republic and also in the Finnish elite league. Yet he never found his comfort zone in North America.

An overage draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2001 (2nd round, 51st overall), the Kings had hoped Bednar could step into their line-up immediately after watching him dominate for two seasons in Finland.

Considered to be a comparable player to Martin Rucinsky, some scouts figured he would make an easy transition because he played more of a North American game than many older European players at that time. Though he never initiated much in terms of physical play, he was strong along the boards and did not shy away from the dirty areas. He was a sleek skater and possessed a deadly wrist-shot. However he really struggled with his consistency and defensive commitments in North America.

In the first season and a bit Bednar played a lot with the Kings farm team. He played a total of 37 games for the Kings, scoring 4 goals and 11 assists for 15 points.

On November 26, 2002, Bednář, along with Andreas Lilja was traded to the Florida Panthers for Dmitri Yushkevich. Over the next two seasons Bednar played 65 games for Florida, scoring 6 goals and 14 assists for 20 points. Overall, Bednář played 102 regular season games, scoring 10 goals and 25 assists for 35 points.

Bednar returned to Europe before that 2003-04 season was over, joining Omsk of what is now known as the KHL. He would enjoy a long career back home in the Czech Republic and in Switzerland.



Sean O'Donnell

Often the retirement of journeymen players goes unnoticed. That was not the case for Sean O'Donnell.

Twitter came alive with goodbyes from fans and media alike. Many media members dedicated articles and blog posts to the grizzled veteran who scored only 31 goals in his entire career. He was universally referred to as "one of hockey's most popular players."

"O.D." truly was one of hockey's good guys. Every one of his many teammates would vouch for that. The media members always enjoyed his openness, honest and professionalism. Casual fans may not have even noticed Sean O'Donnell's work on the ice, which for a defensive defenseman is a huge compliment.

O'Donnell was a throw-back to a different era. There was a time when most defensemen played exactly like O'Donnell. Tough and physical. Defense first. Offense, more or less, left to others. He was always in good position, hit hard, blocked shots and, though he was never a great fighter, he always and fearlessly answered the bell. Sean O'Donnell was the ultimate team player.

In his own era Sean O'Donnell was unheralded and vastly underrated. In early eras he could have been a star. He worked tirelessly to improve his skating and mobility so that he could be the ideal #4 defenseman on a top team who spent a lot of time on the penalty kill unit.

O'Donnell skated in 1,224 regular-season NHL games for the Kings, Wild, Devils, Bruins, Coyotes, Ducks, Flyers and Blackhawks. He scored 31 goals, assisted on 198 and piled up 1,809 penalty minutes. He also played 106 playoff games and won a Stanley Cup with the 2007 Anaheim Ducks.

One of my favorite Sean O'Donnell stories came from his days in Anaheim. Teammate and all star defenseman Chris Pronger was, as always, swarmed by the media when O'Donnell interrupted the interview to jokingly tell him to talk about how much he enjoyed playing with his partner.

Pronger obviously did. It was at Pronger's recommendation that his new team, the Flyers, acquired O'Donnell late in his career. Larry Robinson also deliberately sought out O'Donnell's services when he was coaching in New Jersey. Rob Blake, Mattias Norstrom and Drew Doughty are among the many Kings' defensemen who raved about playing with O'Donnell.



Noah Clarke

Noah Clarke became the first native Southern Californian to play for and to score a goal for the Los Angeles Kings. The assists on that first NHL goal (March 12th, 2007) were credited to Dustin Brown and Jaroslav Modry, but, as reported at the time, the credit goes to Wayne Gretzky and the Anaheim Ducks.

Clarke, from La Verne, was the first Southern California-born player in the Kings' 40-year history. There had been, at that time, a total of  19 Southern Californians in the NHL.

"I think it's the Gretzky effect," former Kings player and manager Dave Taylor said. "It started when Wayne came here in the late 1980s. I mean, if you look at the number of rinks that we had then compared to today, I'd say we went from a handful of rinks to maybe 25 in the greater L.A. area. So that just means there's a lot more kids playing."

Clarke realizes the long odds he had to overcome to go from the beautiful beaches to the NHL.

"I remember going to pee wee and bantam tournaments and people kind of sneered and said, 'Aw, California kids can't play hockey.' It's still not a hotbed, but I think you see more and more California kids coming up now," Clarke said. "When the Mighty Ducks started out, all these rinks started popping up in Orange County. So it just led to more ice time for California kids to play."

Those odds did prove to be too big, ultimately. The Colorado College grad was drafted by the Kings 250th overall in 1999. He toiled in the minor leagues, appearing for NHL call ups totalling 21 career games (20 with LA, 1 with New Jersey) over six seasons before heading overseas to extend his career.



Steve Bozek

Steve Bozek entered the league as a high scoring rookie who quickly became one of the games better defensive forwards and penalty killers of the 1980s.

Bozek turned pro with the Kings after three high scoring season with Northern Michigan University. An All-American in 1981, Bozek skipped his last year of University in order to jump directly to the NHL.

Bozek made quite the impression in his first season with the Los Angeles Kings, who made him the 52nd overall draft pick in the 1980 Entry Draft. At the time the famous Triple Crown line was hurting as left winger Charlie Simmer missed much of the season with a broken leg. Coach Parker MacDonald placed the speedy but small Bozek on the left side of Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor.

"I got thrown together during training camp that year with Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor and it was almost like pond-hockey for me. Those two were at the peak of their careers and I just fed off them and was able to pick up my share of goals. Playing with Marcel and Davey is probably my biggest remembrance of breaking into the NHL with the Kings." remembers Bozek.

Steve exploded for 27 goals in his first 34 games, only bettered by a young Wayne Gretzky. Bozek's pace would have seen the rookie score 64 goals had he played the entire season with Dionne and Taylor.

"Subconsciously I was telling myself that this has got to end (the goals) but while it lasted it definitely was fun." says Bozek.

The goals did come to a screeching end once Charlie Simmer returned to the lineup and assumed his place on Dionne's and Taylor's left side. Bozek would only score 6 more goals the entire season. Steve ended his first NHL season with 33 goals establishing a new club record for rookies (since broken) breaking the old mark set by Mike Byers in 1970-71 (27).

Simmer's return coupled with another high scoring rookie called up half way through the season, Bernie Nicholls, forced Bozek to change his game. Because of his great speed and agility, the Kings, who could score but desperately needed players who were willing to sacrifice their offensive totals to help prevent goals against, asked Bozek to become a penalty killer and checker.

"During my first year in L.A. we went through a coaching change mid-way through with Don Perry replacing Parker. Despite the fact that I was scoring well the team had to tighten up defensively so my role became more expanded and I started killing penalties. As it turned out penalty killing became my forte throughout my career."

Bozek struggled through a injury plagued sophomore-jinx filled second season only scoring 13 goals and 13 assists in 53 games. It proved to be the final season in Los Angeles for Bozek, who in the summer would be traded to Calgary for Carl Mokasak and Kevin LaVallee.

Calgary at the time was building an offensive powerhouse to compete with their Albertan rivals from Edmonton. Bozek, however, wasn't brought in specifically for his offense, but rather because of his speed and checking abilities which would become unheralded in many Battles of Alberta. He enjoyed almost 6 full seasons in Calgary, and even managed his only other 20+ goal season in 1985-86 when he scored 21 goals in just 64 contests.

The Flames included Bozek in a late season trade package in 1988 which is often credited with giving the Flames their first Stanley Cup Championship. Bozek, who suffered a terrible injury plagued season, was a throw-in (though Flames GM Cliff Fletcher was very reluctant to part with him) with a hot Flames prospect named Brett Hull. The pair went to St. Louis in exchange for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley, both of whom would prove to be big parts of the 1989 Stanley Cup squad.

The Flames and Blues became favorite trading partners, as Fletcher liked to pick St. Louis Blues GM Ron Caron's pocket. A series of trades involving the two always seemed to end up in Calgary's favor. In the summer of 1988, the Flames went after Blues stalwarts Doug Gilmour and Mark Hunter and insisted Bozek be returned to the Flames (along with defensive prospect Michael Dark). The Flames gave the Blues Mike Bullard, Craig Coxe and Tim Corkey in return. Fletcher really appreciated Bozek's speed, intelligence, and work ethic.

However because of the Flames depth, they were forced to either trade Bozek or lose him in the pre-season waiver draft. The Flames would not be able to protect the speedster and ended up trading him along with long time (though injury prone) blueline star Paul Reinhart to Vancouver for a draft pick.

In Vancouver, Bozek mainly became a 4th line center, often centering the Canucks "Club Chaos" line with Rich Sutter and Stan Smyl. The trio was relentless in their persuit of the puck, and though all were small players (Bozek at 5'11" 180lbs was the biggest) they played a fearless style and became instant favorites in Vancouver. Local broadcaster Tom Larscheid often referred to the three as Hack, Smack and Whack, in no particular order!

Bozek, who was playing in his home province, enjoyed his three seasons with the Canucks, but in 1991-92 he left when he signed a 1 year contract as a free agent with the expansion San Jose Sharks. Bozek had a tough season in San Jose, scoring only 8 times in 58 games. As it turned out, it was Bozek's last season in the NHL.

Bozek continued to play hockey in Italy until 1993 when he retired and returned to school. This time Bozek went to Harvard and became a real estate entrepreneur.


Peter Ahola

Peter Ahola was determined to become a professional athlete. He was ranked as one of the top waterskiers in all of his native Finland. But Ahola knew that would not pay much, so he tried his luck with his other favorite sport - hockey.

The native of Espoo did not make it to the NHL the traditional way. He was one of the first European players to use the American college route to the National Hockey League. He played two seasons with Boston University (where his teammates included Tony Amonte, Joe Sacco and Keith Tkachuk) before the big defenseman signed on with the Los Angeles Kings as a afree agent in 1991.

Aside from 7 games in the minors, Ahola was a surprise rookie on the Kings team in 1991-92. Playing with Wayne Gretzky was undoubtedly a highlight of his career.

Ahola briefly had a chance to play with Mario Lemieux as he was traded to Pittsburgh early the following season. He would play just 22 games with the Pens. He went on to briefly play in San Jose and Calgary before returning home to Finland to play for several more seasons.



Ian Laperriere

Despite his average size, Ian Laperriere provided true grit. He was an obnoxious player who always - ALWAYS - battled hard for the puck. He had no fear - despite several scary injuries - and would pay any price to help his team.

"Lappy" was a very reliable defensive player, a good penalty killer and faceoff man, and, perhaps most notably, a great momentum changer. Every coach would love to have him on their bench. They could send him out at any time knowing he would go out and cause all sorts of mayhem with his physical, inspiring play.

“For me, it’s leading by example on and off the ice,” he says. “I think that’s the main thing.”

The example set by Laperriere makes a simple statement. Play hard and never get down. Not on yourself, not on your teammates.

“I’m a positive guy by nature and I just try to stay positive if things don’t go well,” Laperriere says. “When things don’t go well, there’s a tendency to be negative, but you’ve got to remember that you’re a team leader and you have stay positive.” 

“If things aren’t going well, I’ll try to get a big hit out there or try to get involved with someone. Kelly Buchberger does that too, he’s great at it. It’s part of our job, we’re grinders and we think it’s time, we’ll do it. You have more jump the next shift. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose the fight, it’s still an inspiration.” 

Laperriere, who fought often but rarely won, learned about inspirational leaders from the master, briefly playing along Mark Messier in New York. 

“He’s not afraid of challenging guys,” Laperriere says. “He’s a great leader. I wasn’t there for too long, maybe three months, but I could tell the presence he had in the locker room. He was leading by example, big time. I was 23-years-old and when you’re around someone like Mark Messier, you learn from him. I feel lucky I played with someone like him.” 

Another great leader Lappy learned from was Guy Carbonneau. 

“Carbo wasn’t a captain when I played with him in St. Louis, but he’s Guy Carbonneau,” Laperriere says succinctly. “He’s a leader by nature. Carbo had always been one of my heroes when I was young and I learned a lot from him.” 

Laperriere grew up idolizing Carbonneau and studied him well. You could see some of Carbo's game mannerisms, particularly in the face-off dot where he excelled.

If staying positive was a Laperriere trademark, the hockey gods sure tested him. Severe concussions. Brain contusion. Broken orbital bone. Slap shot to the mouth (losing 7 teeth). He broke his nose so many times that he vowed that there was no point in getting it fixed until he was done playing hockey, because he would likely just do it again.

Ian Laperriere never took the easy way out. He was won of hockey's hardest working warriors. Despite all of the injuries, Lappy played in nearly 1100 NHL games (over 16 seasons with 5 teams, most notably Los Angeles and Colorado), scoring 115 goals and 336 total points.

Even as he retired due to serious injury, Ian Laperriere kept a positive spin on things.

"I have no regrets and I had fun playing for 16 years. I left everything on the ice and I was lucky to always play in beautiful cities. I played my last game at age 36 and to be honest, I did not think a player like me could stay within the circuit as long.”



Vic Venasky

This Hollywood Hunk is Vic Venasky. He played with the Los Angeles Kings for 430 games between 1972 and 1979. He was named as the Kings' rookie of the year in 1972-73, and scored a career total of 61 goals and 162 points. He was a gentlemanly player who combined good hockey sense and a workmanlike effort. Injuries prevented him from achieving his true NHL potential.

Not bad for a guy who was a long shot to ever make it to the NHL. The Thunder Bay, Ontario native took an unconventional route to the NHL, at least unconventional at the time. After starring with Port Arthur in the Thunder Bay junior league, Venasky attended the University of Denver starting in 1970. It was very uncommon for NCAA players to make it to the NHL back then. Mind you, the University of Denver really pioneered all of that, also graduating Cliff Koroll and Keith Magnuson at the time.

Venasky dominated the NCAA scene in his first year of 1970-71. He impressed the Kings so much that they took him 34th overall in the 1971 NHL amateur draft.

Venasky was off to an even stronger season in 1971-72 before torn knee ligaments ended his season. It also ended his college career as Venasky left campus and turned pro after rehabilitating the knee.

After a respectable rookie season in 1972-73, Venasky was sidelined much of the next two seasons with serious groin injuries. Venasky overcame the injuries and played four full seasons starting in 1975. He had two strong seasons, challenging the 20 goal and 40 point mark, followed by two seasons where he scored a total of just 7 goals. His role with the team changed to much more of a defensive role than offensive.

Venasky was out of the NHL by the end of the 1979 season, and out of pro hockey by 1981. He always stayed involved in the game though, coaching youth hockey in California and operating his own hockey and figure skating store. He also worked as a compliance inspector with Los Angeles and Long Beach ports.

Vic is the brother in-law of former NHLer Mike Murphy. Gilles Marotte introduced Vic to Murphy's sister Connie.



Mattias Norstrom

Perhaps the most underrated player of his generation was long time Los Angeles Kings defenseman and captain Mattias Norstrom.

Strong on his skates, Norstrom was quietly one of the league's top defensive defensemen. He only scored 18 goals in a career that exceeded 900 NHL games, but he was undeniably a warrior who earned the respect of everyone in the NHL.

"He's the most underrated player in the League, bar none," said Jeremy Roenick. "He's tough as nails to play against. He never lets up. Physical? He's in your face every time you step anywhere near the Kings goal crease.

Luc Robitaille, both a teammate and foe, heaped tons of praise on Norstrom.

"I've got the welts to show that I've faced a lot of the toughest defensemen in my career," Robitaille observed. "To me, Matty is the ultimate warrior. He takes a beating and gives you a beating. There's no fear there.

"I remember back in 2001, when Matty and Peter Forsberg went toe-to-toe every shift for seven straight playoff games. It was a classic physical matchup. And when the series was over, the Avs advanced, but Forsberg wound up in the hospital with a ruptured spleen -- and it wasn't because of an illegal hit. Everyone was talking about two great competitors not wanting to give an inch to one another."

Norstrom was a physical specimen who sacrificed his body every night to help his team win. But it was heady understanding of the game that really allowed him to excel as a defender. He was a true throwback to the era of Tim Horton or Brad McCrimmon.


Ziggy Palffy

In terms of pure hockey talent, few can match the skill set of the Slovakian Sensation Ziggy Palffy.

Some nights he was downright brilliant. With a quick first step and shifty skating, he was deceptively fast. He would never win a head-to-head race but with great anticipation he could gain a well-timed step on most defenders.

More impressively he could handle the puck at top speed and through traffic as he danced his way into scoring position. He was an elite intellectual play with great vision. He was a true game breaker largely because he had the brash confidence to try moves that only the best players in the world could pull off.

He was a great playmaker, too. In fact, early in his career he was guilty of looking for the pass a little too much. But he developed a true sniper's mentality as he matured. He was a truly dynamic player. When Ziggy zagged, the crowd stood their feet.

Though he was short and slight, the long haired Palffy played with an edge that allowed him to thrive in NHL wars.

While all the previous kind words truly describe one of the best players of the dead-puck era, Ziggy Palffy had some consistency issues. It was suggested he coasted too often during games. He was all too willing to be a perimeter player at times, greatly reducing his effectiveness. It also greatly effected his team's performance, particularly in LA. The bench seemed to follow Palffy's lead. When he was playing with spirit and determination, the Kings followed in suit.

The 26th overall draft pick of the New York Islanders in 1991, Palffy did not come to North America until 1993-94. He really established himself as a Long Island fan favorite by 1995-96. He put together impressive seasons of 87, 90 and 87 points. After a injury shortened 1998-99 season the cash-strapped Islanders traded Palffy with Bryan Smolinski to the Los Angeles Kings for Olli Jokinen, Josh Green, Mathieu Biron, and a first round draft pick.

Palffy continued his all star show out west, starring on a line with fellow Slovak Josef Stumpel and Kings legend Luc Robitaille. He had 5 strong seasons in LA, though he was increasingly missing time with a nagging and chronic shoulder problem.

In 2005-06 Palffy moved on to Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins, signing a 3 year, $13.5 million dollar deal. But he shocked the hockey world when he retired half way through the season due to his bad shoulder.

Palffy completed his career with 329 goals and 384 assists for 713 points in 684 games over 12 NHL seasons, very impressive numbers for the "dead-puck era." Yet he was always over-shadowed by the likes of fellow right wingers like Jaromir Jagr, Teemu Selanne and Pavel Bure.

Palffy did return to hockey in 2007, playing three seasons in his native Slovakia. He was also part of Slovakia's 2010 Olympic team.


Bob Berry

Bob Berry got his first taste in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens, but will always be best known as a player as a member of the Los Angeles Kings. To another generation he will best be remembered as a long time coach.

A 20 year old Berry spent the 1963-64 season between the QJHL's Verdun Maple Leafs and the OHA's Peterborough Petes. As opposed to taking a shot at the pros, Berry, an intelligent student, opted to attend George Williams College where he also starred on the hockey team for 3 seasons. Upon graduation, he turned to the Quebec Senior League where he starred with the Hull Nationals.

The Montreal Canadiens secured his NHL rights a while back finallly Berry turned pro. He spent his first two seasons playing in the American Hockey League. He did see action in two games with the Habs in the 1968-69 season.

Well Berry will always cherish his two games wearing the CH, his best memories came in a LA Kings jersey. The Habs sold him to Los Angeles in 1970.

Berry went on to play 7 full seasons with the Kings. His most successful seasons came when he was paired with center Juha Widing and right winger Mike Corrigan. The trio, dubbed the Hot Line by LA media, were an essential cog in the Kings attack in the early 1970s. Berry recollected on his days on the Hot Line:

"All three of us provided some balanced scoring and with the other two centers, Bob Nevin and Butch Goring, contributing as well we were a tough opponent almost every night."

Berry was the best known of the three. He twice represented the LA Kings as their selection to play in the All Star game - in 1973 when he scored a career high 36 goals and 64 points, and in 1974 when he scored 56 points. In all, Berry scored 159 goals and 350 points in a purple and gold Kings jersey.

Berry enjoyed his time on the west coast:

"My NHL career was with the Los Angeles Kings and I'll always look back on those days with fondness. During my seven seasons we accomplished a lot of positives and in particular the 1974-75 season stands out. That season we had a great bunch of guys...a lot of guys from other organizations...Rogie Vachon, Terry Harper, Bob Murdoch, Dan Maloney, Bob Nevin and Mike Murphy. These were character players and with the coaching of Bob Pulford we put together a 105 point season (still a club record)."

One guy Berry had much respect for was Pulford.

"Playing for Bob Pulford was a great experience. He taught everyone the value of hard work and team work. We had nine players that season who played in every game, we were well balanced and all three lines were dangerous with the puck and had responsibilities from a defensive standpoint."

Following his playing days Berry turned to coaching. Berry has been a fixture behind the bench for many years, either as a head coach or an assistant.



Glenn Goldup

This is Glenn Goldup, the son of former NHL forward Hank Goldup.

Born in St. Catharines, Ont., he grew up in suburbs of Toronto. In fact, he grew up playing his youth hockey in the same Humber Valley minor hockey program that produced future NHL teammate Ken Dryden.

Glenn went on to play his junior hockey starring for the Toronto Marlboros and had 42 goals and 53 assists in 54 games in his final season.

"We won the Memorial Cup that year and that was the highlight of my career," he recalled "I think we lost only six or eight games all season. In the past the Marlies always had one strong line and played it to death, but George Armstrong was our coach, and he used all three lines on the power plays and to kill penalties, and it didn't matter if we were down three or four goals going into the final period, we were always confident that we could pull it out."

Goldup played on a line with Wayne Dillon and Mark Howe, which surpassed all the team scoring records previously set by the line of Steve Shutt, Billy Harris and Dave Gardner.

Goldup was a second-round draft pick of the Canadiens in 1973 and spent parts of three seasons with the team while also playing in the minors at Nova Scotia and Fort Worth. He helped Nova Scotia win the Calder Cup as AHL champions in 1976 - one of his proudest moments in his hockey career.

He played 291 games in the 1970s, mostly with the Los Angeles Kings even though he was originally a Montreal Canadiens prospect. Those 70s Montreal teams were very deep and Goldup could not get into the line up regularly. So the Habs traded Goldup and 1978 third-round pick (later traded) to Los Angeles for 1977 third-round pick (Moe Robinson) and 1978 first-round pick (Danny Geoffrion) in 1976.

"Playing in Los Angeles was a distraction at first," he said. "But once I got over all the hype I found it was a great situation because I didn't have to wear an overcoat and I didn't have to start my car 10 minutes early because of the cold."

Goldup retired from pro hockey in 1983. In 291 NHL games he scored 52 goals and 67 assists for 119 points. He retired and moved back to Toronto. He sold cars initially but later found success as an account executive for sports radio station Fan 590.



Luc Robitaille

"Cool Hand Luc" Robitaille is one of the most popular athletes on the Hollywood sports scene ever. However when the Los Angeles Kings made Robitaille their ninth round pick (171st pick overall) of the 1984 NHL Entry draft, they didn't expect much from the left winger. The Kings got a bit "lucky" themselves when "Lucky Luc" Robitaille's career blossomed following his draft year.

Robitaille would be returned to junior hockey for the following two seasons where he dominated with the Quebec league's Hull Olympiques. In his magnificent junior career, Luc played in 197 games recording 155 goals, 270 assists for 425 points! 191 of those points came in his final season with Hull, a season in which he was named the Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year.

Doubts of his skating ability still plagued him but he managed to shake that reputation in 1987 as he won the Calder trophy as the National Hockey League's best rookie, outdistancing Flyers rookie goalie Ron Hextall in voting. He also was named to the NHL Second All Star Team in just his first year, scoring 45 times and totaling 84 points.

Robitaille made up for any skating deficiencies with one of the most accurate shots in NHL history. He was a regular leader in shooting percentage, thanks to a number of reasons. He worked himself into high percentage scoring areas, often down low and in tight. Though a defender might have been draped all over him, he always kept his stick unchecked. He would release his shot in the blink of an eye, usually just burying passes and rebounds with no backswing at all.

There was no sophomore jinx for Lucky Luc, either, as he improved his performance in year 2 to 53 goals and 111 points and was named to the NHL's First All Star Team for the first of 4 times.

Robitaille's best season came in 1992-92 when he established NHL records for goals (63) and points (125) by a left winger and was named the Kings MVP as he elevated his game to the highest level as Wayne Gretzky missed half the season with a back injury. Robitaille also served as team captain during Gretzky's absence.

Robitaille, an under-noticed physical player, continued to be almost unquestioningly the league's best left winger for 8 seasons, consistently scoring goals. He scored at least 44 goals in 8 consecutive seasons (only Gretzky and Mike Bossy had better streaks), and also managed to shake his playoff jinx as he became a genuine playoff threat in 1992 with 12 goals in 12 games and in 1993 when he was a major part of the Kings "Cinderella" Cup run.

Just one year after coming so close to winning Lord Stanley's Grail, the Kings missed the playoffs. Robitaille played for Canada's national team at the 1994 World Championship in Italy. It was Robitaille who scored the gold medal winning goal in a shootout, giving Canada its first world championship in 33 years.

Back in Los Angeles changes were afoot following the disappointing playoff no-show. In the biggest trade of all, perhaps the most popular King of all time to Pittsburgh where he would join Mario Lemieux and the league's best collection of sharpshooters. However it wasn't meant to be in Pittsburgh. First Mario announced he wouldn't play that season to rest his ailing back, and then the NHL lock-out resulted in just a 48 game schedule. Luc managed 23 goals and 42 points, and despite scoring 7 times in 12 playoff games, he was dealt to the NY Rangers.

Robitaille's performance in the Big Apple dipped to average only 24 goals in his two seasons. Despite briefly being reunited with Wayne Gretzky, Robitaille wasn't used regularly because his style never really fit in with the Rangers. His lack of quickness was again becoming an issue as he got older.

At the beginning of the 1997 season, Luc was returned to the Los Angeles Kings where he is now a veteran counted on for leadership. With another injury riddled year, he scored only 16 times and many had written off Robitaille, which only proved to be a mistake.

Robitaille found his scoring touch again in 1998-99, lighting the lamp 39 times. He followed that up with seasons of 37 and 36 goals.

One of these goals stood out more than the others. He reached the 500-goal milestone in a game against the Buffalo Sabres on January 9, 1999. Only the sixth left winger in league history to reach the plateau, Robitaille scored the goal in his 928th NHL game, making him the 12th fastest ever to accomplish the feat.

In a surprise move, Robitaille became a un-restricted free agent and opted to sign with Detroit Red Wings in 2001. In his first season with the Wings, Robitaille registered 30 goals surpassing the 600-goal club and captured his first Stanley Cup and the Wings third cup in six years. Interestingly, with his day with the Stanley Cup, Robitaille brought the Cup back to Los Angeles, taking the trophy up into the hills by the famous "Hollywood" sign.

After two seasons and one Stanley Cup in Detroit, Robitaille was returned once again to the Los Angeles Kings for his third stint with the club in the summer of 2003. Luc Robitaille played his last game on April 17, 2006 with the Los Angeles Kings after 19 seasons of NHL competition.

With 557 of his 668 career NHL goals coming in a Los Angeles uniform he retired as the Kings all time leading goal scorer. He later became the fifth King to have his jersey #20 retired, joining Gretzky, Rogie Vachon, Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor.

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Charlie Simmer

It took him a few seasons, but by 1979-80 Charlie Simmer had established himself as one of the most prolific scorers of his time.

Then tragedy struck.

Despite scoring 45 goals and 99 points in his only season of major junior hockey with the Soo Greyhounds, "Chaz" wasn't drafted until 39th overall in 1974. The California Golden Seals selected him in the 4th round.

Simmer never got untracked in California or Cleveland (the Seals moved to Ohio in 1976). He was released and signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings, the team where he would become famous.

It wasn't an instant hit though. Simmer spent a year and a half in the minors. In fact he almost quit hockey altogether before finally catching on with the Kings full time in 1978-79. He finished the year with a very impressive 21 goals and 48 points in 38 games.

Moved to the left wing, Simmer was a perfect match on a line with Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor. The trio were quickly dubbed the Triple Crown line - one of the most famous units in hockey history.

For those who didn't notice Simmer's late season exploits, Simmer continued his excellence in the following season, leading the league in goal scoring with 56 goals. He added 45 assists for 101 points in just 64 games. He set the modern day NHL record with goals in 13 consecutive games.

In 1980-81, Simmer and New York Islanders superstar Mike Bossy both chased down Maurice "Rocket" Richard's legendary mark of 50 goals in 50 games. Bossy equaled the record, but Simmer fell just short. Simmer scored a hat trick in the 50th game of the year, but fell one shy with 49 goals in 50 games. He ended up with just 7 more goals, as he was limited to just 65 games.

A terrible injury ended Simmer's dream season on March 2, 1981. During a game in Toronto, Simmer's right leg was shattered. He didn't skate again until late November. His damaged leg was held together by a metal plate and nine screws.

Simmer's 1981-82 season was a tough one. He spent most of the year learning to play with his bad leg. He got into 50 games, scoring 15 times. Much of his ice time was limited to spot duty and power play shifts. By the playoffs he was regaining his old form, scoring 4 goals and 11 points in 10 games.

"I had to start out early with spot duty and power play shifts. And the biggest thing was to develop confidence that I could depend on the leg. You've got to be able to play without even thinking about it."

Simmer did learn to trust his leg, and also regained his speed. He wasn't a speedy player by any means, but for a man of his size, he had a surprising, powerful burst in his stride.

Simmer returned to a point a game form in 1982-83, scoring 80 points in a full 80 games. However only 29 of those points were goals. While he played his first full healthy season, the goal scoring machine seemed to be missing some of its potent cogs.

Simmer was able to return to his goal scoring form in 1983-84. He scored 44 times in 79 games, while adding 48 assists for 92 points. Most of his goals, as always, were garbage goals. He had a powerful wrist shot and fired the puck from anywhere, but like Tim Kerr he learned he was immovable in front of the net and a scoring machine in the slot.

Following an ugly contract dispute, the Kings traded Charlie to Boston after just 5 games in 1984-85. In Boston Charlie put together some nice seasons. He scored 34 goals his first year. In 1985-86 he was having one of his best seasons ever, but as usual he saw it ended by injury. Simmer got into only 55 games, but scored 36 goals.

Simmer appeared in all 80 games in '86-87, scoring 29 goals and 69 points. He spent one more year in the NHL, with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He bowed out quietly, scoring just 11 goals in 50 games with Mario Lemieux and company.

Simmer spent the 1988-89 season getting hockey out of his system by playing in Germany. He later returned to North America, playing in parts of two seasons with the IHL's San Diego Gulls.

Simmer was a two time NHL All Star, and was also given the Bill Masterton trophy in 1986 for his dedication to the game. Despite so many injuries, Charlie always battled back.


Marcel Dionne

Many of today's superstars of the professional sports world complain about a lack of privacy. The demands on their time because they are famous and worshipped by millions is probably the worst aspect of the life of a pro athlete.

Rarely does a superstar slip through the cracks of prestige and recognition as inconspicuously as Marcel Dionne.

Dionne finished his career ranked as the third highest scorer of all time with 731 goals, 1040 assists and 1771 points in 1348 games. Only Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe amassed more impressive totals at the time.

In fact, of all the greats to grace the ice, Dionne ranks as the highest scoring French Canadian of all time. Not Guy Lafleur or Rocket Richard or Jean Beliveau or Mario Lemieux. Marcel Dionne outscored them all.

Yet when fans endlessly debate who is the greatest player of all time, Marcel's name hardly ever gets as much as a whisper. In the recent "Top 50 NHL Players of All Time" issue of the Hockey News, the third highest scorer in NHL history was ranked only 38th.

Why is Dionne under-appreciated? For one, he spent most of his career in Los Angeles when hockey was little more than an a passing thought in the sunbelt of the United States.

Another reason is despite all of his spectacular scoring displays, he has very little in terms of trophies in his display case. He was overshadowed first by the powerful Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s, and then by Wayne Gretzky in the 1980s.

Probably the biggest reason why Dionne gets very little acknowledgment as one of the game's greatest is because his own team never really achieved much in terms of team success. Dionne appeared in the Stanley Cup playoffs in only 9 of his 18 years, never once getting close to appearing in the Stanley Cup finals. He appeared in 49 games and managed 45 points. This lack of Stanley Cup success often equates to a diminished status when discussing the greatest ever.

Marcel Dionne was perhaps the first great French Canadian not to play for Montreal. Back then it was considered destiny for a high scoring French Canadian to play for the Habs. However the fates never allowed Dionne to fulfill his destiny. The 1971 draft was quite the mini-drama in itself as Montreal acquired the 1st overall pick, and were faced with the tough decision of selecting two French Canadian scoring stars - Dionne or Guy Lafleur.

The Habs selected Lafleur, who initially struggled. Meanwhile Dionne went #2 to Detroit where he set the league on fire. Dionne, who was immediately dubbed "Little Beaver" because of his uncanny resemblance to a midget wrestler who used the stage name, set NHL rookie scoring records (since broken) and in fact scored 366 points in his first four seasons, more points in a four year period than any other player in history to that point.

Unfortunately he and the Wings had their differences, and after refusing to sign a contract he found the Los Angeles Kings were willing to pay $300,000 a season. That was the richest deal in hockey history to that point. A trade was worked out, and Dionne headed west.

Dionne instantly became the Kings shining jewel. Soon he would center one of the greatest lines in hockey history: the Triple Crown line with Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer. His play on the ice was regal, winning the Art Ross and Lady Byng trophies.

Though Dionne's scoring prowess continued to impress on the California coast, he played in seemingly uninterrupted obscurity. Meanwhile Lafleur found his game, and was leading the Montreal Canadiens to multiple Stanley Cups.

Dionne would continue to play in Los Angeles until late 1987, when he accepted a trade to the New York Rangers. Dionne left, and continues to be, the Los Angeles Kings all time leading scorer. The Kings also retired his #16.

Dionne finished his career with the New York Rangers. Though he enjoyed his time on Broadway, his career came to a surprising end in the minor leagues. After being a healthy scratch many times in 1989, Dionne pushed for a minor league re-assignment, just wanting to play the game he loved. He would return to New York state and make it is home, opening up a dry cleaning business as well as promoting his own line of memorabilia.

Despite being one of the most prolific scorers in history, Dionne doesn't seem to get his due. Perhaps that's because he played in Los Angeles and never got the media attention he deserved. He never really played with a good team, as he was never part of a good playoff run or a Stanley Cup victory.

He is however, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest hockey players of all time.



Mike Byers

Mike Byers was one of thousands of journeymen players in NHL history. Not too many of his 170 NHL or 291 WHA games were spectacular by any definition, but he did his job as well as anybody else.

Mike had a five year junior career for the Toronto Marlboros between 1962-67, where he won the Memorial Cup in 1967. He wasn't a big scorer but more of a streaky scorer. He had three four goal games and showed flashes of great hockey.

Mike was an effortless skater with a good burst of speed. He also had a very hard shot but for some reason didn't shoot enough. He played parts of two seasons for Toronto but mostly played in the minors. In 1969 he was traded to Philadelphia but only played 5 games for them late in the season. Mike didn't crack the Flyers lineup the following season (1969-70) and spent the entire season with the Quebec Aces (AHL).

Philadelphia lost their patience with Byers and shipped him to Los Angeles on May 21, 1970. He immediately caught on in LA and scored a fine 27 goals, leading the team, and 45 points, figures that he would never match again on this level. He played on the "Bee Line" together with Bob Berry and Juha Widing. They combined for 173 points and played very solidly. Mike himself had six two goal games and scored against every NHL team. During that season many observers ranked Mike as having one of the best backhanded shots in the league.

The next season Mike came struggling out of the gate and only scored 9 points in the first 28 games for Los Angeles. He was promptly traded to Buffalo. He finished the season in Buffalo and scored 16 points in 46 games and actually played on a line together with Rick Martin and Gilbert Perreault for a brief period. Unfortunately Mike and Sabres coach Joe Crozier didn't get along very well.

"I loved Punch Imlach, both as a coach and general manager," said Mike, "But I didn't have a lot of respect for Joe Crozier, who was coaching the Sabres at the time (1972). I never saw eye-to-eye with Joe. And what I was looking to in Buffalo was a full year with Joe as coach. I just didn't see a lot of positive things by staying in Buffalo. So I jumped."

Mike jumped to the newly started rival league WHA. He had been selected by the Los Angeles Sharks in the 1972 WHA general player draft on February 12, 1972. Unfortunately for Mike there wasn't much to cheer about in LA.

"I wasn't really impressed with their management (LA Sharks) right from the beginning," recalled Mike. " I found out later that many of the people who ran the Sharks had never been involved with hockey before. I found out very quickly, their practice session times were scheduled very poorly. So were their travel schedules. And their philosophy was to put out a team on the ice that would be like the Broad Street Bullies in Philadelphia. The best thing that ever happened to me as a member of the Sharks was the day they traded me to the Whalers. It was like going from rags to riches."

After 56 games in Los Angeles (19 goals, 36 points) Mike was traded to the New England Whalers for Mike Hyndman. He scored another 6 goals for New England that season, finishing with a respectable 25 goals. The following two seasons Mike scored 29 goals, 50 points and 22 goals, 48 points for New England.

Mike was then signed as a free agent by Cincinnati early in 1976. He played there briefly before playing his last season in 1976-77 for the Rochester Americans (AHL).

Mike retired and moved to Los Angeles where he became a senior vice-president for a bank and investment company.

In 166 NHL games, he had 42 goals and 34 assists. In 263 WHA games, he had 83 goals and 74 assists.


Darryl Sydor

Darryl Sydor was a great junior player in Kamloops (where he patrolled the blue line with Scott Niedermayer). He showed a lot of offensive promise, and when he joined Wayne Gretzky's Los Angeles Kings to start his career in 1991 I kept a close eye on him.

And he went on to a great career. The two-time Stanley Cup champion (Dallas 1999 and Tampa Bay 2004) and had 507 points (98+409) in 1,291 career NHL games.He added another 9 goals and 56 points in 155 Stanley Cup playoff games.

He was such a great skater, blessed with balance and agility and amazing lateral movement. He accelerated well and jumped into the attack smartly. He made strong outlet passes and could rush the puck out of the zone, though usually just to the center line to dump it in.

Sydor did emerge into a very solid two way defender, especially in Dallas, but in Los Angeles, like most young defensemen, he needed some sheltering as he needed time to mature physical and defensively.

Though he challenged the 50 point mark a few times in Dallas, Sydor will not be remembered as a top offensive defenseman but as a really solid, all around blue liner who offered a little of everything to his team.

Sydor, who also had stints in Columbus, Tampa, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, is quick to credit his mentors for his longevity in the NHL.

“I have been able to learn under players like Charlie Huddy, Craig Ludwig, Guy Carbonneau and Mike Keane,” he said. “I learned from Charlie in LA and these other guys in Dallas where I took a lot of learning experiences from and then I’ve been thrown into some situations where I have been able to take my game to the next level. Now, being an experienced defenseman, you’re relied on a lot more in important situations.”



Jay Wells

Jay Wells was a junior standout with the Kingston Canadiens from 1976 through 1979. It wasn't flashy skill or scoring exploits that made him the 16th overall draft pick in the NHL's deepest amateur draft (1979) but rather his reputation as a mean and aggressive defenseman. Jay was able to work on that reputation throughout almost 1100 NHL games.

Jay was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings, and he would apply his trade for 9 seasons in the warm California sunshine. During the 1980s the Kings weren't exactly setting the league on fire, and often solid players like Wells weren't given much attention. But he became a coveted defenseman by all teams in the NHL. Often other teams would inquire about Well's availability, but the Kings were smart to hang on to their leader.

Every team in the NHL wanted Jay because he was one of the best in the entire circuit at clearing the front of the net. He was an excellent body checker, and a willing fighter. Jay was also recognized as one of the better shot blocking defensemen. It was said the only things stronger than his arms and legs were his work ethic and character. While he didn't possess great offensive skills, he had decent agility and usually made an intelligent clearing pass to get the Kings out of trouble in their own zone. He was at his best when he played within his limits and didn't over extend himself.

After 9 years in Los Angeles, Jay was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1988. That trade happened only a month or so after the Kings had acquired Wayne Gretzky. While it was disappointing for Jay not to get a chance to play with Wayne, he brought his hard working style to the more physical east coast and settled in nicely.

Jay would spend 2 seasons in Philly before a late trade in March 1990 took him to Buffalo. The veteran experience Jay brought to the Sabres was his biggest asset at this stage of his career. He continued to play his rock-hard style of hockey, but struggled with injuries. He played in just 85 games over parts of three seasons in Buffalo. Lat in the 1991-92 season was traded to the New York Rangers for a similar defenseman in Randy Moller.

Jay enjoyed his time in New York. He spent 4 seasons there, none more memorable than the 1993-94 season. Jay played in 79 games games that season, his first fully healthy season in 7 seasons. He also participated in 23 playoff games as the New York Rangers battled the Vancouver Canucks in a memorable battle for the Stanley Cup. The Rangers ultimately won the championship. For Jay, like all hockey players, it was the highlight of his career. All the years of blood, sweat and injuries finally were rewarded for Jay and his Rangers teammates. When Jay had his opportunity to lift the Cup above his head, he said "I had no idea what to do with it."

Jay continued to play in the NHL until 1997, with stops in St. Louis and Tampa Bay, before he opted to step off the ice and behind the bench.

He played in 1098 NHL games, scoring 47 goals and 263 points, while earning 2359 minutes in the penalty box. He is one of hockey's true warriors, and deserves to be remembered as such.



Robb Stauber

Robb "Rusty" Stauber was born in Duluth, Minnesota. It was in Minnesota where Robb emerged as an NHL prospect. After he graduated from high school he went on to the University of Minnesota where he set school records for career games played, minutes played and wins by a goaltender. His highlight of his amateur career came in 1987-88. Based on a 34-100 season with 5 shutouts and a 2.72 goals against average, Robb became the first goaltender to win the Hobey Baker award as the top player in United States college hockey!

Robb, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings 107th overall back in 1986, turned professional in 1989. He would appear in 2 games with the Kings in 1989-90. Otherwise Robb was buried in the minor leagues until 1992-93.

In that season Robb emerged as an NHL story. The rookie went undefeated in his first 10 starts that season (9-0-1), including a 7 game consecutive winning streak. Robb, who was Kelly Hrudey's back up that season, ended with a 15-8-4 record, and posted another 3 big wins in 4 playoff games as he helped Wayne Gretzky and the Kings go all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. Robb calls that moment his greatest in his hockey career.

Robb's fortunes went downhill quickly the following season, as did the Kings'. Robb struggled through a 4-11-5 season. He did pick up his first and only NHL shutout in a rare 0-0 tie against Dallas.

The Buffalo Sabres were hoping to resurrect Robb's career when they acquired him during the lockout shortened season of 1994-95. Robb was involved in the huge trade which saw Robb, Alexei Zhitnik, Charlie Huddy and a draft pick come to Buffalo in exchange for Phillippe Boucher, Denis Tsygurov and Grant Fuhr. Robb played in 6 games for the Sabres in the 48 game condensed schedule. However because of the emergence of Dominik Hasek, Robb rarely got a chance to play.

That proved to be Robb's final season in the NHL. He played the 1995-96 season with the Sabres farm team in Rochester, where the highlight of his season was when he scored a goal on October 9, 1995. He would sign with the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers over the following 2 seasons, but spent the entire seasons in the minor leagues. He rounded out his career with a short stint with the independant Manitoba Moose.

Upon retirement, Robb returned to Minnesota where he is a goaltending consultant at his old stomping grounds at the University of Minnesota. He also invented the Staubar Trainer which is a device goalies wear in practice which restricts the goalies ability to rely on reflexes or athleticism with the idea being forces the goalie to learn the fundamentals of playing angles and using the bulk of his body to get in the way of the puck.



Randy Holt

Randy Holt was a mad man of the ice. He still holds the record for most penalty minutes (67) assessed in a single game. Angered by a cheap shot by Philadelphia's Ken Linseman, Randy set off on a rampage that ignited a bench clearing brawl.

Thanks to YouTube, here's the footage of that record breaking night:

In total that game (actually, it was all just in the first period!) Holt was assessed a record 9 penalties - one minor, three majors, two 10-minute misconducts and three game misconducts. That all totaled to 67 PIMs - the only player to be assessed more PIMs than there are actually minutes in a game!

Not surprisngly, Holt was also suspended for three games.

In 395 NHL games, Holt scored just 4 goals and 37 assists, and amassed 1,438 penalty minutes. The 1970s was hockey's goon era, and Randy's reputation kept him in the league.

After leaving the ice Holt went into the car sales business. He also had a couple of unfortunate car accidents, including being hit by a truck while walking at an intersection. That injury resulted in severe head trauma.



Rick Knickle

Patience, patience, patience....It took Rick 14-years of minor league hockey before he saw his first NHL action. He had played for 12 different pro teams before finally being called up by the Los Angeles Kings late during the 1992-93 season.

Why did it take such a long time for Rick before he finally got his chance to play in the NHL? Probably because of bad timing. Rick had a stellar career in the juniors while playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL). During his three years there (1977-80) Rick was 71-22-16 with a 3.83 GAA and was a 1st team All-Star in 1979. Compared to his successor in Brandon, Ron Hextall who had a 54-54-2 record and a 5.16 GAA one would think that it was Rick who would have the advantage. But it was Hextall who got the lucky break, not Rick.

Rick made a career of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was drafted 116th overall in 1979 by Buffalo and was sent down to Rochester (AHL). There he shared the goaltending duties with veteran Phil Myre, who got the callup when there were injuries. The other one who used to get called up was Jacques Cloutier, drafted the same year as Rick (55th overall). Buffalo at that time had Don Edwards, Tom Barrasso and Bob Sauve. On top of that Barrasso won the Vezina trophy in 1984-85, so their goalkeeping was stellar.

In the meantime Ron Hextall who had a much worse junior career was playing in Philadelphia He got the chance mainly due to Pelle Lindbergh's tragic death. Reducing the depth chart on the Flyers team considerably and giving him the break he needed.

Rick admitted that he was pretty bitter about his situation at one time.

"I felt I wasn't getting a fair shake, but as I was getting older I went to the rink in a better frame of mind."

Rick didn't blame anybody for failing to make the Sabres team.

"I didn't play the way I was capable of playing. In junior I was playing 50 games, I was always the No 1 goalie. It's a whole different situation, when you're a young kid, to deal with not playing as much. If I could go back there and have the same frame of mind as I do right now, it'd be a lot different." Rick said.

After Rick's contract with Buffalo expired he signed with Montreal (February 8,1985). Once again Rick came to a team stacked with good goaltenders. Montreal had a certain Patrick Roy. As well as Steve Penney. When Penney was traded for Brian Hayward, it was time for Rick to move again.

"I never got the chance to show that I could play in Montreal. I never got a chance to play in the odd game, to get someone to say, 'Hey, he can play, let's re-evaluate things.' Every year with Montreal when I went to training camp, they sent me right down. I'm not a training-camp goalie. I never have been. You know, that shouldn't hold a lot of water. Sometimes it takes you a while to get into a groove. I think I'm the type of goalie (who), the more you see me, the more I play, the better I get," Rick said.

Rick was a typical stand-up goalie with good reflexes. His biggest weakness was probably that he didn't challenge the shooters enough. Rick didn't just play in the AHL but spend most of the time in the IHL (15 seasons). He was a four time All-Star in the IHL (two 1st and two 2nd team selections). Rick also won the James Norris memorial trophy (fewest goals against in the IHL) in 1989 & 93.

Patience however pays off. As a property of Los Angeles Kings,Rick got the callup to the NHL for the first time as a 33-year old in 1993 as some of the Los Angeles goalies went down with injuries. Rick played 10 games for LA,doing pretty well as he won 6 games, posting a 3.95 GAA. The following season (1993-94) Rick played 4 games for LA with a 3.10 GAA.

That was it for him in terms of NHL action,but at least he got there after so many years. Had he gotpicked by another team then he might very well have had a pretty good NHL career. After Rick's final NHL appearance in 1994, he played another couple of seasons in the IHL before retiring as a 37-year old in 1997.



Dennis Abgrall

Dennis Abgrall of Moosomin, Saskatchewan was a star right winger with the Saskatoon Blades in the early 1970s. That helped him get drafted by both the Los Angeles Kings (70th overall in 1973) and the Los Angeles Blades of the WHA (1972 general player draft). But a Hollywood career was not in the cards for young Abgrall.

Abgrall initially followed his dream and was devoted to making the National Hockey League. He signed with Kings and reported to their farm team for two years. He even got called up for 13 games during the 1975-76 seasons, picking up 2 assists.

Sensing his future with the Kings was perhaps not what he had hoped for, Abgrall jumped at the chance to sign with the WHA's Cincinnati Stingers, the team that absorbed his WHA rights after the LA Sharks went belly up. He enjoyed two years of big league hockey in the WHA, and he also enjoyed the sizeable pay increase.

When the WHA folded Abgrall headed overseas, playing for teams in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.



Skip Krake

A sensational junior star with the Estevan Bruins, North Battleford, Saskatchewan's Skip Krake (he was born at tiny Rabbit Lake) was a solid utility player for three NHL teams between 1963-64 and 1970-71, and with 2 WHA teams until 1976. The diminutive Krake was too small to be an offensive star in the NHL, but made a good career for himself by specializing as a strong defensive center.

Having grown up in the Boston Bruins system, Krake was disappointed to leave Estevan and head to the minor leagues. But he gained valuable experience by playing with Minneapolis and Oklahoma City in the CHL. He also participated in 19 games over 4 seasons with the Bruins.

By 1967-68 Krake finally made the Bruins, thanks largely to NHL expansion. The NHL doubled in size from six to twelve teams. Krake was not selected by an expansion team, but was able to move up and fill a hole on the Bruins roster created by players who did depart. Krake played in 68 games, scoring 5 goals and 12 points in limited ice time..

On May 20, 1968, the Bruins traded Krake to the L.A. for a first round draft choice that was used to claim a high-scoring junior winger named Reggie Leach. Krake split the 1968-69 season between the Kings and Springfield of the AHL, but was a full time NHLer by the 1969-70 season.

Krake's time in the Californian sunshine came to an end when he was claimed by the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL Expansion Draft of 1970. Krake played admirably in 74 games in their inaugural season, scoring 4 goals and 9 points.

The Sabres were looking to free up roster space for younger players the following year, so Krake searched for work in the professional WHL with Salt Lake in 1971-72. He then moved to Cleveland for 3 seasons, playing with the WHA crusaders before one final season with the WHA Edmonton Oilers.

After scoring 51 points in 53 games as the captain of the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, Krake was selected by the Cleveland Crusaders in the WHA General Player Draft. He played three seasons in Cleveland and one with the Edmonton Oilers before retiring in 1976.

After retiring Krake moved to Lloydminister, Saskatchewan where he has been involved in several retail operations, including a sporting goods store and Fountain Tire franchise.



Denis Tsygurov

Denis Tsygurov, born in Chelyabinsk, Russia on February 26th, 1971, was once a highly praised prospect in the Buffalo Sabres organization. Unfortunately he was never able to fulfill that promise.

Denis, the son of Russian hockey coach Genady Tsygurov, was the Buffalo Sabres first selection in the 1993 NHL entry draft, however the pick came in the second round, 38th overall. Regardless, Denis was much touted by the Sabres. They raved about his size - 6'3" and 200 pounds - plus his mobility. He was regarded as more of a defensive defenseman, but had good enough puck skills to start a rush.

Injuries would wreak havoc on the promising career of this Russian defenseman however. In his first year in North American he got into only 32 games total - and only 8 in the NHL. He would make the Sabres straight out of training camp during the lockout shortened 1994-95 season, but only 4 games into the season he found himself traded to the Los Angeles Kings in a huge trade. Denis accompanied Phillippe Boucher and Grant Fuhr to California in exchange for Alexei Zhitnik, Charlie Huddy, Robb Stauber and a draft pick. Denis would finish the season with the Kings, but only got into 21 games thanks to nagging injuries. Denis failed to register a point in that time.

Injuries continued to plague Denis in 1995-96. He only played in 18 games with the Kings (scoring his only NHL goal plus 5 assists) but spent as much time in the minor leagues. By the end of the year he returned to his native Russia.

Denis spent the 1996-97 season in Europe, splitting the season between Russia and the Czech Republic. He attempted a comeback to North American hockey in 1997-98 with 15 games with the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the fledgling International Hockey League. However that venture proved to be unfruitful. He spent the rest of the season in Finland.

Although his NHL days were well behind him, Denis continued to play in Russia until the next century.

Denis played a total of 51 games in the NHL, scoring 1 goal and 5 assists.



Victor Netchaev

"Victor who?" you are probably ask yourself right about now.

But Victor Netchaev is the answer to the popular trivia question "who was the first Soviet trained player to play in the National Hockey League?"

Nice job if you thought it was Sergei Priakhin, who was the first Soviet trained player who was given permission to play in the NHL, but Mr. Netchaev actually him beat by 7 years.

Netchaev, a center, only played in 3 NHL games during his career, so it is easy to see how he is barely a footnote in history. These three games went to the history books though, because Victor was the first Soviet trained player to appear in the NHL, as well as the first to score a goal.

European hockey history expert Patrick Houda tells us more.

"Victor made his North American debut as a 27-year old in 1982 for New Haven in the AHL. He was off to a fast start in New Haven and scored 1 goal and 5 points in his first 4 games there. It was his 1 goal and 2 assist performance in a game vs. Adirondack that gave him the call up to Los Angeles Kings.

The historic date for his NHL debut was October 16, 1982 when he appeared in a Los Angeles Kings uniform. The game was vs. the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

"Netchaev was put on a line together with Daryl Evans and Steve Bozek. Kings lost the game 4-1 and Victor was held pointless in the game, but his performance was solid."

"The next night at Madison Square Garden, Victor beat Rangers goalie Steve Weeks 17:15 into the 1st period to make it 3-0 Los Angeles. His goal came on an assist by Daryl Evans and was the first ever goal in the NHL by a Russian trained player. Los Angeles went on to win 4-2 and Victor was one of the best players on the ice, having 5 shots on goal and being +1," says Houda.

"He only played sparingly in his third and last NHL game and was then sent down back to New Haven for conditioning purposes, as GM George Maguire put it."

Victor's son Greg offers more input on his father's career:

"My father was actually offered a contract by the Kings for 2 years plus one option. But he did not want to stay with the Kings for 2 years for fear of being moved down to the minor league. He actually just wanted a shorter term of time which would eliminate the probability of going down to the minor because of age (27).

"The third "game" (that he played in) at Forum, in Los Angeles against the New Jersey Devils, was the beginning of "North American" negotiations for a contract. During these negotiations he was stripped of his gear, forbidden to see, play, or practice with his team, and was almost metaphorically "jailed" for almost a month. "

"Being from the USSR, he was totally shocked by the lack of care or respect or even understanding of the needs of the player himself in the pro sports here. It seemed to him that money was first and this whole dilemma had nothing to do with the sport anymore. He also said that "It was very hard to work with the manager (George Maguire)."

Although Netchaev had NHL offers from other teams (New York Rangers, Hartford Whalers), he opted to briefly play in West Germany with Dusseldorf.

But how did Netchaev escape the Soviet Union and come to play in the NHL? Houda gives us a look into Netchaev's background.

"He was born in Kuibyshevka-Vostochnaya in Siberia, Russia on January 28, 1955. He made his debut in the Russian elite league as a 17-year old for Spartak and had 16 p oints (8 goals + 8 assists) in 20 games.

"The next season (1974-75) he played in the 2nd division for his home team Siberia where he had a fine season with 20 goals (32 points) in 56 games. After that he got picked by SKA Leningrad in the Russian elite league where he played  between 1975-80. During the 1980-81 season he split his time in two 2nd division clubs, Binokor and Izhstal where he scored 40 points (26 goals and 14 assists) in 40 games.

"That was Victor's last season in Russia. He met an American woman who he married and moved to USA, which made him miss the entire 1981-82 season."

The American woman with whom he fell in love with was Cheryl Haigler, a Yale graduate student studying abroad in Leningrad. They actually met in Switzerland in 1977, when Netchaev was playing in the Spengler Cup. They married in 1980 but she was forced to return to the United States because her visa expired shortly after the wedding. She took a job in Boston with an accounting firm, and began the two year legal process of freeing Netchaev to come to America.

The Kings got word of his arrival in America, and even though he was far from a top Soviet player they were immediately interested. He got drafted in 1982 by Los Angeles in the 7th round, 132nd overall.

What has Netchaev been up to since hanging up the blades. Son Greg fills us in on that:

" Since he left the ice, he was doing numerous things involving entertainment, managing, local television programs and radio. Then, starting from 1991, he began working as a manager and director of development of players with his partner Serge Levin in ARTV Sports Management. From 1992-94 he was also the assistant coach and international scout of the Milwaukee Admirals. He still works in ARTV Sports Management as his main business."

Victor scored 137 goals and 234 points in 328 Russian league games and 4 goals and 11 points in 28 AHL games.

His NHL stats were nothing too impressive with 1 goal in 3 games, with a +1 rating and 7 shots on goal. But it was that first game and first goal that today is the trivia question. Who was the first Soviet trained player to score a goal in the NHL ? Not Fetisov, not Makarov, not Mogilny, not Bure, but a guy from Siberia named Victor Netchaev.



Brian Smith

The hockey world was shocked by the violent death of former Kings and North Stars left wing Brian Smith on August 2, 1996.

A popular television sportscaster for CJOH-TV in Ottawa, Smith was shot in the head in the parking lot outside his station following his sportscast July 31st, 1996. Police said that a 38-year old man was responsible for the shooting and that apparently the suspect was angry at members of the media and wished to cause harm to a media personality.

After 90 minute surgery Smith died on August 2 at Ottawa Civic Hospital. Brian was just 54 years old.

Brian's NHL career began with the Kings during the club's inaugural season, 1967-68. During the 67-68 campaign he played 58 games for the Kings recording 10 goals and 9 assists for 19 points. The following year he was dealt to Montreal and then Minnesota, where he played 9 more NHL games. He played a total of 10 years as a pro with nine teams, mostly in the minor leagues.

Brian had been employed at CJOH since 1973, the year after he retired from hockey. He was highly respected for his straight-talking, low-key style.

Brian came from a prominent local hockey family. His father, Des, was a member of the 1940-41 Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and his brother, Gary, was an NHL goaltender for 14 seasons with eight different teams earning him the nickname, "Suitcase Smith." 


Brandy Semchuk

Brandy Semchuk enjoyed a lengthy career in the minor leagues because he could skate effortlessly. Too bad that's about all he could do. Semchuk never showed much offensive promise until he reached the lowly WPHL and WCHL some seven years after turning professional. Semchuk was a blazing skater used primarily in defensive and penalty killing situations through out most of his career.

Semchuk was drafted high, 28th overall by Los Angeles in 1990. This was due largely to his breakaway speed and the fact that he trained for two seasons with the Canadian National team as opposed to junior hockey. With the Nats he trained under Dave King, one of the top defensive teachers in all of hockey. However he left the program with lower back and groin injuries that nagged him for years.

The Kings gambled on him by taking him so early. He was an interesting prospect at the time - a young player who was very solid defensively and with great speed are two things often lacking in players that age. But Semchuk lacked an offensive element. As a result, he only played in 1 NHL game, against the Calgary Flames. While he scored no points, he did get on the stats sheet by taking a minor penalty.

After his minor league season was over in 1993, he was one of the Kings' minor league players asked to skate and practice with the Kings during their magical run to the 1993 Stanley Cup finals. Semchuk recalls having dinner with Wayne Gretzky as amongst his career highlights.

Semchuk opted to play out the final year of his contract in 1993-94, and that proved to be a mistake. Back in the minor leagues, Semchuk suffered a serious eye injury that ended his season. No team, not even the Kings, were interested in Semchuk after the scary injury. He continued on, catching on with minor league contracts in a variety of minor league cities until he finally hung up the blades in 1999. His eye never fully recovered full vision.

Last I heard Semchuk was living in Fresno, California, coaching hockey a youth hockey team named the Jr. Falcons. His daughter Emma was a promising player on the Jr. Falcons. He also was helping to coach a new junior hockey team, the Fresno Monsters.



Vladimir Tsyplakov

Vladimir Tsyplakov was a lanky Belorussian who had his National Hockey League career cut short due to a serious knee injury.

A scoring star with Dynamo Minsk, Tsyplakov took the bold step of bolting to North America without a NHL contract. In fact the left winger was only drafted after playing in 3 North American minor professional seasons. The Los Angeles Kings drafted the IHL scoring start 59th overall in 1995.

If the Kings were looking for immediate help, they found it. By 1996-97 Tsyplakov was a regular in the Kings lineup and on the penalty kill.  He earned a reputation as a solid playmaker as well.

1997-98 was his best NHL season. He scored career highs with 18 goals, 34 assists and 52 points. That was also the first year the NHL shutdown its' hectic schedule to allow players to go to the Olympics. Tsyplakov played for Belarus, describing the Nagano opportunity as a dream come true.

In January 2000, he joined the Buffalo Sabres. The coaching staff was very happy with Tsyplakov's addition as he proved to be a versatile forward who could play in a number of key situations when called upon. He finished the year with 19 points and a plus 17 rating in just 34 games with the Sabres.

Just when all seemed well for the utility forward, a disastrous knee injury took away nearly half a season from Tsyplakov in 2000-01. He returned after Christmas and found his game. He scored 14 points in 36 games and added a goal in 9 playoff contests.

The following season Tsyplakov opted to return home and play for Ak Bars Kazan of the Russian High League. One major draw to returning home was the opportunity to return to the Olympics. Because the NHL only shut down their schedule for only a set number of games, nations like Belarus could not necessarily count on their few NHL players being eligible during the Olympic qualifying rounds. Tsyplakov wanted to not just return to the Olympics, but help his nation qualify to compete for a medal. Not only did Belarus qualify, but this time Tsyplakov's team pulled off one of the biggest upsets in international hockey history as Belarus knocked off heavily favoured Sweden.

Tsyplakov remained active in Russia through the end of the 2004 season.



Dean Kennedy

"Average" defensemen don't often get the respect they deserve. Case in point is Dean Kennedy.

In a cover story on the Feb. 3, 1989 issue of The Hockey News, Kennedy earned the dubious honor of being the NHL's "most average defenseman" as a result of a NHL average statistics analysis. Unfortunately, The Hockey News goofed in picking Kennedy's photo for the cover, accidentally choosing a photo of Ken Hammond.

If Rodney Dangerfield was a hockey player, he'd be Dean Kennedy. Talk about a lack of respect!

Though he had a rather anonymous career, Dean Kennedy was a solid positional defenseman who could play physically in his own end. He was a hard hitter who always finished his check. In his prime he was a good fit as a number 4 defenseman.

A native of Redvers, Saskatchewan, Kennedy grew up idolizing Tiger Williams - hockey's ultimate bad boy. Kennedy would switch from right wing to defense around the age of 14, and joined the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL in 1980. By 1981 he was scouted as a promising rearguard. The Los Angeles Kings drafted Kennedy 39th overall

Kennedy began the 1982-83 season in Brandon but quickly made the jump to the NHL, playing 55 games as a rookie.

He made a name for himself somewhat infamously although Tiger Williams would have been proud. He was suspended four games for fighting Edmonton's Ken Linseman under the stands and in the corridors of the Great Western Forum. Though he played with heart, his positional play, like so many young defensemen, was in need of improvement. He spent most of the next two years learning the pro game in the AHL with the New Haven Nighthawks.

Kennedy became a regular with the Kings from 1985-86, getting a chance to play with his idol Williams. He would remain with the Kings until he was traded to the New York Rangers in December 1988. He would only play in 16 games in the Big Apple as he was traded back to L.A. where he worked well with the offensive minded Steve Duchesne.

In the summer of 1989 Kennedy was traded to the Buffalo Sabres for a draft choice. He would enjoy a strong season in his first year in Buffalo. The team registered 98 points in the standings. Kennedy himself scored 14 points, and played a full 80 game schedule.

Kennedy played in one more season with Buffalo before joining the Winnipeg Jets prior to the 1991-92 season. Though most of his first season with Winnipeg was lost to injuries, the next two years he played an important role in stabilizing the Winnipeg defensive corps. He also acted as team captain for parts of two seasons.

The Edmonton Oilers claimed the grizzled veteran on waivers after the owners' lockout of 1994-95 ended. Kennedy would play in 40 games before retiring.

Kennedy retired with 717 hard fought NHL contests on his resume. He scored just 26 goals and 134 points while amassing 1118 penalty minutes.



Kevin Dallman

Kevin Dallman never grew up dreaming of playing in Russia, but he has become one of the best players in Russian elite league history.

Canadian pros who find NHL jobs hard to come by have often headed to Europe for big pay checks rather than travelling the "iron lung" to minor league cities in the southern US. But with the creation of Russia's oil-rich Kontinental Hockey League Canadians are striking it rich in Russia now, too.

Kevin Dallman was an undersized defenseman. He was a bit of a late bloomer with the OHL's Guelph Storm, as a result he was never drafted. The Bruins signed him as a free agent and let him apprentice in the minor leagues for three years. He got into 21 games with the B's, before moving on to St. Louis and later Los Angeles. In total he played over 154 NHL games, quite the accomplishment for an undrafted player.

He moved on to Astana, Kazakhstan, where he played with the local KHL team, Barys Astana. He may have headed there with only short term plans, but he now has no intention on leaving. He is team captain and has rewritten the Russian record book.

"I was only going to come over for one year and then go back and show I could play there," Dallman said. "But everything worked out well. I had a really good year and I had a lot of fun here."

Dallman led the league in scoring for defencemen in 2008-09 with 58 points and 28 goals in 53 games, besting the legendary Viacheslav Fetisov's record for most points by a defenseman in the Russian league.

Although he got offers from a few NHL teams after his first year, he opted to stay in Astana and signed a three-year deal with the team.

Time will tell what is in Dallman's future. Maybe he will even one day return to the NHL. But one thing is for sure - this Canadian kid will go down as a hockey legend - in Kazakhstan.



Wayne Gretzky

Brantford, Ontario used to be best known as the place where inventor Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. However that began to change on January 26, 1961 as Wayne Douglas Gretzky was born. Brantford would soon become known as the birthplace of hockey's greatest player.

Two years after birth, Wayne took his first steps to hockey stardom. Walter Gretzky, Canada's most famous hockey dad, took the youngster down to the local rink and began teaching him how to skate. It wasn't much longer after that before novice league coaches realized that the kid was a Good One, although they had no idea he was the Great One in the making. Soon enough a young Gretzky was playing in leagues with kids 3 or 4 years older than he was.

The first major article about Gretzky found its way into the Toronto Telegram on October 28, 1971, when reporter John Iaboni was sent to cover the Nadrofsky Steelers' blossoming star.

At the end of the game an eight-year old spectator approached Iaboni and asked, "'Are you going to write a book on Wayne Gretzky? He's good you know.'"

While the book idea was a little farther off, his greatness was already shining through. Gretzky finished that season with 378 goals in 68 games.

By the age of 17, he was tearing up the Ontario Hockey League, scoring 182 points in 64 regular season games for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhouds.

For most of his childhood, Gretzky had worn Howe's No. 9, in honor of his hero, Gordie Howe, then the NHL's all time scoring leader. It was Greyhounds GM "Muzz" McPherson who convinced Wayne Gretzky to wear the unconventional number 99 on his jersey, since No. 9 was unavailable.

A year before he would have been eligible for the NHL draft, 17-year-old Wayne Gretzky signed up with the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA in 1978 for an unprecedented $825,000. After just 8 games, however, the hotshot prospect found himself traded to Edmonton, along with Peter Driscoll and Eddie Mio, in exchange for cash. The Racers were in deep financial trouble, and the move had to be made.

In the WHA's last season Gretzky led the Oilers to the championship finals, where they lost to the Winnipeg Jets. Gretzky finished third in league scoring with 110 points. Remember, most kids his age are in high school, and this guy was challenging for the scoring race!

Edmonton was one of four WHA franchises that were absorbed into the NHL in 1979. And in his first season in the National Hockey League, Gretzky became the youngest player ever to crack the 50-goal barrier. He equaled Marcel Dionne's 137 points. While he was deemed ineligible for the Calder trophy because of his affiliation with the WHA, Gretzky locked up the Hart trophy for the most valuable player.

In the 1981-82 campaign, Gretzky obliterated the record for goals in a season with an unthinkable 92 and points in a season with 212. No one else had ever broken the 200-point barrier, or even come close, but Gretzky would do it three more times. Even more impressive was his breach of hockey's mythical 50-goals-in-50-games barrier. Only two other players had ever achieved that milestone — Rocket Richard and Mike Bossy — and it took both the full 50 games to do it; Gretzky scored number 50 in the 39th game of the season.

Teaming up Gretzky with the Finnish finisher, Jari Kurri, on the first line and Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson on the second, combined with offensively-gifted defenseman Paul Coffey, coach Glen Sather could send waves of offense at opposing teams the likes of which the NHL had never seen. Propelled by four 100-point scorers, Edmonton tallied an unprecedented 424 goals in the 1982-83 season.

The high flying Oilers made it all the way to the 1983 Stanley Cup finals where they faced the 3 time defending Cup champs, the New York Islanders. The Oilers were about to be taught a lesson - losing in 4 straight games as the Isles made it 4 straight Cup victories.

In the next year's rematch, however, the Oilers defeated the Islanders in five games, ending one dynasty and starting one of their own. The momentum spilled over into the 1984-85 season when they demolished Philadelphia in just five games to take their second Stanley Cup.

It seemed like no one in the league could defeat Gretzky's Oilers of the mid-80s, except themselves. A wayward pass by Edmonton defenseman Steve Smith into his own net sent the team home early during the 1986 playoffs, interrupting what should have been a five-year championship dynasty, as the Oilers would redeem themselves with the 1987 and 1988 championships.

And throughout the Oilers' glory years, Gretzky kept re-writing the record books. During the 1985-86 season, Gretzky set the current mark with 215 points, including a record-shattering 163 assists. In fact, Gretzky won the Art Ross trophy as scoring leader every year between 1981 and 1987 and two more times after that.

Gretzky of course was no stranger to international hockey competition either. Representing Canada in 4 Canada Cup tournaments, the 1978 World Junior championships, the 1996 World Cup and the 1998 Olympics, but his greatest performance on any stage came in the 1987 Canada Cup.

Gretzky captained Team Canada against the mighty Soviet Union - led by the vaunted KLM line — featuring Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov and Vladimir Krutov. Gretzky led all scorers with 18 points while playing what he himself admitted was the best hockey of his career.

August 9, 1988 is considered by many Canadians to be the lowest day in the country's history. On that date, the Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky, along with Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley to the Los Angeles Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first round picks and cash.

The major reason for the trade was the cash. Struggling financially, Oilers' owner Peter Pocklington jumped at the $15 million that Kings owner Bruce McNall showed him.

As Canada mourned, Los Angeles partied. Gretzky - and Hockey -had gone Hollywood. By the end of Gretzky's 7 1/2 season tenure with the Kings, the Great One had brought enough popularity to hockey in Southern California to blaze the trail for two more teams, the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. In reality Gretzky brought the game to such a high level in the American sunbelt that the NHL also saw teams in Dallas, Miami, Tampa Bay and countless minor league teams throughout the USA.

Gretzky's greatest moment as a King came in 1993 when he carried the Kings to the 1993 Finals. That playoffs also saw Gretzky play what he called his greatest game in NHL competition. In Game 7 of the conference finals, Gretzky scored a hat trick, including the game winner, in a 5-4 victory over the heavily favored Toronto Maple Leafs. However, the Kings couldn't continue their magic in the Finals, falling to the Montreal Canadiens.

While Gretzky never got his named etched on the Cup as a member of the Kings, he did continue to rewrite the record book. On October 15, 1989, Gretzky surpassed Gordie Howe's NHL-record 1,851 points. It took Howe 26 years to accomplish that. It took Gretzky less than 11. Fittingly the record was surpassed in Edmonton. Even Howe's record 801 goals weren't safe: Gretzky scored number 802 against the Canucks on March 23, 1994.

By the middle of the 1995-96 season, it was obvious that the Kings didn't have the talent to make the playoffs, let alone contend. Gretzky asked to be traded and received his wish. He found himself playing alongside good friend Brett Hull, on the St. Louis Blues.

Gretzky was also initially happy to be reunited with Mike Keenan, with whom he had great success in the Canada Cup tournaments. However by this time the tyrannical Keenan had gone over the edge in his drive more power, and soon turned Gretzky, like Hull and many more, against him. During one playoff game, Keenan embarrassed Gretzky in front of his teammates in between periods. Gretzky went on to tally five assists the next game, but the Blues were still eliminated from the playoffs.

Gretzky left St. Louis, largely because of Mike Keenan, as a free agent. He took his greatness to the New York Rangers, where he was reunited with his old buddy Mark Messier.

The much celebrated reunion was short lived. After just one season, Messier left for bigger bucks in Vancouver. Gretzky however stayed in New York, quietly signing an extension with the team for less than market value.

Although it wasn't a storybook script, Gretzky fulfilled a lifelong dream in 1998 when he represented Canada in the 1998 Olympics. However Gretzky was not the Gretzky of old by this point. In fact Gretzky wasn't even named as team captain. Canada ran into the best goalie in the world, the Czech Republic's Dominik Hasek, in the semifinal game. Canada finished without a medal; Gretzky finished without a goal.

During these otherwise unspectacular Ranger seasons, Gretzky hit two more major milestones. On October 26, 1997, Gretzky recorded two assists in Anaheim to raise his career total 1,851, more than Gordie Howe — the second highest total in NHL history — had points. Then in March of 1999 he scored his 1,072nd goal as a pro, surpassing yet another Gordie Howe record. Suddenly there weren't any records left to shoot for.

The man who once scored 92 goals during the 1981-82 season, however, could only manage nine during the 1998-89 campaign. And when Gretzky was sidelined by a painful neck injury, the Rangers went 6-3-3 and temporarily moved back into the playoff race. Fans bombarded call-in shows suggesting that the Great One should retire. For the first time in a career built on proving naysayers wrong, Gretzky started to listen to his detractors.

Gretzky was clearly but a shadow of his former self, yet he was still better than most. He showed moments of greatness that no one else could. In the 1999 All Star game Gretzky recorded a goal and two assists and was named as the game's MVP. In his first and only game in Nashville he showed a rare sellout crowd the wonders of Gretzky by scoring 5 assists.

No. 99 left the game after 20 seasons, taking 61 NHL records with him. Among them: 92 goals in a single season, 163 assists in a single season, 215 points in a single season, a 51-game points streak that's every bit as impressive as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game mark in baseball, 2857 career points, and 1, 072 professional goals. He won every Hart Trophy from 1980 to 1987 (and another in 1989) as the league's MVP and took home ten Art Ross Trophies as the league's scoring leader. While captaining the Oilers to four Stanley Cups, Gretzky also took home two Conn Smythe trophies as the most valuable player in the playoffs.

Until Wayne came along, we didn't know how great great could be. #99 redefined greatness. But is Wayne Gretzky the greatest athlete of the 20th century?

Needless to say, hockey fans think so! No athlete in any sport has dominated the way Gretzky has. Need proof? Then consider this:

Gretzky's 92 goals in 1981-82 topped Phil Esposito's previous record by 16, and his 212 points that season eclipsed Esposito's old mark by 60. Gretzky's 163 assists in 1985-86 surpassed Bobby Orr's standard by 61.

The Elias Sports Bureau has determined his 212 points in 1981-82 are the equivalent of 85 home runs -- 24 more than Roger Maris hit in 1961 or 14 more than Mark McGuire in 1998; a 2,941-yard NFL rushing season (Eric Dickerson holds the record with 2,105 in 1984) or 67 touchdown passes by a quarterback (Dan Marino holds the standard at 48, also in '84). Wilt Chamberlain dwarfed previous NBA scoring leaders, but arguments raged during his day as to whether he or Bill Russell was the more dominant player.

A case can be made that no one ever has done in any sport what Gretzky has accomplished in hockey. And when you consider the wider impact of one player's career upon a sport, only Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan rank with Gretzky.

In hitting 59 home runs with a livelier ball in 1921 and raising the record by a staggering 25, Ruth also drastically elevated standards of excellence and excitement. The Babe, too, was the object of a blockbuster transaction: The Red Sox sold him to the Yankees for $100,000 and a $300,000 loan. His magnetism helped baseball recover from a betting scandal and inspired the building of a stadium twice the size of others in that era. He was the dominant player on baseball's dominant team, winning four World Series and seven American League pennants.

Michael Jordan is universally hailed as the greatest athlete of the 20th century, but realistically he doesn't deserve to be on the same level as Wayne. Yes, Michael was perhaps the most gifted and talented athlete of our time, but you could easily say he wasn't the greatest basketball player let alone athlete. Wilt Chamberlain's hoop exploits dwarf that of Jordan's.

Picture Hank Aaron as not only baseball's all-time home run leader, but its single-season homer king and all-time hits leader as well. That's Gretzky's place in hockey.

When it comes to debating who is the best hockey player of all time, it generally boils down to one of three players: Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe.

Orr revolutionized the way defense could be played and established significantly higher statistical standards for excellence at that position. It can be argued that Orr carried the puck more than Gretzky and broke up a lot of rushes, making him a more effective all-around player than The Great One. But Orr's career, cut drastically short by knee injuries, produced just 915 points.

Unquestionably, Howe played the majority of his career in a much tighter checking era. But the fact that jobs were more competitive in the six-team league doesn't necessarily mean the level of play was, too. Bigger, faster, and better athletes, and the influx of European- and American-born players, and equipment advances make today's NHL just as competitive -- but higher scoring -- than the pre-expansion league.


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