As a kid growing up in southwestern
in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, in hockey terms, I had the best of all worlds. Ontario
I was born and raised in a small town right across from
. Red Wing fans were a minority, but a vocal one. Detroit
It was a French-Canadian community, so there were a lot of
fans. Every Saturday night, the Leafs were on TV (Hockey Night in Montreal ), so we had tons of Maple Leaf fans in town. On the school bus every Monday morning there would be plenty of hockey talk—and plenty of friendly verbal arguments after the weekend action. Canada
With only six teams back then, the rivalries were awfully intense—on and off the ice. Fans knew the players and there were some reat nicknames (Lorne “Gump” Worsley, Camille “the Eel” Henry, Elmer “Moose” Vasko, among many others).
Many great forward lines earned special names—the “Scooter Line” in Chicago (McDonald, Mikita and Wharram, with Doug Mohns later taking over for Ab McDonald), the “Uke Line” in
(Horvath, Stasiak and Bucyk) were just two examples. Boston
There was also the oddity of having two guys in the league named Noel at the same time. As a kid in those days with a French background, I knew that “Noel” meant “Christmas” in English.
A year ago I wrote about one-time Maple Leaf Noel Price (click on his name to read the story). Price began his career as a Leaf in the 1950s, toiled for a long time in the minors. I remember him mostly as a member of the expansion Pittsburgh Penguins, though he played a bit with the Habs in the mid-'60s, earning a Cup with Montreal in the spring of 1966.
The other Noel was Noel Picard, who didn’t make it to the NHL until the age of 26. Picard I remember well as a key (and tough) defender with the expansion Blues of St. Louis in the late 1960s, but he did play a few games with his first NHL team, the Montreal Canadiens, during the 1964-’65 season. He also played a bit in the playoffs in the spring of ’65 and got his name on the Stanley Cup as the Habs beat
Toronto and then to earn the championship. Chicago
A quirky aside, I believe Picard and Price were teammates briefly with the Atlanta Flames in the early 1970s. (I don't believe their paths crossed with the Canadiens.)
In any event, I was trying to think if there have been other Noel’s in the NHL in more recent years, but I’m drawing a blank. Or before the two “Noels” that I remember, for that matter.
Christmas remains a time of faith and hope. There are way more important things, we all understand, than having faith in a hockey team or hoping for better days ahead for our "team". That said, sometimes being a sports fan helps us cope with the more serious challenges in our life. And that’s OK.
Best wishes to everyone for a Merry Christmas.