The last two years, on December 25, I’ve taken advantage of the mini-break in the NHL schedule to write a bit about one former Leaf who had an unusual name, so I may as well continue the tradition this year.
It’s not a name we hear very often—but one that fits so perfectly on this special day in the calendar for many of us: Christmas.
The player is Noel Price. “Noel”, of course, is the French-language word for “Christmas”. Even those who maybe took one-year of “basic” French (is it still called that—I’m out of touch…) will know that word.
In any event, the only guy named Noel that I am aware of (that played for the Leafs, in any event) is indeed Noel Price. Price was a defenseman who spent some time with the Toronto organization in the mid to later 1950s. He also played briefly with, appropriately, the Montreal Canadiens (though he wasn’t a Quebec native) in the early 1960s. Personally, I remember him best for his time with the expansion Pittsburgh Penguins in the late 1960s.
The only other “Noel” that I can remember playing in the NHL in those days was Noel Picard, a rough and tumble rearguard with the Habs (Picard was a Quebec native) , and later with the St. Louis Blues. As I recall, Price was more of an offensive defenseman, while Picard was much more a classic stay-at-home defender who could deliver the occasional big hit.
Relatively-speaking, the Leafs haven’t had a ton of French-Canadian players on their roster through the years, and very few in the ‘50s and ‘60s when I was a kid. (I remember distinctly when tiny forward Guy Trottier joined the Leafs during the 1970-’71 season. It caught my eye, in part because he was a veteran minor-league who got a late start on his NHL career, but mostly because he was (at least I assumed he was, at the time) French-Canadian.
In any event, Noel is a pretty rare name, at least to most people, and certainly it was/is an unusual one in Maple Leaf lore. But there was at least one.
If anyone knows of another, by all means send your recollections along.
In the meantime, I extend my warm wishes for a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah or all the best as you celebrate whichever religious tradition (if any) that you might observe.