St. Patrick’s Day has always been eventful in NHL

St. Patrick's Day has always been eventful in NHL

St. Patrick’s Day has always been eventful in NHL

With their home game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday (7 p.m. ET, TVAS, TSN4, NHLN, BSSO, SN NOW), the Toronto franchise will play for the 40th time on March 17, tying the New York Rangers for the all-time spot. Toronto is seeking its 22nd victory, which would break a tie with the Detroit Red Wings (34 games) for most wins on the day.

Win or lose at Scotiabank Arena, the Maple Leafs will be wearing green and white St. Pats jerseys to celebrate the day and the team that wore the name through most of the 1920s.

The four games this March 17 will bring the number played on St. Patrick’s Day to 357. Only one has come during the postseason, the St. Pats — who else? — losing 4-3 to the Pacific Coast Hockey Association-champion Vancouver Millionaires in Game 1 of the 1922 Stanley Cup Final.

The 1923-24 Toronto St. Pats. The previous season’s team won the Stanley Cup, the second championship in franchise history. Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame


But perhaps with the luck of the Irish, Toronto would prevail over the Millionaires in a five-game Final. It was a sweet championship for the St. Pats, their first season with that name after new owners had purchased the 1918 Cup-champion Toronto Arenas (or Blueshirts) and rebranded them in a bid to appeal to the city’s large Irish population.

The St. Pats played into the 1926-27 season, renamed the Maple Leafs in February 1927 by new owner Conn Smythe.

Where to begin historically rounding up March 17 in the NHL — the wins, losses, milestones, mayhem, even a riot?

Records state that, since the League’s birth in 1917, four players have had Ireland as their place of origin. With nationality claims a little sketchy in the NHL’s early days, and with the separation of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the latter a part of the United Kingdom, that number is probably not definitive.

Chicago Black Hawks’ Gus Bodnar, goalie Al Rollins and Sid Finney during the 1952-53 season; Bobby Kirk, here with the 1932-33 WCHL Regina Capitals, on his way to playing for the 1937-38 New York Rangers. Le Studio du Hockey/Hockey Hall of Fame


But here, the Irish natives of the NHL, as the League declares:

Jack Riley, born in Berckenia: 103 games, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins, 1933-36;

Bobby Kirk, born in Dough Grange: 39 games, Rangers, 1937-38;

Jim McFadden, born in Belfast: 412 games, Detroit and Chicago, 1947-54;

Sid Finney, born in Banbridge: 59 games, Chicago, 1951-53.

The four combined for 124 goals — McFadden scored 100 of them — and 163 assists.

Forty-two skaters plus five goalies through NHL history have had Patrick as a first name or surname; 40 skaters plus two goalies have had a surname beginning in O’.

Of course, we’ll give top marks to Boston’s Terry O’Reilly. The feisty Bruins legend racked up 2,095 penalty minutes in his 891 games between 1972-85, popularly taking 1,006 of those minutes at home.

Detroit Red Wings’ Red Kelly (left), Jim “Shoulders” McFadden (center) and Bill Quackenbush on Feb. 20, 1948 at Maple Leaf Gardens. Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame


Indeed, the beloved O’Reilly remains a steel-toed boot in the city’s broad Irish footprint. It’s for good reason that the Bruins gave the man nicknamed Taz, for the Tasmanian Devil of Looney Tunes fame, the entire penalty box when the team moved from demolition-bound Boston Garden to TD Garden in 1995.

Thirty players with at least one NHL game played call or called St. Patrick’s Day their birthday, from Joe Levandoski, born in 1921, through Justin Richards, 1998. Craig Ramsay played 1,159 games, the most of the group (1,070, plus 89 more in the playoffs). Bob Sabourin and Richards played one each.

Ottawa Senators goalie Alec Connell, Buffalo Sabres’ Craig Ramsay and Boston Bruins’ Terry O’Reilly, all of whom figure in St. Patrick’s Day games. Le Studio du Hockey/Hockey Hall of Fame; Robert Shaver-Bruce Bennett Collection, Denis Brodeur, both Getty Images


A few more March 17 numbers to crunch, courtesy of the NHL Stats crew:

Highest scoring game: 18 goals, the Maple Leafs 11-7 winners against the Red Wings in 1946.

Greatest margin of victory: the Rangers were 9-0 winners against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2021.

Most goals: Nine each for Bernie Nicholls (11 games played on March 17) and Dino Ciccarelli (12 games).

Most points: Wayne Gretzky, 20 (six goals, 14 assists) in nine games. Joe Sakic ranks second with 19 (eight goals, 11 assists) in eight games.

First NHL point: 34 times, 15 of those a first NHL goal.

Milestone points: Gretzky, 1,100, 1985; Rod Brind’Amour, 900, 2004; Larry Murphy, 900, 1994.

Shutouts: 34 total by 33 goalies, Alec Connell consecutively in 1926 and 1927 for the Ottawa Senators.

Ireland native Jack Riley, back row sixth from left, with the 1933-34 Montreal Canadiens. James Rice/Hockey Hall of Fame


Two notable March 17 milestones:

In 1940, the Bruins’ Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer finished 1-2-3 in NHL scoring, the first time one line had done so, Boston scoring five goals in the third period to beat the Canadiens 7-2.

In 2009, goalie Martin Brodeur became the NHL’s all-time leader in wins with the 552nd of his career, his New Jersey Devils defeating the visiting Blackhawks 3-2.

Broken windows would be an unofficial March 17 statistic, but it brings us to the event for which St. Patrick’s Day is remembered 68 years later.

It was on March 17, 1955 that hockey and political history was made in Montreal, the infamous Richard Riot spilling from the Forum into the streets, the suspension of Canadiens hero Maurice “Rocket” Richard its flashpoint.

Front pages of the Montreal Gazette and The Montreal Star on March 18, 1955, reporting on the infamous Richard Riot of the night before. Newspapers.com


In a politically charged time in Quebec, with French-Canadians tired of being held down and marginalized by the English, the Rocket was made a figurehead, even a pawn, against his wishes, forever claiming, “I’m just a hockey player.”

But to francophones who craved a standard-bearer, Richard was much more than that.

A population claimed him as their own, using him as a rallying cry during a time of sociopolitical need, the Rocket becoming far more just a gifted goal-scorer and the locomotive that pulled his team. As such, he also became a lightning rod, a target for foes on and off the ice.

Richard’s March 1955 suspension for the final three games of the regular season and the entire playoffs, punishment meted out by NHL President Clarence Campbell after a violent game in Boston, would ignite a powder keg, violence busting out of the Forum that March 17 night to trash the city. The Rocket’s disciples would be founding members of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, this cultural and linguistic shift forever reshaping provincial politics.

Maurice Richard pleads for calm in a live radio broadcast from the Montreal Canadiens dressing room on March 18, 1955; coach Dick Irvin examines the tear-gas canister that touched off the Richard Riot. Library and Archives Canada; Dick Irvin Jr. collection


There was some thought that Richard was so angered by his suspension that he might retire. But with his younger brother, Henri, arriving with the Canadiens in the fall of 1956, he returned to lead Montreal to their historic five consecutive championships from 1956-60, giving him eight career titles.

Henri, named captain of the Canadiens upon the 1971 retirement of Jean Beliveau, would win an NHL-record 11 Stanley Cup championships.

The Richard Riot remains vivid to Scotty Bowman, the winningest coach in NHL history, and Dick Irvin Jr., the broadcast legend whose father, Dick Sr., was coaching the Canadiens on March 17, 1955, Montreal forfeiting the game against Detroit after the first period when a tear-gas bomb was detonated in the Forum, League president Campbell attacked by a fan as he sat in his usual seat.

Bowman remembers the tear gas and the ensuing mayhem in the acrid smoke, his struggle to get down the cement steps from the Forum’s standing-room area to the apparent safety of the auxiliary dressing rooms.

Working for a paint company by day, Bowman was coaching Junior B hockey in Montreal in March 1955, a 21-year-old hustling up to prime south-end Forum standing room for Canadiens games that cost him 50 cents with his arena pass.

Toronto Maple Leafs trainer Tim Daly receives a shamrock from coach King Clancy in the team’s Maple Leaf Gardens dressing room on St. Patrick’s Day in 1955. Players from left are Parker MacDonald, Jimmy Thomson, Larry Cahan, Jim Morrison, Hugh Bolton and Ron Stewart. Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame


Irvin was a 23-year-old oil-company clerk who in the press box was keeping game statistics for his father, the latter in his last of 15 seasons as Canadiens coach. Bowman had been attending Canadiens practices, absorbing Irvin Sr.’s drills for use with his junior team.

The coach’s son pulled Bowman into the Canadiens dressing room through a haze of tear-gas smoke and the confusion of an arena being evacuated by police.

Happily, there will be no reenactment of the Richard Riot in Montreal this March 17, the Canadiens in Florida between games against the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Their two most recent home games on St. Patrick’s Day were losses — 4-3 in overtime against the Dallas Stars in 2022 and 3-2 in a shootout against the New York Islanders in 2012.

In Toronto 68 years ago this March 17, hours before the 1955 madness in Montreal, Maple Leafs coach King Clancy and a handful of his players made a post-practice dressing-room presentation to trainerTim Daly.

It was a potted shamrock.

Top photo: Toronto St. Pats jerseys hang in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Scotiabank Arena dressing room on March 18, 2017. Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

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