To date, there have been 28 Pennsylvania-born hockey players to have played in the NHL.
Downingtown, Pa. native Jimmy Lodge, a 6-foot-0, 183-pound forward, was invited to the 2013 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in hopes of making the World Junior Championship U-20 team in Sweden in December.
Lodge on Saturday sustained an upper-body injury and was among a dozen players cut on Tuesday. He was drafted 84th overall by the Winnipeg Jets and currently plays for Saginaw in the OHL. He has a bright future ahead of him. Will he be the next on the list? (We focused mainly on those from the Philly area.)
The first Pa.-born player in the NHL was Jesse Spring. He was from Alba, Pa., which back in 2000 had less than 200 people living there. The entire town is just 0.7 square miles of land so the chance of getting a player to play professionally back then was a real long shot. In 1923, the NHL’s seventh season, he patrolled the blue line for the Hamilton Tigers, standing tall at 6--foot-0, 185. In 1925, he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise. His five goals that year put him among the top 10 scorers on his team.
Three more players followed after that. Pete Babando, who was born Braeburn, Pa. but grew up in Ontario. He scored a Game 7, double-overtime winner for the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final back in 1950. It was the first Game 7, OT Final win, so he’ll always be remembered.
The two other players were locals. Irwin “Yank” Boyd, a 5-foot-10, 152-pound right winger who played for the Boston Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings, was born in Ardmore, Pa. He played locally for the Philadelphia Arrows of the Can-Am League, a semi-pro league. In 1932-33, he was tied for the team lead with 21 goals. He played two seasons there and in a few other leagues. His best NHL year saw him get six goals in 1942-43, when the NHL had a lot of players enlisted to fight WWII.
Tom Brennan was also in the NHL from 1943-45. This Philadelphia native moved to Montreal at the age of 15, eventually playing for the Boston Bruins at that time, but suited up for just 12 games. Before playing in the NHL, he played in a lot of different leagues. He did play at home for the Philadelphia Falcons of the EAHL, a minor-league like today’s ECHL, in 1942-43. The 5-foot-9, 155-pound right winger scored 34 goals and had 68 points, clearly earning him that chance to play in Beantown.
The other guys
Without naming them all, some other notables from the area are: Chad Kolarik (Abington), Jay Caufield (Towamencin Township) and Eric Tangradi (Philadelphia).
Kolarik played a few NHL games for the New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets, and he’s now playing in the Swedish Elite League.
Caufield was an enforcer who racked up some good PIMS in seven NHL seasons.
Tangradi, who is now a member of the Winnipeg Jets, hasn’t really found his game yet, but at 24, this 6-foot-4 forward can play some meaningful minutes. He played high school hockey for Archbishop Carroll, and won a Pennsylvania AA championship back in 2004.
Mike Richter (Flourtown) had an amazing career. Most know about him being an integral part of the hated New York Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup championship team, but he also got a chance to play in front of his home crowd when he was a big part of Team USA’s win in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. A few of those games took place in the Flyers' current building. Team USA actually lost to Canada, 4-3, in overtime in Philadelphia, but then they won the next two in Montreal to give the United States a comeback win in the tournament. He was voted the tournament MVP and it was a rare day when Flyers and Rangers fans were rooting for a common cause.
"Everybody was so close in 1996. We all knew each other and it was probably the most talented team I have ever been around," Richter said when he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008. "You are playing against and with the best players in the world."
Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Leetch remembers that tournament well and talked about it at his induction ceremony back in 2011.
“Yeah a lot of those players had certainly good years after, but it was right at the right time for John LeClair, Keith Tkachuk, Mike Modano, myself, Chris Chelios, Brett Hull, and everybody was kind of about to hit their peak in 3-4 years or was at that," Leetch said. "We weren’t sure going into the tournament, a lot of those guys have a lot of self confidence, and it rubs off in the locker room and we felt good about our chances and we just didn’t know until we got into the midst of it where we were going to end up.”
Flyers great Eric Lindros was on the losing side in that game.
“His consistency was something that always stood out,” said Lindros at Madison Square Garden when the Rangers retired Richter’s number in 2004. “In the ’96 World Cup, we were in Montreal for the final game, he stood on his head. In my eyes he won it for the American team. We threw everything at him and he was just spectacular.”
Colby Cohen -- the Radnor High School graduate -- did get a three-game cup of coffee with the Colorado Avalanche in 2010-11, and since then he’s been playing in the Bruins system.
As a 24-year-old blueliner, Cohen has still has a chance, but right now he’s playing in the Finnish Elite League. He already made a name for himself by scoring the overtime game-winning goal in the 2009 Frozen Four Finals for Boston University en route to a National Championship. He was voted the most outstanding player of the tournament.
There are more and more players drafted from this area every year. Some will make it and most won’t.