REGINA, Canada – For a place with just one million inhabitants, Saskatchewan has produced a disproportionate number of all-star hockey players.
That's not to say hockey players are all that this Prairie province exports. Famed for its wheat fields, it's still known as the “breadbasket of Canada”. In 2004, CBC viewers voted former Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas “The Greatest Canadian” for his invention of Medicare, Canada's universal health care system. Culturally, this province is known as the home of the hit TV sitcom Corner Gas and rock bands like The Northern Pikes and Kick Axe.
But hockey trumps all else when it comes to Saskatchewan’s international image. Commentator Bob McCown noted in his book The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments that Saskatchewan produced (as of 2005-06) one NHL player for every 28,475 residents, more than any other Canadian province, and also had more rinks than any province besides Ontario and Quebec.
Better yet, as we’ll see, three out of the six players we chose for IIHF.com’s “All-Saskatchewan All-Stars” were not just great talents, but actually game-changing icons whose influence lives on today.
Goal: Glenn Hall
Nicknamed “Mr. Goalie”, the Humboldt native (born 1931) set a record of 502 consecutive games played, one that’ll never be challenged even by workhorses like Roberto Luongo or Martin Brodeur. Decades before Quebec goalies dominated the NHL, Hall pioneered the butterfly style that would be employed so successfully by the likes of Patrick Roy. And don't overlook his seven First Team All-Star selections, three Vezina Trophies, Calder Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy, and 1961 Stanley Cup ring with Chicago. With all due respect to Toronto Maple Leafs great Johnny Bower, Hall remains the best goalie ever from Saskatchewan.
Defence: Eddie Shore
Before there was Paul Coffey, there was Bobby Orr. And before there was Bobby Orr, there was Eddie Shore. He came into the world in Fort Qu’Appelle (born 1902) and he reached his zenith with the Boston Bruins in the 1930s, winning four Hart Trophies. Ruthlessly tough in his approach, Shore changed hockey with his rushing defenceman style; previously, blueliners had simply hung back to guard their goalies. After his playing career, he became infamous as an eccentric and cheap coach and GM, but his on-ice legacy can’t be challenged.
Defence: Brad McCrimmon
This tough-as-nails blueliner from Dodsland racked up a whopping NHL career plus-minus of +444, including his 1985-86 total of +83, which remains the 10th best single-season outing in history. Suiting up for six NHL clubs, McCrimmon (born 1959) won a Stanley Cup with Calgary in 1989. He also ranks among the top 100 NHL players in games played (1222). He twice represented Canada at the World Juniors (1978, 1979), winning one bronze. Honourable mention to Bobby Baun, who won four Stanley Cups in the 1960s with the Toronto Maple Leafs during a 17-year NHL career.
Left Wing: Brian Propp
Do you know who the NHL’s all-time leading playoff scorer among left wings is? Not Bobby Hull (129 points), not Luc Robitaille (127 points), but Brian Propp (148 points). Propp (born 1959) never tasted Stanley Cup champagne in his five trips to the finals with Philadelphia (1985, 1987), Boston (1988, 1990), and Minnesota (1991). But the Langan product had the misfortune of facing the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins in their prime Wayne and Mario years, and his clubs wouldn't likely have gotten far without his offensive contributions. As a Brandon Wheat King, Propp played in the 1979 World Juniors, and was named one of the all-time Canadian junior hockey greats in 1999. He won bronze at two IIHF World Championships (1982, 1983), and suited up alongside Gretzky and Lemieux at the 1987 Canada Cup. Honourable mention to Wendel Clark, Clark Gillies, and Doug Bentley.
Centre: Bryan Trottier
Trottier (born 1956) was a great leader and an offensive powerhouse in the 1970s and 1980s. With the New York Islanders, the man wearing #19 became the last NHL captain to earn four straight Stanley Cups (1980-83), and added two more with Pittsburgh in the 1990s. Prior to making the NHL, Val Marie’s favourite son tore up the Western Hockey League with the Swift Current Broncos and Lethbridge Broncos. It’s hard to argue with 1,425 career NHL points (15th-best all-time), and a trophy collection that includes the Calder, Art Ross, Hart and Conn Smythe. Trottier also represented Canada at the unofficial 1975 World Juniors, suited up at the 1979 Challenge Cup versus the Soviets, and played in two Canada Cups (1981 for Canada, 1984 for his adopted American homeland). Other candidates included Bernie Federko, Elmer Lach, Max Bentley, and Sid Abel.
Right Wing: Gordie Howe
There can be no argument whatsoever with this selection. “Mr. Hockey” was widely deemed the greatest Canadian forward of all time until Wayne Gretzky came along. With the Detroit Red Wings, Howe (born 1928) won six Hart Trophies and six Art Ross Trophies. A four-time Stanley Cup champion, the Floral-born right wing offered a perfect blend of power and skill, and nobody dared cross him for fear of his stick and elbows. Howe brought credibility to the fledgling World Hockey Association in the 1970s before returning to the NHL and retiring with Hartford in 1980 at age 52. His 1,850 career points leave him behind only Gretzky and Mark Messier. Internationally, he participated in the 1974 Summit Series, and remains active as an owner with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants.
Coach: Mike Babcock
It’s true that Mike Babcock’s international resume isn’t as long as that of fellow Saskatchewan product Dave King (three Olympics, five IIHF World Championships). However, Babcock (born 1963) has managed to win at every level, including World Junior gold (1997), World Championship gold (2004), and the Stanley Cup (2008). He also guided Anaheim to the 2003 Stanley Cup finals, and came within a hair’s-breadth of capturing a second straight Cup last year with Detroit. Despite his club’s struggles this season, the Saskatoon native will cement his place as a national hero if he can guide Canada to top spot at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, perhaps with fellow Saskatchewaners like Ryan Getzlaf and Patrick Marleau.