As  the NHL enters the second round of the playoffs, we are in the twilight of the centennial season.  Earlier this year, the NHL announced their 100 greatest players of all time.

Monumental announcements, like this, are fodder for great bar room debates.  Unfortunately, the league took the easy way out, naming the players but not ranking them. My top 3 are below. I think you can argue over the other 97, but these three are set in stone! (Of course you can disagree with me. That’s part of the fun!)

Coaches: It is our responsibility to ensure our young players have a knowledge and an understanding of the game’s rich history.  Here is a primer, and a little commentary on how I teach it.

Here are 6 legends, every young player should know:

Mannon Rheaume 2, Montreal Gazette
Manon Rheaume
Willie O'Ree, Cup
Willie O’Ree
Wayne Gretzky








Manon Rheaume:  First female to play in an NHL game.

She played one period for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 1992 exhibition game.  Interestingly, Manon is not listed in the player database on

Willie O’Ree:  First black player in the NHL.


In 1958, Mr. O’Ree donned the Boston Bruins sweater, and took the ice against the Canadiens at the Montreal Forum.

Wayne Gretzky:  The Great One.

Mr. Gretzky received the game, in impeccable condition from the top two on my list, and brought it to the next level. He didn’t change the way the game was played, he just did it better.

He did everything… better. He saw the rink better.  He handled the puck better.  He skated better. In his prime, he was just… better.

Since his retirement, he has become an ambassador for the game with world-wide reach!

Bobby Orr
Bobby Orr

Bobby Orr:  Many in New England will say Number 4 is the greatest.  But if you ask Mr. Orr, he will tell you someone else.

Mr. Orr transformed the game. Prior to Orr, defensemen were on the ice to protect the goaltender. Since Bobby Orr, the blue-liners are a valuable asset to the offensive attack. He was the first offensive-defenseman. He handled the puck like a center. He had the speed of a winger. And he played defense with a sheer will and determination.

In the post-Bobby Orr years, defensive greats like Brad Park, Denis Potvin,Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque, and Niklas Lidstrom walked a road to the Hall of Fame. That road was paved by Bobby Orr.

Off the ice, he is a perfect gentleman. Mr. Orr is gracious, quick with a smile, and generous with his time–particularly with kids.

Gordie Howe
Gordie Howe

Gordie Howe:  Mr. Hockey. Asking both Gretzky and Orr who the greatest hockey player of all time is, both of them will answer without hesitation: Gordie Howe.

Mr. Howe was the consummate hockey player.  Hard-working, strong, tough, and humble all describe him, but just barely scratch the surface. If you were to make a mold of a hockey player, it would be a bust of Gordie Howe.

Mr. Howe ushered the game into what we know (and love) today.  Without Mr. Howe, it is tough to know what our game would look like.

He is the grandfather of the modern day game. When Mr. Howe passed away in 2016, Canada, Detroit, and the Red Wings all did a excellent job honoring him and his legacy. The NHL did not. The league–which may not be in existence without him–fell far short in its memorial.

The one thing shared by Gretzky, Orr, and Howe is their ability to elevate the game of their teammates. It is this rare quality, making these three players a cut above.

We can never forget the goalies. Here is a bonus.

Jacques Plante, first mask

Jacques Plante was the first goalie to wear a mask.

He made it himself. In addition to protecting the faces of everyone who would follow him, he gave us a celebrated icon of the game!

What do you think? Did I get it right? Let me know!

Next season, challenge yourself to make your team smarter. How many of these legends can you plant in your players’ minds throughout the year?

Do you disagree with me? (Let me know in the comments section!) Do you teach it differently? (Let me know in the comments section!)

Here is a way to grade your players (and yourself) next year:

If players can name three (3) legends and their significance, that is a C

If players can name four (4) legends and their significance, that is a B

If players can name five (5) legends and their significance, that is a A

All six (6)? That is an A+

Regardless of how you choose to teach the legend and legacy of hockey, the important thing is you do pass on the rich traditions of the game.

I am Zoe. That’s my view!

Photo Credits:
  • Manon Rheaume: Montreal Gazette
  • Bobby Orr, Willie O’Ree:
  • Wayne Gretzky: Getty Images
  • Gordie Howe:
  • Jacques Plante: Hockey Hall of Fame

7 thoughts on “Hockey Heroes… Pass it on

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