Tuesday, July 18, 2023

The story behind the best player to play exactly one game for your favorite team (Eastern edition)

Your favorite team has had some players who stuck around forever. They’re probably stars, but not necessarily. They’re just the guys who never left, or maybe did and kept coming back. You check the team record books for games played, and there they are, right near the top. And every single fan from that era has a memory of watching them do their thing.

And then, there are the guys at the other end of that games played list. The guys who played exactly one game for your team, and that’s it.

I’ve always been kind of fascinated by these guys. There are lots of players who only got into one NHL game, period – Sportsnet’s Ken Reid wrote a very fun book about them. But what about the guys who had longer NHL careers, enough to at least make a name for themselves, but still managed a one-game stop with a team along the way? When you think about, it’s not easy to do. And when it happens, there’s often a story behind it.

So this week, we’re going to look at all 32 NHL teams and ask a simple question: Who’s the best player to ever play one (and only one) game for them? We’re obviously getting a little bit subjective with “best” here – spoiler alert, there aren’t going to be a lot of Hall-of-Famers on the list – but we’ll try to at least find some names you know. I’m hoping you’ll learn a few things. And along the way, we’ll get to remember some guys, which is pretty much the best thing a hockey fan can do in mid-July.

We’ll start with the Eastern conference, before moving west tomorrow.

Boston Bruins

In theory, the Original Six teams should give us lots to work with. That doesn’t really turn out to be the case in Boston, although they do offer up a young Aaron Downey and the lost Pronovost brother. There’s not much question about who their most famous one-gamer would be, although that guy didn’t really make an NHL name for himself until he tried his hand at coaching and broadcasting.

So instead, let’s go with Ted Irvine, a winger who put together a long career in the 1960s and 70s. He was Bruins’ property in the Original Six days, but only cracked the lineup for a single game at the age of 19. (The fact that he went -2 in a game his team won 6-3 might give us a hint as to why it was his only game.) Like a lot of the era’s fringe players, he got his break when expansion arrived; he was claimed by the Kings, then had his best years as a Ranger before finishing off with the Blues. In all, he played over 700 games, scoring over 150 goals. And yes, despite all that, today he’s probably best known for his bratty kid.

Buffalo Sabres

This one’s a relatively easy call for now, although Joel Armia is making a run at the title. For now, he’ll have to take a back seat to one of the most prolific offensive defensemen of all-time, one who scored over 200 goals and nearly 700 points while earning all-star votes in eight straight seasons and topping the 20-goal mark six times. That would be Reed Larson, who’s scoring exploits have been somewhat forgotten in the decades since, but who was a steady scoring threat for the Red Wings from 1976 to 1986. He went on to play for the Bruins, Oilers, Islanders and North Stars before landing in Buffalo as a late-season UFA addition in 1990. He played one game for the Sabres, the last of his NHL, before retiring and being a first-ballot inductee into the Hall of Very Good.

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